A Couple Notes on SXSW (2009)

By Eric Larson
March 17, 2009

As a native Austinite and a musician, I have a the opportunity to enjoy SXSW and sleep in my own bed. It is a pretty amazing event to be a part of as it effectively takes over the entire city for a week. Almost every restaurant, bar and hotel is filled to the rim with people trying to take in the sites and sounds of the conference. Sleep can be hard to come by, but free drinks are not. It's a lot of fun.

One interesting trend this year is the prevalence of Twitter. I remember a few years ago when Twitter did a very successful promotions campaign in the convention center with televisions showing the SXSW related tweets in real time. Among the blitz of marketing material, people still seemed to find out about Twitter and it was a hallmark of the blogs. Fast forward to today and it is rare to find someone at the event who isn't constantly reviewing the recent tweets. People have been organizing around the medium in a big way.

One of the more popular mediums to share over the micro-blogging service are pictures and video. Photographers are everywhere at SXSW creating massive amounts of content. it is clear that content is still king in the world of publishing, with the web making the requirement not only for quality, but quantity. We had a meeting with Dave Allen from the band Gang of Four. Dave is a blogger and works for Nemo Design. He brought along his own videographer for the event simply to help gather more content. Dave recorded our show at the Mohawk along with 10 other videographers and a massive amount of photographers. I'm not sure how much of the content will make its way to the web, but I can only imagine the terabytes of data each SXSW event produces on average.

Unfortunately, I'm primarily involved with the musical aspect of SXSW, so I really can't comment on the interactive festivities. I did get a chance to meet Alexis (the alien artist for Reddit) which was fun. A friend of mine that does a site called The Penny Jam also found a fan of his site Instant Rim Shot. Needless to say the two organized their chance meeting over Twitter. I'm not sure how deep the conversation was, but it is clear that if people can connect over a red button on a page, then this medium has some features that demand innovation.

SXSW is really like a big experiment. People come to town to see what's new and get ideas for the future. Rarely are these technical ideas, but rather innovations for media and expression. Some of the discussions are rather practical. This year the music attendees will be discussing in a very real terms how to save the industry. In previous years the traditional revenue streams were still present in the music industry but now that money is disappearing. Bands will be making even more attempts to get noticed, but the methodology will be a mix of word of mouth, social networking and web based publishing. There seems to be a real need for data to help make educated decisions among the sea of options. I'm not going to postulate what will come out of SXSW that will save the music industry, but I'm sure some ideas will be tested.

No matter what happens, SXSW is a good time. It is a ton of work, but the result is the largest musical event in the world.

If you are down for the festivities, I'd love to say hello. Feel free to come see me play sometime (our calendar) or send me a message (@ionrock and @umemusic).


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