Conventions & Awards

Do SXSWi’s Tech Trends Foretell The Future Of Music?

Leap_motion-285x238By Eliot Van Buskirk of

Monday was the last day of SXSW Interactive, which means people are posting lists of trends purporting to distill this incredibly wide-ranging event into a few key trends — “takeaways,” if you will — from the event. These hopefully say something about where we are, both culture- and business-wise, as of March 2013.

We like NPR All Tech Considered’s list, because it’s comprehensive without being overwhelming or ridiculous. We’ll take each of the trends found by the authors of that piece and apply them to the music tech scene, to see what we might expect from the coming year of Super Neat Stuff in Music.

“Beyond The Keyboard And Mouse”

Like many other publications, All Tech Considered sees this as the year that SXSW Interactive “went hardware,” so to speak. Rather than debuting apps, as in years past, more startups are showing off hardware. Leap Motion (pictured) is the one every is talking about, and we’ve already covered what it can do for music: Let you navigate Spotify by swiping the air or play dubstep with invisible instruments, for starters.

All Tech Considered says the goal is to make computers “more like toys,” which sounds like mostly a good thing where music (making and enjoying) is concerned.

“Track Thyself”

If the last 50 years of technology were about giving humans stuff to watch, will the next 50 be about teaching stuff to watch humans?

Nike FuelBand (which turned an entire building into a music app at SXSW 2012) and Fit Bit are just the beginning: The personal sensors at SXSW 2013 connect to apps to monitor our blood glucose, detect cancer (via electronic bra), and more, often with the goal of staying healthy or getting exercise. However, as Nike’s FuelBand party showed last year (people had to dance to raise the venue’s energy level), there’s plenty of potential for building (or hacking) musical stuff on top of these trackers. A music app could even save your life.

“3-D Printing Popularity”

Most people know you can print simple stuff now, like a garden gnomes and the like, that are made out of a single material in a single shape. At Friday’s SXSW keynote, Makerbot founder Bre Pettis revealed a scanner that can figure out what an object is, so that you can scan it later. This probably doesn’t mean much for music, although it should be possible to download and print out cheap, boutique musical instruments. There are also implications for merch.

 “Inspiring Entrepreneurs”

Some people are saying that SXSW is more like CES these days, with the hardware emphasis, but it’s also a bit more like TED, too, with entrepreneurs taking the stage to present inspiring life stories along with their ideas. This year, 3D-printing innovator Ping Fu told the story about how after her biological and adoptive parents were killed in China, she was told to leave too or be killed, so she moved to the United States, studied computer science, and founded Geomagic, making just about everyone else in the world feel like entitled slackers (other than that, not much here for music).

Grumpy-297x238“Beyond A Work-Life Balance”

In technology hotbed Sweden, fathers get 240 paid days off, per child, until each kid is 8. On top of that, the country recently considered forcing dads to take three full months off for paternity leave. We know a guy who works at Spotify in Sweden, and he was out for six whole months. To most Americans, that would seem insane, but many of us would probably agree that a healthy work-life balance is important — if only so that you can do better work.

What does this mean for music? Well, when you’re working on some tasks, music can increase your attention, while adding a little “life” to your day, even if you’re at work. The FM radio that used to sit there in some offices, blaring ads and general preogramming? We can do better.

 “Meme Machines”

Lastly, SXSW Interactive 2013 was the year when the a cat received the lion’s share of attention. The entire festival apparently ground to a halt at one point so everyone could get in line to get their picture taken with Grumpy Cat (pictured), one of the internet’s finest, at the Mashable tent. If you thought 2013 might be the year when we could stop putting up with mandatory musical attention grabbers like the Harlem Shake, you’ll have to wait another year.

Images courtesy of Leap Motion and Grumpy Cats

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