Sunday, March 16, 2008

Is SXSW mired in the past?

What with its shiny Interactive curtain-raiser and everyone twittering and blogging and uploading to YouTube, SXSW seems like the very model of a modern music festival.

Is it, though? Bob Lefsetz isn't so sure:

Can an unsigned band get noticed? And, do we even bother to use that term anymore, "unsigned". Do you want to get signed?

I mean what are the chances that the cognoscenti are going to care about your band when R.E.M. and even Van Morrison are shilling for attention. Oh, it makes you feel good, to rent a U-Haul, sleep four to a room and perform a set no one cares about. The same way it makes you feel good to send a CD to me! It’s amazing what people will do to make themselves feel good, make them believe they’re making progress.

The new music business isn’t at SXSW. Why should it be?

It's a fair point - we were reading something about SXSW which pointed out that it was being used to try and restart A Flock of Seagulls' stalled career twenty years ago. But SXSW has adapted itself beautifully to the modern world. Perhaps this has lessons for the incumbent major labels about how to make yourself seem a little less tatty in the internet age - after all, if you can make a Music Industry Showcase seize the attention of half the internet for a week, you must know what you're doing. The embrace of the possibilities of the the web has helped - the massive bundles of free mp3s and the encouragement of streaming gigs and sponsorship of blogging-related activities has all helped. The key word, of course, is "embrace", compared with the label's stiff, reluctant courtship.

And it's that reluctance that Lefestz points to when suggesting that, however web 2.o compliant the organisers of SXSW might be, they're still running an event which relies for its existence on businesses that don't get it, still, yet, perhaps never, and bands who hope that leaping into bed with them might be an easy route:
All you bands playing SXSW, you abhor Top Forty radio, but that’s all the majors are interested in. And chances are if you’re a good-looking automaton, ready to go the Jessica/Paris/Lindsay route, you’ve already got handlers in New York or L.A. with a pipeline to the old guard, you don’t have to go to SXSW to get noticed.

Or you could go to the panels at SXSW. To learn that fewer people have jobs at less money. I’ve debated Net monetization at these conventions for NINE YEARS and nothing has happened. Everybody’s just reacted to what some college student, not in attendance, ultimately has done.

Everyone’s looking for a shortcut. Everyone’s looking for answers. Everybody wants to get PAID!

The big threat to SXSW is not that people will listen the Lefsetz, but that they'll come to a similar conclusion from their own calculations - if you're going to go somewhere to get noticed, the chances of standing out are somewhat decreased when you're heading there with half the bands currently existing.