Call it "Spring Break for Geeks" or "Shitshow" as you like, but SXSW remains an important convergence of innovators, tastemakers and press that can make or break a fledgling company's mainstream aspirations.
Twitter and Foursquare are perhaps the two most successful companies to employ this strategy. Asking which company will be the next Twitter or Foursquare is somewhat pointless as that kind of SXSW success is exceedingly rare. But there are a number of tech trends worth following that anyone in music attending the event from the interactive portion on should bear in mind.
Music Sharing Apps
Whether they're focused online or on mobile, app developers have largely given up on licensing music for full-song streaming or selling. Instead, they're focusing on the music periphery, specifically applying social networking conventions to music. And since SXSW is a great place to check out bands, these new apps may gain a quick following based on their usage at the event:
- SoundTracking: from Schematic Labs, the SoundTracking app lets users share what music they're listening to in several different ways-either what they're listening to on their phone or what they're hearing around them. Users can add pictures and messages to the update, and those receiving these updates can sample 90-second previews thanks to an integration with iTunes (and of course buy the track via iTunes as well).
- SoundCloud: the app just added integration with Foursquare that lets users share what they're listening to on the popular location based service upon check in.
SXSW is a massive conference, with more going on than anyone could possibly keep track of. So any app that helps attendees keep track of where to go and what to do has a chance of planting a lasting flag. That's how Twitter and Foursquare got their start. Here are a few to follow:
- Foursquare: in the week before SXSW, Foursquare launched its biggest update yet, adding an Explore recommendations tab and new loyalty programs for participating merchants. It's aggressively targeted Austin-area merchants as early adopters so it can show them off during SXSW. For instance, it's teamed up with RCRD LBL to give users who check in at venues where the labels' bands are playing the chance to win free music and an iPad 2.
- Hey Tell: Remember those annoying push-to-talk phones from the likes of Nextel, that turned mobile phones into walkie-talkies? Well, they're back. Sort of. Hey Tell is a free app that has some 4 million users already and just launched a new feature that lets users send voice messages to other users in the same location.
Tr.eehou.se: The company is testing out an app that lets users recommend nearby parties, events and meet-ups to other users based on their location. It's currently in closed beta, but at SXSW is launching its "social ninja"(http://tr.eehou.se/ninja) app customized just for SXSW events and parties. The idea is to use SXSW to test out its event submissions tool, and hopefully gain some early buzz before launching more broadly.
Along with all the startup firms roaming around the show trying to get noticed, a select few have been chosen to present at the Microsoft BizSpark Accelerator competition. There are various categories of interest, but the Music category is of course the one we're interested in.
After a quick browsing of the finalists, the two with the likely best shot at winning are:
The Next Big Sound: The company's made quite an impact in the last year with its system for tracking and reporting the online social buzz of artists in a measurable and actionable way. It won the B2B portion of a similar competition at MIDEM, founder Alex White was featured in Billboard 30 Under 30 last year and was selected as one of our Top Startups of 2010.
RootMusic: The company behind BandPages on Facebook. RootMusic remains Facebook's most popular app and is instrumental in giving artists a presence on the world's most popular social networking service. With Myspace in decline, and Facebook not doing anything itself to pick up the slack, RootMusic is filling a very important niche. It too was named to Billboard Top Startups of 2010.
A possible darkhorse contender here is Shuffler.fm: the service aggregates all the music blogs online into a sort of radio station organized by genre. It won a special mention at MIDEM during a similar competition.