Earlier this month, I attended the South By Southwest (SXSW) Music and Media Conference in Austin, TX. This event is a conference by day and festival showcase by night, the biggest music industry event of the year. This was my second time attending the event, my first being in 2008. I thought that I would share some of the most important takeaways I had from the 19 conference panels I attended as well as the overall experience of being there.
Hopefully the artists and industry folks reading this can learn a little bit about where the music business is and where it may be going. Music fans, if there is something that you would like to comment on or ask me about, please do—as you’ll see, this business is all about YOU, the audience.
You’re Still The One — It’s All about the Fans
- Being a successful artist is all about engaging your fans. In his keynote speech, Bob Geldof called music “the articulation of sense and soul” and stressed the power of music to move people and initiate change.
- Artists: expecting fans to come to you is a complete losing battle. When you’re in between tours, you need to reach out and touch a market when you’re not there through e-blasts, social network interaction, something to keep fans consistently interested.
- In regards to social media, “contextual ubiquity” is the end goal. This means the artist should be everywhere with everything—when relevant. You will probably lose fans if you send too many messages, come across as unauthentic, or sound like you are trying to sell them something.
- “Bi-directional communication and engagement” between the artist and consumer is a major part of the trend in mobile music. Fans don’t want to just hear what you have to say. They want to be part of a conversation.
- The audience’s perception of value differs by artist. You need to consider how these differences translate with your specific strategy, including your social media interactions.
OK, Computers — It’s All About Technology
- More people attended the SXSW Interactive conference on emerging technologies (est. 22,000) than the Music conference (18,000). In fact, Interactive attendance has DOUBLED each of the last 2 years, indicating a telling trend as to where young creative minds are investing their efforts.
- One panelist predicted that within the next 5 years, all music will move to “the cloud.” His belief is that it will be mostly streaming audio, as opposed to a “locker” service for digital tracks. However, there is still a ways to go in increasing bandwidth to make higher quality streaming available to everyone.
- A major label executive said that he expects the growth in iPads and other tablets to lead to cooler digital packaging options, as the market for more interactive content (think video, social, and website tie-ins) grows.
Give It Away, Now — The Value of Free
- Many panelists said that they had seen a significant uptick in sales for tracks that they had given away. While this may seem counter-intuitive, it’s about getting your music out to as many people as possible to spread the word to others. Hopefully it will drive them to your live shows, too.
- The give-away is especially important for new artists trying to develop a following. A lot of independent artists give away music on the artist services site ReverbNation.
- Giving away music also has the added benefit of getting you more data about your audience’s tastes and demographics, if you do it without alienating them (see “contextual ubiquity” above).
On The Road Again — Touring and Management
- Artists absolutely have to “kill it live.” This was reinforced by both the panels and the showcases, where fans were very supportive of the artists because the performance was entertaining and fun.
- Though the touring industry has struggled a bit over the last 2 years, it is one segment of the music business that is likely to recover more when the current recession ends. As a result, the artist management business has stayed relatively stable, but the manager’s role has changed somewhat during the industry decline.
- It is more important than ever for managers to be a team that the artist can count on to do whatever he needs. These needs are different from artist to artist and change over time. As one independent artist said, the manager is “a band member who believes in you more than you believe in yourself.”
- Artists should have more than 1 t-shirt for sale at shows. This not only gives fans more options but will make the fan ask himself not, “will I buy a shirt?” but “which one will I buy?”
Happy Together — Working With Brands
- A huge focus of the music business these days is the use of music in branding and marketing campaigns. Brands see music as an entry point to speak to consumers, and the taboo of “selling out” has been lifted—songwriters now write to make music for a living, however that works these days. Fans have also become more accepting of bands licensing their music to brands that they respect as well.
- Brands realize that songs by smaller artists have value, even if they don’t have huge sales. They have Twitter followings, Facebook “likes,” etc. which represent a pool of potential consumers for the brands.
- For an artist to hook up with a brand, he should determine what brands could be a good fit with his act, Google them to see what campaigns they are working on, read their press releases, and find out who their ad agencies are. It is great if the artist uses the brand’s product and shows people how they use it (Diplo and Blackberry is a great example).
Publish My Lovesong — Licensing
- Getting songs placed in T.V. and film is all about relationships. Independent artists should connect to indie filmmakers and film school students and attend film festivals to find people who may be looking for some music on the cheap.
- The licensing market may be bigger than you think: the BBC uses 200,000 pieces of music per week!
- Jinglepunks and Rumblefish are two licensing service companies that have relationships with T.V. networks and film producers and can help you (for a fee, of course) to get your music placed.
- Don’t forget about unconventional opportunities for licensing like web shows on YouTube and other sites.
Public Image, Unlimited — Label Identity
- Some labels automatically attract fans to their artists because they have an identifiable brand image that listeners trust.
- One indie label executive noted that her label is so eclectic in sound that “Quality” is the brand they have pursued. She also noted that signing an artist in a genre (R&B) that was different from the rest of their artists (Jazz) led the label to other opportunities for working with artists in that new genre.
- A strong label brand can help in marketing to get blogs and other media outlets to pay attention to the label and its artists.
Business Time — Entrepreneurship and General Thoughts on the Music Industry
- “There is Business, the Music Business, and the Indie Music Business.” Indies, like Centricity, tend to be more passion-driven than process-driven—people being involved in music because they can’t NOT be.
- Accepting failure is absolutely critical for entrepreneurs in growing a successful business. You have to be willing to take big risks.
- The blueprint for breaking a new act has to be a slower, longer process than for established artists. Don’t expect to make it big on the first album or in your first year.
I hope that this information was insightful and interesting. Do you have any thoughts on the future of music that you’d like to add? Do these ideas make you more hopeful or more pessimistic about the state of the music business a few years from now?