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Reflections On SXSW 2013

image from www.hypebot.comThe romantic notion of being spotted in a small bar, by someone with power in the industry, is bought to the forefront at SXSW. With each tiny piece of available performance real estate taken by an eclectic mix of artists, SXSW is a bubbling hub of multinational talent. 

With artists often playing multiple shows, there is the opportunity to create a buzz, and for that buzz to reach people that matter in time for them to catch another show. In principle, this is the perfect formula to bring the artist and industry together. However, the question is - are the people that matter actually looking for new talent, and does A&R still exist in a capacity capable of benefiting from such a melting pot of confined artist activity?

Taking in the sites of south by, it is very hard not to see the plethora of corporate branding adorning the streets of Austin. Every major stage comes with a major sponsor. This is of course not unusual, but the sheer volume of brands wishing to align their lifestyle message with SXSW, would certainly entertain the notion that the landscape of the festival has somewhat shifted.

This year’s SXSW was seemingly a confirmation that the music industry is still desperately trying to find it’s footing. It also bought home the fact that, in order for its survival, SXSW has become much more punter friendly and Coachella like. It also suggested that a bands usefulness in the major commercial market is now not as unit shifters, but as a cool way for brands to connect to their demographic.

Brands want bands to make them look good, and the current climate could not be better for this to take hold.

This is because:

a)    The vast majority of bands currently in the mainstream are safe for your parents to listen to.
b)    The majority of labels representing bands are eager to exploit every avenue of publicity and income. 

Big brands don’t like controversy; everything is done by committee, and the final output slowly watered down and lawyered out with a hot iron. The current slew of folk acts currently attacking rock radio fit nicely on every executive’s iPod, and provide a perfect soundtrack to the big brand hacking of the music industry. 

And this was the problem with SXSW, everything was too preplanned, every secret show careful scripted and sponsored, and no publicity opportunity missed. Every stage was dutifully programmed with the big brand pleasing radio acts that we already know. Or alternately the ones that have already been predetermined as next year’s big thing. Backed with a stack of dollars, and a bag of metaphoric chips tucked in the top pocket of their waistcoat, strategically placed so their banjo strap doesn’t obscure the label.

SXSW is a reflection of the industry as it has become today. A place where there are no chances taken, and other peoples money is used as much as possible to make up for the lack of secure income the failing industry provides. This isn’t the fault of anybody; it’s more like the default, the way it has to be.

SXSW becoming the first stop off on the festival calendar for bands on route to Coachella is no bad thing. For a festival to take over the center of a town as musically driven as Austin is quite the spectacle. As a launch pad for established bands new album, or a labels little darlings, it couldn’t be better poised, but as a discovery engine and celebration of the unsigned, SXSW may have had it’s day.

Robin Davey is Head Of Music and Film Development at GROWvision, Director of Live From Daryls House, and Editor of