How long was your March 15th? Take that, add two hours, but only account for 3 hours of sleep. At least, that was the case for Shay and I. Chelsea drove 8 hours straight, then hopped on a plane that got her to the conferences mid-day. Hello Austin, TX and 90˚ heat. Jesus take the wheel.
SXSW’s first day of Music Conferences began with public radio icon Ira Glass of This American Life. Interviewed by Mark Olsen, Glass was asked to share his his views of broadcast journalism in comparison with that of his work on the film Sleepwalk with Me. Glass told us the simple truth: making good content is the biggest challenge of producing radio journalism. However, he found that podcasting listenership is a huge arena for journalism right now: while it took 4 years for Glass and his team to reach 1 million downloaders, it only took 4 weeks to reach that many subscribers for the spinoff podcast, Serial, launched in 2014. Glass stressed that podcasting relies on the relationship between the technology and the content, stressing that the technology has no appeal without engaging content. In comparison with filmmaking, he said that he enjoys taking the time to do something that is fiction. This turned some gears: why not do a fictional podcast? Apparently, The Message has already done it, and there’s plenty of criticism accompanying it. Glass ended with his Golden Rule of media: only make things that you yourself would consume.
The second panel attended included Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Panos Panay, Hank Shocklee and facilitator Maura Corbett. This panel focused on the transparent future of music: a loss of industry value, artist proliferation, and leaving behind a “Golden Era of Music.” Some panelists argued that there was never a Golden Era, that in fact musicians have always been struggling to stay out of the red and in the black. Though streaming and royalties are not doing musicians justice, the future of music requires integration of music with other media makers, as the music industry was not created in a vacuum. The most important lingering question from this panel: what is the Uber of music? How will artists receive immediate and fair pay for their art?
A third panel covered Arts and Social Impact, in which several creators and non-profit founders discussed their work in communities that inspire art to be created. Adam Green of San Francisco’s Exploratorium spoke about the Whispering Dishes that you may have interacted with in the past. Green explained how they allow strangers to interact, and how several more dish art pieces have been created through the city and near schools as learning and play spaces. The biggest challenge: getting the local government to support art-based initiatives. Luckily, the Santa Cruz community promotes art education heavily, but how can we bring this, and college radio, as an educational tool into the lives of those who aren’t already exposed to it?
After, we attended a panel titled Tech, Impact, and Driving Social Change. This panel talked about how to carefully invest in social change. This panel was not geared toward the radio or music industry, but I decided to go anyway because any form of social change is important to consider. The panel talked about how technology is the way of the future and how it can lead to possibly alleviating poverty. Another speaker spoke about how coding could be a viable opportunity for those that don’t have a college education, such as the Coalition for Queens, a non-profit organization that works to increase economic opportunity by “[transforming] the world’s most diverse community into a leading hub for innovation and entrepreneurship.”
We stepped into an audio tech and recording industry panel called “High Definition Audio: FLAC or Fluke.” The panel was focused on the industry’s shift concerning lossless audio files and codecs. High quality audio streaming is currently a niche market, waiting for mainstream adoption by the likes of streaming powerhouses such as Spotify and Pandora. The data shows that most listeners do in fact notice and appreciate high resolution upgrades to the listening experience, hinting that high resolution streaming could easily become the next big trend to cash out on. The opportunities of high definition streaming do not stop at file development. The adoption of premium files by mainstream streaming services would also put demand on complementary businesses, such as headphone manufacturers, broadband providers, etc.
Towards the end the day, I wandered across town to check out a panel concerning copyright law titled “F*** You, Sue Me: Artists Rights Corporate Theft.” This panel featured multiple artists, as well as a lawyer that specialized in media and copyright. The biggest question asked was what happens when a corporation steals your work? Typically, the answer is a lengthy court case. In many cases, the independent artist has prevailed over the corporation, but unfortunately, corporations can often afford stronger legal backup than the low-budget artist. If anything, we all walked out of this panel with more respect for the craft of the underdog.
Come the evening, we passed through shows featuring the likes of Diet Cig, Sunflower Bean, Ruby Jane & The Reckless, CAPYAC, Lushes, Tennis System, Still Corners, Sextile and Vaadat Charigim. Spinning their new album Ceremony on repeat, we have a clear bias toward Sunflower Bean, who played three songs in a glass box studio presented by Mazda or Comcast or something. Honorable mention to Still Corners, whose brooding songs soothed our eardrums.
South by Southwest day one concluded at 1:00am. Stay tuned for updates from the mayhem.