Saying Goodbye to SXSW

Last year I attend­ed my first South by South­west Music Fes­ti­val. It was a big deal! It was on the com­pa­ny dime! I lead a team of four peo­ple on a musi­cal jour­ney that took us from Rachael Ray to 2 Live Crew. We met a ton of inter­est­ing artists and talked to as many as we could on cam­era for I was real­ly proud of what we accom­plished in our first time out. Before we left for Austin, I ful­ly expect­ed that SXSW would be an annu­al event on my edi­to­r­i­al cal­en­dar.

What a dif­fer­ence a year makes.


SXSW Music Festival 2009

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’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.)