Panos Panay surveys the brand activation at SXSW Interactive from Java Jive in downtown Austin. (Photo: Glenn Peoples)

Sonicbids had a big presence at 2012's SXSW Interactive, bringing nearly two dozen people - everyone from engineers to salespeople - and renting a "big-ass house" in Austin, as founder and CEO Panos Panay ( @SonicbidsPanos) put it to Billboard.biz. As the company becomes more involved in branding, the annual conference provides a good place to study how brands, technology and music interact.

Q: Do you see a lot of good brand activation at Interactive?
A: I do. Quite a bit. It's pretty insane how many brands are here in various capacities.

Q: Over the years, is it more, or is it smarter activation or is it both?
A: I think it's both. It's think it's both more, so you see more brands present. You can even look outside here. In our periphery there's Bing right there and Ask Jeeves right there. But I also think as brands are figuring out social, and social is becoming a lot more important for them. And I also think that as brands are figuring out that music is such a great hook and that emotion music evokes is such a great way of reaching out to people, you're seeing [brands] a lot more present here and [being] a lot smarter in the way they're going out there and activating their brand campaigns.

Q: Is there any one technology or app you're looking forward to seeing while you're here?
A: I'm actually just looking to find out about what is out there now. I can't say if there's one particular one. Maybe Pinterest is one thing that's come about in the last few weeks - all of a sudden they've gone from nowhere to somewhere. I'd like to find out more about how brands are going to use different social platforms than the big ones - the Facebooks, the Twitters, and maybe after that you have the Instagrams, the YouTubes. I'm actually here as part of Interactive to find out what I don't know about. What is that garage startup that started a week or two or three or six months ago that me sitting up in my office in Boston has no idea about. And I think that's what this event is becoming a lot more about.

Q: How do you do that? There are so many people. You go in a party and it's crowded. Do you set meetings or are you winging it and hoping you meet the right people.
A: The panel content is really great. I use the [SXSW] app. It's amazing how my discovery habits have changed and how the app has aided quite a bit the discovery of panels. Because it wasn't easy even two or three years ago. You'd pick up a guide and go, 'Oh my god, what is all this stuff? I don't even know where to go.' This year we have 22 or 23 Sonicbids people here, including for the first time we have all our product people, a bunch of our time engineers. We're sending them to different panels. For them it's more of an education thing. Go out and find out what's going on and report back to us. This is something a quote-unquote music company like us would have not really done four or five years ago.

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