=A gathering of thousands of musicians is a good place to find the CEO of a global rights agency that represents independent music companies in over 25 countries. Charles Caldas is CEO of Merlin, the nearly five-year-old network that represents labels and distributors in their online deals. Billboard chatted with Caldas on a warm Austin afternoon and talked about the conversations he's having with Merlin members and what he does in Austin after the meetings are over.
What themes do you want to talk to people most while here at SXSW?
The first thing is looking at how in a world of streaming services and YouTube, revenue streams have started to come more under the direct control of independent labels, how [labels are] dealing with that on a label-by-label basis. You can now use your Facebook presence, your Twitter presence, your mailing lists to actually drive consumption on music services like Spotify and Rdio and YouTube changes the notion of distribution as something passive. Distribution used to be something you used to hand off to someone else to do for you. The results and the functions of distribution are much more in the control of individual labels now. It's interesting to see how people are dealing with that, in particular in a year now where Spotify has grown to a million-plus subscribers in America, where Muve Music has grown to a million-plus subscribers in America, and try to get a feeling for where that goes next.
How many times have you been to SXSW?
This is my fifth SXSW. I came here at the early part of Merlin because the American labels we represent who don't travel to Midem or the European territories that often, this is a great place to know that everyone is going to be in the same place for that same period of time. It's a great chance to meet a lot of the people we already represent, people who were interested in talking to us about what Merlin did. Initially it started off as almost a research for us on who was in the market and who was doing what. And now it's become a great chance to meet the services we're in business with, the labels we're already in business with, talk to new labels who are interested in what we're doing. It's definitely become a major focal point for me in my year.
How much time do you spend in the States every year?
I come to the States four or five times every year. Between the West Coast and East Coast and this event and CMJ and New Music Seminar and Indie Week, I have plenty of excuses to come here. And given most of what we do on a practical level, from a deal-making point of view is in the U.S., we're trying to have as much presence here as we can.
What about bands. How much time do you actually have to get out and see music while you're here?
One of the great pleasures for me at SXSW is one my meetings are over in the afternoon I can actually be an event where I can actually see some music. Every year I've gone away with one of two bands I'd never heard before that I had particularly enjoyed. Last year it was War on Drugs and Sharon Van Etten. The year before it was Phosphorescent. There's also a great chance to see bands I do know that I haven't had the chance to see before all kind of condensed in this mad, mad four days. It definitely reminds me why I'm in the music business, which is a good thing for me.
What about dining options in Austin?
I think barbeque is one of the greatest revelations of coming to SXSW. My go-to is Ruby's in the north part of Austin and one that's closed now, Art's, which was down South Congress or South Lamar which was more meat than a man should probably eat but memorable nonetheless.