As I read this post over at Gorilla vs. Bear, I couldn’t help but think, “Who’s actually going to SXSW next year?” I went for the first time in 2008 and had a lot of fun. Sure, I was leading a team on a grueling four day mission in desert heat for my day job, but that’s the tradeoff. It was a cool experience. But will I go back next year? Probably not.
Why? There are a few reasons, but let me start with the most obvious. Few people care about SXSW coverage, even among indie enthusiasts. The blogosphere is glutted every March with chatter and video of new bands. It’s the sort of noise that turns people off. It’s also not all that interesting when many of these bands will criss-cross the country on their route to Austin, or as they depart. Why go when the band will be coming to you anyway?
And video? It’s impossible to shoot, edit, and cut fast enough to keep it interesting. I talked to my friend Brandon at Stereogum about how tough it is to make SXSW coverage compelling when the audience is fed up by the time the festival ends. I don’t even know if I saw Pitchfork.tv’s coverage on their site! It’s disheartening because this is the sort of content producers want to work, mainly because few outlets can provide HD video on-site, which keeps it above the amateur shaky cam shots you see all over Youtube. It’s a great idea that hasn’t yet been realized. Maybe Qik and other livestreaming products will make it work, but we’re not there yet.
What does that mean? It means going back to basics. It means outlets big and small will send fewer correspondents, if any, to cover an event that grows larger every year. SXSW has defied the odds as the music business contracts, but I wonder how it will fare as the economy contracts as well. I suspect that they’ll see fewer corporate sponsorships, which will make those pesky, fun free shows more difficult to produce. SXSW may regain control of its beloved festival, but who’ll pony up for those lame credentials? All the fun stuff happens at the unsanctioned events!
2009 will be an interesting year for the music industry as festivals and entrepreneurs try to buck conventional wisdom. (If you haven’t read Idolator’s take on the Topspin model, I recommend you do.)