Friday, March 25, 2011
What I Learned At My First SXSW
Live music is alive and well.......
As somebody who loves music but does not frequently attend live shows and as somebody who constantly reads statistics about declining concert ticket sales, I’d made the assumption that the concert industry is fading out in favor of the online music experience. I learned at SXSW that this is simply not true. I was blown away by the staggering number of venues, artists and hardcore music fans in attendance as well as the excitement surrounding each and every one of them. Tens of thousands of people flew hundreds of miles to cram as much music into every waking hour as possible. As a web marketer it was also exciting to see the amount of digital content being captured by fans at any given show. One could not look up without seeing dozens of smartphones, handheld video cameras and still cameras capturing every moment of every performance. One would hope that this content would quickly make its way to the social web and serve to promote the art and careers of the performers.
......but it’s not really my thing.
Well, at least not this particular brand of live music. For me personally the live music experience must contain a number of elements in order to provide the necessary value. In most cases I must already know and love the music that I am hearing performed live. Second, I have to be physically comfortable during the show. Getting knocked around and having my feet stepped on by thousands of sweaty, head-banging fans just isn’t for me. Call me what you wish, but I’m a pretty athletic guy and even just standing up in a crowd for many hours at a time is exhausting. Third, the sound quality has to be superior. In almost every SXSW showcase I attended the sound was deafening and I didn’t even come close to hearing and appreciating the lyrics, melodies, and chord structure that make a true song. Yes, I realize that this is the norm for a live show, but for some reason I just can’t get past this. It’s 2011—why can’t they make speakers that work?
Work travel is exactly that: Work.
Travel is among one of my major passions in life. Naturally when the chance to attend SXSW through my company came up I jumped at the opportunity. I’d never been to Austin, never been to a music festival of this magnitude, and SXSW is even listed in my go-to travel guide The 1000 Places To See Before You Die. Naturally I saw having to work as a small price to pay for the experience. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite that simple. I didn’t appreciate until I was on the ground just how much I’d miss the leisure and pace of vacation travel—particularly the ability to escape the noise, the heat and the crowd when by body was telling me to do so. Television production is exhausting, both mentally and physically, and most of my days were spent tagging along with the host and crew, snapping pictures and social filing along the way. It also surprised me that my strict regimen of diet and exercise in the months leading up to the festival did not translate into the energy that would have been ideal in this setting. I was tired. I was hot. My feet hurt. When a day of shooting was done I found myself not hopping from showcase to showcase but licking my wounds in my hotel room and in bed by midnight.
Panic! At The Disco fricking rocks.
This was the one band at SXSW that I was majorly excited to see. Our production team had scheduled an interview with them but as I was not a direct part of the production team it was unclear for awhile whether I’d be present for the interview or even the show itself. Thankfully the segment producer Iva made the effort to walk me past security into a backstage area where the interview had taken place, and for a few minutes I was actually standing right next to the band. Very cool. After dinner, she also sent me back to the show with a handheld video camera to shoot B-roll footage. I own and have listened extensively to everything that P!ATD has put out, and I guess I always assumed that because of the complex production style and unique nature of the lead singers voice, a lackluster live show was unavoidable. How wrong I was. They were electric, performing all of their hits from the previous 2 albums (including my favorites ‘New Perspective’ and ‘Nine In The Afternoon’) and tracks from their new album Vices and Virtues that I’ve been immersed in since its release on Tuesday.
Austin. Cool city.
The jaded New Yorker in me could not get over how friendly and welcoming just about every single person in Austin was. Even the cab drivers! Even the bouncers! Even airport security! I cannot tell you how refreshing this was. It’s sad that service workers in New York are so needlessly nasty that a friendly smile in another city leaves me in a state of shock, but I appreciate it all the more when I’m on the road. I was also floored by the number of music venues. You always hear about Austin and its live music scene, but I literally could not walk for 30 minutes in any direction without hearing a band playing in some bar. The East Village pales in comparison. Only complaint? Not enough cabs.
I want a tattoo.
Sorry mom. They’re just too cool to resist. While the hipster/indie rock style of dress I saw a great deal of in Austin definitely isn’t my thing, I saw a lot of tattoos that looked really, really good. The only thing that has held me back from taking the plunge is that I don’t know exactly what I want. Maybe I’ll have figured it out by SXSW 2011.
I need to invest more time into music discovery.
Spending the weekend with Steven Smith, AbsolutePunk blogger Tony Pascarella and a number of other festival-goers brought me to the realization that while I consider myself a die-hard music fan, in recent years I’ve put very little effort into discovering new artists outside of the mainstream. All weekend I was surrounded by folks who seemed to know everything about every band that had ever existed. Beyond the headliners I wouldn’t have known where to begin. More full album downloads, more online radio, and more Pandora are definitely on my to-do list.