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Off the Record

Music News

By Austin Powell, March 19, 2010, Music

Back to the Future

"Checking in" is the new tweeting.

Just as the breakthrough of Twitter at South by Southwest 2009 revolutionized the way information is dispersed, this year the buzz (no Google pun intended) catches location-based services like Foursquare and Austin's Gowalla.

These two competing programs create mobile social networks, augmenting the real-time updates of Facebook and Twitter with real-world locations. By "checking in," users broadcast their current location to their social network, which then prompts an overview of the users' immediate surroundings. If you're at Emo's, up pops Red 7 and Beauty Bar. Geo-location services open a new window for mobile advertising – imagine checking into Waterloo Records or End of an Ear and being rewarded with free swag or coupons – but their real merit is what Gowalla CEO Josh Williams deems "social capital": the inherent value, for both consumer and provider, of being in the right place at the right time.

"It's almost like a travel log," relates Williams, who accepted Gowalla's SXSW Web Award for Mobile on Sunday. "Basically it lets you not only share your favorite places with your friends, but it gets rid of one more level of friction in that it easily lets you see where everyone else is at the same time."

As the largest confluence of music, trade, and media, SXSW is all about being seen and heard. The Music portion of the 24th annual Conference boasts more than 1,850 acts from 59 countries (another new record), yet it's not just about acts trying to gain traction anymore. It's also about the brands, outlets, and microsocieties that stake their claims on them.

To that end, MTV is filming all week from the retired Seaholm Power Plant, while the Independent Film Channel has established the IFC Crossroads House (612 Brazos), offering a free continental breakfast every morning, chased by live studio performances from the Walkmen, Drive-By Truckers, the Sword, and She & Him, among others. Meanwhile, the performances at the Society of European Stage Authors & Composers-sponsored Day Stage Cafe at the Convention Center are being broadcast this year by a variety of radio stations, including Seattle's KEXP, Minneapolis' the Current, and Santa Monica's KCRW, whose signature program Morning Becomes Eclectic airs live from Tequila Mockingbird studios, while NPR Music transmits once more from opening night at Stubb's.

Likewise, the passing of a new city ordinance streamlining the approval process for a temporary 96-hour live music permit has opened up the floodgates even further for day parties. For a mere $40, Event Brite's RSVP While You Sleep campaign guarantees you confirmations for at least 75 events, while the annual Mess With Texas throwdown, produced by Austin's Transmission Entertainment, expands to two free days at a literal heavy metal parking lot, 1001 E. Sixth, a stone's throw from the Fader Fort.

All things considered, the distinction between the three portions of SXSW has never been more blurred. SXSW Film is responsible for The Runaways, LEMMY, The Weird World of Blowfly, and Kashmere Stage Band's Thunder Soul. Califone, for its part, provides the live score for All My Friends Are Funeral Singers at the Alamo Ritz on Friday, March 19, at noon. On the other side of the spectrum, Daniel Ek, the co-founder and CEO of Spotify, the Swedish peer-to-peer music streamer, delivered the keynote address to the techies on Tuesday. The Venn diagram overlap is so compelling that SXSW is even considering starting the Music portion a day earlier next year.

"It's entirely possible," affirms SXSW Creative Director Brent Grulke. "A lot of people, increasingly, want to interact with the Interactive folks. At this point, it's indisputable that the future of the music business is one that incorporates digital music and digital access."

That much is evident now on every possible level of the music industry, with DIY-minded bands increasingly looking for more direct support from their audiences. Camper Van Beethoven, for example, allowed fans to choose one of the 35 songs the longstanding alt-rock surrealists will perform at SXSW to the tune of $100 a pop, with the added incentive that "a Santa Cruz Roller Derby Girl will walk/skate across the stage carrying a placard announcing your sponsorship of the song." Closer to home, Shearwater used the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to fund its 75-page dossier, companion to last month's exquisite The Golden Archipelago (Crowdfunding Music: Raising Money From Your Fans, Wednesday, March 17, 3:30pm, ACC 17AB), and the Austin-based networking site Better Than the Van helps connect touring acts with locals offering a place to stay (Friendbase to Fanbase: Why You Must Tour Now!, Thursday, March 18, 12:30pm, ACC 13B).

SXSW is even creating what Gowalla would deem a "hot spot" with its new Pop-Up Shows – free festival performances from Broken Bells (Wednesday, March 17, 1pm), Rogue Wave (Thursday, March 18, 4pm), V.V. Brown (Friday, March 19, 1pm), and Rival Schools (Saturday, March 20, 2pm), the locations of which are only revealed the day of through online feeds such as AOL Spinner's Twitter account (@SpinnerSXSW).

Consider yourself checked in.

For Those About to Rock

• All aboard: SXXpress (South by Express) badges, distributed daily to registrants on the fourth floor of the Austin Convention Center near panel Room 15 (10am-5pm), allow badge-holders to cut to the beginning of the line at a particular venue and receive priority entry over regular badges when a one-in, one-out policy is in place. Only 10% of a venue's capacity will be allotted passes for each showcase, and OTR highly recommends picking up a pass for the Friday, March 19, showcase at Stubb's, which, according to Billboard, features Muse.

• For the first time, the annual Austin Music Awards takes on the role of closing ceremonies on Saturday, March 20, at the Austin Music Hall. Besides Geoff Muldaur's Texas Sheiks tributing late Crazy Heart muse Stephen Bruton and the Explosives guesting Moby Grape's Peter Lewis and Creedence Clearwater Revival bassist Stu Cook – plus chamber pop oracle Mother Falcon and sand raiser Sarah Jarosz – last-minute confirmations include folk starlet Sahara Smith with Will Sexton and guest presenter Raul Malo, who joins Blues Boy Hubbard, Johnny Hernandez, and anchor Black Joe Lewis in the multigenerational All-Star Soul Jam.

• Complementing the Texas Guitar Show and spring edition of the Austin Record Convention (early-bird shopping begins on Thursday), both running Friday and Saturday, Gear Alley Expo allows registrants to sample new toys from Fender and Marshall, among others, at the Convention Center.

• Following his keynote address on Thursday, March 18, Smokey Robinson is scheduled to stop by Flatstock 24 downstairs at the Convention Center to sign limited-edition commemorative prints designed by Shepard Fairey. The Motown originator is also hosting a meet-and-greet session at the South by Bookstore at 2pm. Other notable appearances that day include Judy Collins (11am) and Merge Records' Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance (3:15pm).

Texas Top Hand

New West Records now owns the catalogs of Antone's Records, Texas Music Group, and Texas Clef Entertainment following an auction by the United States Bankruptcy Court, Western District of Texas, on Monday morning. Edging out comparable bids by Concord Music Group and Ramser Media, the $250,OOO transaction encompassed the rights to more than 130 albums, including seminal works by Alejandro Escovedo, Tish Hinojosa, Lou Ann Barton, Toni Price, the Derailers, and Doug Sahm, that paint a detailed portrait of the local music scene. More importantly, it effectively ended a more than decadelong legal saga that began with the bankruptcy of Watermelon Records. See "Going for Broke," June 18, 1999.

The three local music corporations filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November 2008 when faced with charges of fraud and breaches of contract and fiduciary duty by the estate of historic yodeler Don Walser, who passed in 2006. Earlier this year, the Creditors' Committee appointed by the U.S. Trustee's Office denied the debtors' reorganization proposal and voted instead to pursue an offer made by Razor & Tie Entertainment that led to other propositions and Monday's auction. New West agreed to waive all existing recoupable fees to the label by the artists, while at the same time increasing royalty rates to the full minimum statutory rate. The renowned indie label wasn't the highest bidder, however. In what proved an intense, classic courtroom showdown, James Heldt, owner of Texas Clef Entertainment, which absorbed Watermelon Records, offered $260,000 but provided little else in the way of a new business or managerial plan. The terms of sale are still subject to a confirmation hearing, scheduled for March 31.

"I've sat through a lot of hearings on this case," concluded Judge Craig Gargotta. "I think management has been at fault for this debt. ... It's time for a new day; it's time for new management; it's time for new leadership."

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