Off the Record
The Future Is Unwritten
"Basically we're in the same position now that we were in a year ago," surmises James Petralli, vocalist/guitarist for White Denim, with cautious optimism. "We have a finished record and are hoping someone wants to put it out."
This time last year, White Denim was the subject of more blog buzz than a Kanye West rant, thanks to the trio's ecstatic melding of hard funk and dynamite soul. The local powerhouse has since found firm footing in the UK, due in part to its European label, Full Time Hobby, and high praise from Mojo magazine, both of which co-host the band's Friday showcase at Radio Room Patio. The group has failed to gain similar traction stateside, exploring a variety of outlets – licensing an exclusive EP to the ad-driven RCRD LBL; online distribution of its full-length debut, Exposion, via Topspin Media; and even a personal subscription service – that exemplify both the possibilities and pitfalls enabled by the Digital Age.
The 23rd annual South by Southwest Music Festival for White Denim and countless others presents an opportunity to start fresh. As the most influential confluence of music, trade, and media, the Conference gives acts an unparalleled ability to build their own 360 deals, granting access to every avenue of the music industry in one whirlwind of a week. From back alleys and abandoned warehouses to pizza joints and record stores, everything transforms not only into a stage but a potential platform for exposure.
"South by Southwest is more than a marathon audition," Jon Pareles concluded last year in The New York Times. "It's a chance for social networking in real time and space. The exhilaration of so many performances in such a short time is a morale booster for both business people and fans, and an annual reminder that the fortunes and misfortunes of the recording business don't stop the music."
SXSW has continued to expand in 2009, wrangling a grand total of 87 official venues, including new additions such as Mother Egan's Irish Pub and the Music Gym, not to mention the Second Play Stages at Downtown hotels (Hilton, Radisson, Sheraton, Hyatt Regency), whose daily performances – like those broadcast live on DirecTV from the Bat Bar and Lone Star Lounge in the Austin Convention Center – are free and open to the general public. That's not even taking into account the ever-increasing proliferation of pirate events, such as the two-stage Mess With Texas 3 bash on Saturday at Waterloo Park, presented by local booking/promotion venture Transmission Entertainment.
While the number of Music registrants is down roughly 10%, there are more than 1,950 showcasing bands – another new record – one-third of which are foreign. Worldwide, there are 57 different countries represented, leading to Fest hot spots such as Canada House at the new El Sol y la Luna on Sixth Street and the return of the British Embassy in Latitude 30. As such, SXSW provides a global window into the future of the music industry, not only for new talent that breaks – or in the case of the Sonics or Echo & the Bunnymen, reappears – but in the development of new trends, such as the merging of management companies and independent labels, as seen in Austin's recently launched Playing in Traffic Records (Friday, Maggie Mae's Gibson Room, 8pm).
"Music supervisors are the new A&R," states Alexandra Patsavas, who not only holds that distinct title for Mad Men, Grey's Anatomy, and Gossip Girl but formed Chop Shop Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic, which hosts a showcase Saturday at Maggie Mae's. "They're the ones that are oftentimes finding new artists and introducing them on a mainstream level."
In that case, music licensing, especially in the gaming realm, is the new major label record. How else to explain the caliber of talent being shoehorned into Stubb's Friday for the Guitar Hero: Metallica extravaganza? The distinction between bands and brands has never been more unclear. Take, for example, Francis & the Lights (Thursday, Emo's Main, 8pm), a magnetic electro-pop collective from NYC that made headlines by incorporating late last year, following a $100,000 investment from the Normative Music Co. The financial shortcomings of the recording industry in recent years and the general downturn of the economy, if anything, have bolstered the importance of SXSW as both a cost- and time-effective meeting ground for the creation and airing out of new business models.
"That sense of urgency has existed for some time," agrees SXSW Music Creative Director Brent Grulke. "People are trying some really creative things right now, and given the number and the quality of the acts that applied this year, the music industry itself isn't hurting.
"The great bands are going to try to figure out what they need to do now in order to be able to continue making music. South by Southwest is a place for those who still think the glass is half-full."
360 Degrees of SXSW Panels
Artist as Entrepreneur (Wednesday, 1:30-2:45pm, Room 18ABC)
Licensing for Unsigned Bands (Wednesday, 3-4:15pm, Room 18ABC)
Placing Your Music in Film and TV (Thursday, 12:30-1:45pm, Room 16B)
Do a 360 Deal With Yourself (Thursday, 3:30-4:45pm, Room 18ABC)
Bands, Brands, and Fans (Friday, 3:30-4:45pm, Room 18ABC)
(All panels: Austin Convention Center.)
Nearly one in 10 SXSW showcasers hails from right here in Austin. If you need the skinny on a local group, check out the Austin Music Database, an interactive encyclopedia that links individual band bios with the Chronicle's online archives and select discographies. Since launching last year, AMDB has garnered more than 400 entries, including current toasts of the town such as Balmorhea and Hacienda. Dig in: austinchronicle.com/amdb.
According to Jane's Addiction's website, the recently reunited alt-glam act will perform a private show in Austin on Thursday, leaving open the possibility for an encore at Perry Farrell's showcase on Saturday at Pangaea, 12:30am.
Bicycle Sport Shop (517 S. Lamar) is providing a free bicycle valet service for all the shows at Auditorium Shores. On that note, the Cannabinoids featuring Erykah Badu have been added to the outdoor showcase on Saturday, 7pm.