As many of you know, I decided to rock SXSW this year… literally, by attending both the SXSW Interactive and Music conferences. I remember Andy Brudtkuhl jokingly saying before I left for Austin, “You’re going to Interactive AND Music? Is that even humanly possible?” Obviously, Andy knows from experience that SXSW is more than just a gathering of badge-sporting geeks debating the next big social platform. I am here to tell you that, yes – it is possible, and I highly recommend it.
I think Foursquare co-founder Crowley put it best when he referred to South by Southwest Interactive as “spring break for nerds.” That said, it truly is a showcase for the brightest minds in technology and a great and rare opportunity to network with industry leaders and learn about the latest Internet innovations. Please forgive me if after 9 days and 10 nights of conferencing, networking, partying and rocking, my memories of the Interactive portion of the festival have grown a little foggy, but luckily I took copious notes, so let’s get straight to the Interactive highlights.
I was thrilled to find out during SXSW registration check-in that my Interactive and Music badges had somehow magically been combined to form a Platinum badge, which granted me access to the Music, Film and Interactive conferences. I tried to take the honest route, but the volunteers at registration recommended that I just “go with it”… and so I became a SXSW rockstar. Having a platinum badge was like having an all-access backstage pass at your favorite concert, except I had full access to the entire SXSW festival. Admittedly, I didn’t take full advantage of the film portion of the festival, but I did attend Jeffrey Tambor’s Acting Workshop with Nathan, which was well worth having film access in itself. I’m still kicking myself for not going to see the debut of KICK-ASS after hearing so much buzz about it, but it hits theaters April 16th, so we’ll all have to go check it out.
Panels / Sessions
As a sophomore at SXSW Interactive, I made it my goal to not attend any social media 101 panels, with the exception of SXSW Sars – a core conversation session about how to survive SXSW. I felt it was important to attend this panel after Andy questioned my chances of survival. The session featured a Whole Foods nutritionist and Jay Goldman of Rypple and some of his closest friends (all SXSW veterans) sharing their tips for how to stay healthy and avoid hangovers. I found the panel to be very helpful and even got to contribute my own advice about Emergen-C and saline nasal spray being part of my personal SXSW survival kit.
The rest of the panels I attended were very unique and niche. One of my favorite panels was Moon2.0: The Outer Limits of Lunar Exploration moderated by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Veronica McGregor (@MarsPhoenix), which addressed the topic of space exploration as a social experience and highlighted ways people can get involved, as well as introduced a few astronauts who are live tweeting from space: @Astro_Mike, @Astro_Soichi, and @Astro_Jeff. Another panel I thoroughly enjoyed was Black Blogging Rockstars, which featured pioneers and thought-leaders of the Black blogosphere, @jbrotherlove, Gina (@BWBConference), Deanna (@clutchmagazine) and Maurice (@mauricecherry), providing helpful advice on how to take your blog from a hobby to a monetized platform to deliver your message and become a Black Blogging Rockstar.
There was a lot of chatter in 2009 about Augmented Reality (AR), and many of us were trying to figure out how we could use this technological innovation to develop campaigns and applications that actually engage consumers, which is why I had to attend a panel called Augmented Reality – Gimmicky Trend or Market-Ready Technology. This panel explored the promise of AR and showed examples of how AR has been used to add real-world value beyond entertainment and marketing, such as the Lego virtual box, USPS box simulator and Google Sky Map for Androids. My absolute favorite panel during the Interactive conference was Devo,The Internet and You, featuring Devo, representatives of Warner Brothers Records and Devo’s advertising agency, Mother LA, showcasing how Devo Inc. are using the internet and technology to reach out to a new audience to test Devo’s music and brand and spread the word about De-evolution.
Reuniting with SXSW friends
Another highlight of my trip was reuniting with old friends like Megan Smith (@mightymegasaur), Community Manager for Ovation TV in LA, Greg Swan (@gregswan), Social Marketing Strategist @webershandwick, Jeremy Tanner (@penguin), and Hans Veldhuizen (@hansveld). I met Megan, Jeremy and Hans for the first time last year at SXSW and was tickled to see them all again this year. In addition to running into old friends, it was great to see so many familiar faces from the Midwest, including our friends at Silicon Prairie for throwing a kick-ass party at Lanai Lounge. Midwest definitely represented this year at SXSW, and I can only imagine that our presence will continue to grow with so many amazing tech startups on the rise.
SXSW Music and Media Conference
As Interactive came to a close and Music invaded Austin, I noticed a sudden shift in the crowd – Macbook-sporting, sweet t-shirt-wearing geeks with cool sneakers were being replaced by skinny jeans and an odor that can only be described as rockstar sweat. This was my first year attending the SXSW Music and Media Conference, a promise I kept to myself after leaving Austin last year pouting, as the venues started to fill with the sweet sound of music and the streets transformed from a Mardi Gras-like hipster parade to complete chaos. And now for the highlights.
Panels / Sessions
I was curious to see how the music business panels would differ from the Interactive panels. I found that a lot of the hot topics were very similar to the technology conversations, addressing the past, present and future of music business, with emphasis on the evolution of the tools that bands are using to communicate with their fans and how the rise of the Internet is affecting the music industry. Some of my favorite panels were Trends in Taking Your Music to Market, 1,000 Digital Tools & Strategies: Which 3 Work? , TV Resurrects the Radio Star, and Music Journalism in a Post-print Era.
This was the first year that SXSW decided to try SXXpress passes, a new feature for the SXSW Film and Music festivals that allows badge-holders to bypass the lines at theater and music venues to go to the front of the line. The catch: the SXXpress post opened daily at 10am, and there were a limited number of passes for each venue. Jill Haverkamp and I decided that it was absolutely necessary to take advantage of this feature as to not miss the bands on our must-see list. We first tried the passes on March 18 at Mowawk to see Holy F*ck and The XX, where we bypassed a line of 100 non-badge-holders and another line of 100 badge-holders and walked right into the venue. After this experience we knew that SXXpresses were the greatest thing ever and worth the sacrifice of sleep.
Music, music and more music
I am still in disbelief of the sheer volume of great bands that I got to see in a 4-day period. My absolute favorite shows were Holy F*ck, The xx, Broken Social Scene and Sleigh Bells. Other shows I was lucky enough to attend included Year Long Disaster, Modern Skirts, Salem, JJ, Amaral, Mozella, Scorpion Child, Andrew W.K., F*cked Up, Gwar, Neon Indian, Japandroids, Pictureplane, The Very Best and Freddie Gibbs. My biggest takeaway at SXSW music: less panels – more live music, always get a SXXpress pass for a show you don’t want to miss, and try to attend as many parties as possible that have multiple bands playing that you like vs. standing in line for individual shows.
That’s it, friends. If you need me, I’ll be recovering for the next two weeks to make up for the damage I have inflicted on my body during my 10-day stint at SXSW 2010.
Want to learn more about any of the above Interactive topics? Let me know which panel you think sounds most interesting in the comments, and I’ll write an entire blog post about it.