While South by Southwest's Interactive (SXSWi) and Music festivals are essentially two separate events, they do have one major thing in common: music. Many music companies will be at both conferences, having meetings, speaking on panels and networking at evening after-parties. Expect the typically heavy flow of press releases as companies announce new products and partnerships. And look for tech enthusiasts to vet a slew of next-big-thing mobile apps looking to use SXSW as a launching pad.
But the two portions of the annual SXSW conference are hardly similar. They run at separate times - Interactive precedes Music - and are culturally divergent. When Interactive fades into Music, the clothes get more tattered, the hair gets longer and people attend beer-soaked day parties scattered around downtown rather than thought-provoking panel discussions in the convention center. The Music event is filled with artists, managers, agents, labels, brands and marketers who make up a living in the music business. Interactive is filled with technologists certain they know what's best for the music business.
The music-themed panels and discussions at this year's SXSWi will be centered on a few themes: music discovery; music data; music and social networks; do-it-yourself marketing and streaming as the business model of the future. Most music panels are on Tuesday, March 13. Unfortunately, some of them run concurrently.
Among the highlights could be a solo presentation from Spotify chief content officer Ken Parks at 11am on Tuesday, March 13. Parks should have plenty to say about recent criticism of notable Spotify holdouts - Coldplay, Adele, the Black Keys - and streaming models' payouts to artists and labels. Any bloggers looking for a "gotcha" quote probably won't get one here, however. Spotify executives are extremely good at staying on-message.
More than a few people think social will be the next driving force in music. " Can Social Music Save the Music Industry?" at 12:30pm on Tuesday, March 13 has an overblown title - if the business can be saved, it will surely require more than social innovations - but should be a good discussion. RootMusic CEO J Sider, Official.fm chief product officer Jason Herskowitz, Songkick co-founder and CPO Michelle You and Polyvinyl Record Co. label manager Seth Hubbard will tell us how social will change how people discover and experience music. At the same time, " Turntable.fm is the Future of Music is Social" with the company's co-founders will provide more insight into social music and hopefully explain why Turntable.fm was not able to maintain its summer 2011 hot streak.
Marketing advice will abound at SXSWi but only one panel will focus on music. Crowd Factory CEO Sanjay Dholakia will lead a panel about new social marketing techniques titled "Forget Radio, Let Your Fans Market Your Music," at 3:30pm on Tuesday, March 13.
SXSWi specializes in the kind of geeky topics that don't fit well with the music conference audience. One example "Data Mining Music" by the Echo Nest's director of developer platform, Paul Lamere, at 5pm on Sunday, March 11. Expect a dizzying and fascinating display of the ways programmers can work with large data sets of music intelligence and the products that can be created.
Rovi's Michael Papish will present "The Dark Arts of Digital Music Recommendations" about data- and algorithm-driven music suggestions at 1pm on Tuesday, March 12. " Music Discovery: Man vs. Machine," at 9:30am on Tuesday, March 13, will pit the human world (represented by KCRW and Sperry Media) against the machine world (Wahwah.fm and We Are Hunted).
This year's SXSWi may or may not be the launching ground for a game-changing, breakthrough app. The conference is to mobile apps what the NFL combine is to the NFL draft: a brief, intense showcase where critical analysts poke and prod aspiring millionaires. Every few years SXSWi graduates a superstar - Twitter debuted at SXSW in 2007 and Foursquare made waves in 2009. But even if SXSWi was their coming out party, most of these apps don't make it into the mainstream's consciousness.
Which apps have the best chances of rising above the noise? An app needs to have widespread appeal to become a SXSWi buzz app, so breakthrough apps are likely to involve communication or networking. Some leading candidates are Highlight and Glancee, apps that combine social networking and geo-location. Imagine opening the Highlight app, seeing other app users in the room, reading the bio of a person standing on the other side of the room and sending that person a message. Early adopters should find these apps fun and helpful, but the rest of America might have a different opinion. After all, one man's networking is another man's cyberstalking.
Considering how important music is to the conference, it's ironic that music apps don't make a bigger splash at SXSWi. There will be a couple app events, however. " Music 2.0: Engaging Fans with Mobile Social Apps," at 12:30pm on Tuesday, March 13, will feature executives from Mobile Roadie, MTV Networks, Creative Artists Agency and GetGlue. For an overview of today's better music apps, check out "Music Apps Gone Wild" by Evolver.fm editor Eliot Van Buskirk at 1:30pm on Sunday, March 11.
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