Beethoven to Beyoncé
SXSW Music panels gorge on food for thought
Opening the selection process to the public transformed South by Southwest Music panels. A traditionally healthy, lively debate forum for the music industry became as democratic as viral independence on the Internet in the wake of major labels collapsing. That same year, 2009, after well over a decade of sprawling SXSW international band guides, the Chronicle ceded its gatekeeping of global acts and turned its attention instead to panels – topics over talent. Chamillionaire, Duff McKagan, Gang of Four; star power hardly dimmed from stage to dais. Jefferson Airplane engine Jorma Kaukonen and MC5 overdrive Wayne Kramer fill such slots here, a reboot of our printed panel picker, which last ran in 2012. Where the cloud and crowdfunding trended on SX panels years before they became industry bywords, now more than ever, talk trumps pop in an equally unstable industry. Festivals, streaming, sampling – pick your power point. There are so many occurring at the Austin Convention Center in a matter of weeks, in fact, that we decided to practice the art of the mash-up: hip-hop in India and female hip-hop scribes; global digitalization and musician immigration; LP art and books becoming the new vinyl. Spot the intersection, beginning with food and thought. – Raoul Hernandez
Lead Belly: Bringing a 20th Century Music Icon into the Digital AgeThu., March 19, 3:30pm, ACC 13AB
Alan Lomax at 100: A Centennial RetrospectiveSat., March 21, 12:30pm, ACC 11AB
"Alan Lomax is considered the godfather of ethnomusicology and recording Lead Belly was his practice ground, his first internship," argues Alvin Singh, the great nephew of Huddie William Ledbetter.
The legacies of the Lomax family and Lead Belly are impossible to untangle. Born in Austin in 1915, Lomax had a remarkable career as a songcatcher, producing early field recordings of American icons Woody Guthrie, Muddy Waters, Son House, and Jelly Roll Morton. He crossed paths with Lead Belly in Louisiana's Angola State Prison in 1933, working under the tutelage of his father, John Lomax.
"Did they discover him?" Singh asks. "They recorded him. He was already playing before, but because of the technology, they made it possible for him to reach outside the prison bars."
Once outside, the man who gave the world "Midnight Special" and "Goodnight Irene" teamed with the elder Lomax in Austin before hitting the East Coast university lecture circuit and performing "negro folksongs and ballads" for curious northerners. "Sweet Singer of the Swamplands Here to Do a Few Tunes Between Homicides," crowed the New York Herald Tribune.
The trip ended with quarreling over money, bitter feelings, and a lawsuit. Alan and Lead Belly remained on good terms but it's a topic Alan Lomax Archive curator Nathan Salsburg won't touch.
"I don't talk about the relationship between Alan and Lead Belly," he said. "There's just no way to do it justice in a digest. I think the Lomaxes end up being colored as some kind of exploiters and racists, and the story itself has gotten out of control."
"I don't think it was a racial thing," Singh clarifies. "They were both men of their times, and both bad businessmen."
For his part, Salsburg prefers to shed light on lesser known gems in the Lomax archive.
"For example, there was a blind, black, multi-instrumentalist in Mississippi Hill Country named Sid Hemphill, who had a dance band that doubled as a fife and drum band, and a string band. Sid wrote these epic ballads about local happenings – lynchings, train wrecks, et cetera. There are elements of it that are almost punk rock, the fury and frenzy of it." – Thomas Fawcett
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: Breaking Contracts!Wed., March 18, 2pm, ACC 18D
Pro Bono Legal Services for MusiciansWed., March 18, 5pm, ACC, Artist Central: Ballroom E
Who's Using My Music? Copyrights in the Digital EraFri., March 20, 11am, ACC 17A
"No hard feelings," Tom Petty wrote Sam Smith after similarities between his "I Won't Back Down" and the recent Grammy-sweeping singer's "Stay With Me" came to light and writing credits had to be reworked. Now imagine the same scenario without an attorney's help, or the funds to even hire one – common occurrences in the music business.
Traditional legalities like recording contracts are now dwarfed by licensing and rights clearance, as artists rely more on licensing for revenue due to plummeting album sales and a waning label infrastructure. This post-millennial digital shift introduces trickier legal issues, but most musicians struggle to afford professional assistance. The majority are unaware of free resources like California Lawyers for the Arts, New York Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, and Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts (TALA).
"Musicians typically only seek legal assistance once there's a problem," reminds Intel intellectual property attorney and TALA President Erik Metzger, who co-leads the Pro Bono Legal Services for Musicians panel. "It's unconscionable that a musician living at or below the poverty line is having to pay, on average, $300-600 per hour for quality legal service – or worse, getting no advice and suffering the consequences."
Managing online content can be a byzantine process, heightening the need for legal expertise.
"The ability to track the distribution of music online is impossible," adds Jennifer Miller, co-founder of music licensing company Audiosocket and a panelist on Who's Using My Music: Copyrights in the Digital Age. "Artists don't know where their music's going, how it's shared, or by whom."
Co-chairing a third panel, Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: Breaking Contracts!, intellectual property and entertainment attorney Brian Rosenblatt isn't bothered that "music business" might be an oxymoron.
"You wouldn't purchase a piece of real estate without an attorney involved," he says. "So why would an artist enter into an agreement that could tie up his or her intellectual property for years without consulting an attorney? Musicians should approach their careers as a business, and recognize that attorneys must be part of their budget." – Neph Basedow
Jim Marshall: All Access Photo PassWed., March 18, 2pm, ACC 17A
Jimi Hendrix sets fire to his guitar at Monterey. Johnny Cash gives the finger at San Quentin. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards cut vocals for Exile on Main Street at L.A.'s Sunset Sound studios.
Through the lens of his fully manual Leica camera, Jim Marshall captured it all.
The San Francisco-based photographer died in 2010 at age 74, but the archive he left continues to yield historic treasures as evidenced in last year's Joel Selvin-authored collection, The Haight: Love, Rock, and Revolution. ACL Live's Jack & Jim Gallery, the only permanent exhibition of Marshall's photography, rotates new works in every six months. And UC Berkeley just launched photography fellowships in Marshall's name, sweet irony for a self-taught photographer.
"Because people trusted him, they almost forgot that he was there," says photographer Amelia Davis, who served as Marshall's assistant for the last 13 years of his life and now manages his archive.
"Jim was absolutely not a hippie," says Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen. "As often as not, he wore a tweed coat with leather arm patches. He reminds me of an archetype, the Hollywood actor playing a war zone photographer or something like that."
Once music industry protocol got locked down, Marshall didn't shoot as often.
"If you told him you have to shoot from the soundboard for just three songs, he would say, 'Go fuck yourself,'" relates music photographer Jay Blakesberg.
Despite an irascible reputation, Marshall's work testified to his integrity regardless of whether he was shooting rock stars or impoverished residents of a Kentucky coal town.
"He was really an empathetic human being who was able to convey emotion and feeling through his photography," Davis says. – Greg Beets
Music Curation Through Festivals and StreamingThu., March 19, 2pm, ACC 15
Fest Forward: The Future of Music FestivalsFri., March 20, 2pm, ACC 17A
Hugh McIntyre attended at least six music festivals last year. He mentions taking in the Outkast reunion three times. A music writer for Forbes Magazine, he claims all the gatherings were remarkably similar, especially where technology was involved.
"Music festivals, they're fun and we love them," McIntyre says, "but they're also terrible in a lot of ways. You pay $250 or $300 to get in and there's no cell phone reception, and a lot won't take credit cards. They're high tech, but in other ways they're back in the Stone Ages.
"In the near future, I think we're going to see a lot of innovation that began last year," he claims. "Ideas like paying for things with your phone is great, but reception is so notoriously bad at these things that implementing it can be frustrating."
Artist manager Mark Kates of Fenway Recordings thinks curation will be the future of music festivals. The definition of curation can be difficult to nail down, even though it's one of the current buzzwords in the music business.
"Filters or whatever word you want to use that can lie between the content and the audience," clarifies Kates. "Over time, ever since digital music became real, the audience has asked for filters or curators."
On some level all festivals share a common goal: turning its audience on to something new.
"Streams are more important than sales of any media type or traditional exposure like radio play," claims Kates. "When an artist has an unexpected moment at a festival, the first place it's going to show up is at a streaming service. In the end, it's about consumers and what they want, and I think there's a lot of evidence they want curation." – Jim Caligiuri
Streaming Is Creating a Better Music ExperienceTue., March 17, 5pm, Four Seasons Ballroom AB
Streamed it on the Grapevine: Music Word of MouthWed., March 18, 5pm, ACC 17A
Streaming remains either the savior of the music industry or its final condemnation. Neil Young heads for the hills with his no-streaming, lossless-only throwback Pono, while Apple shells out billions to buy the unproven streaming service Beats Music. Hard to know who's right and who's wrong, which summarizes the music business as a whole all too succinctly.
Optimists in this debate come well represented on Streaming Is Creating a Better Music Experience: Alex Kisch, executive vice president of Vevo, and Scott Rosenberg, vice president of Roku. Considering that both are helping spearhead this era, they're feeling good. So are we the consumer, living in a world where every music video lies only a click away.
At Streamed It on the Grapevine: Music Word of Mouth, TechCrunch Senior Writer Josh Constine grills Spotify Vice President Charlie Hellman and Facebook Director of Product Partnerships Ime Archibong about the intersection of streaming, social media, and sharing.
"It's about asking follow-up questions, because no matter what you've asked they're going to have a canned corporate response, but if you keep on driving, asking again and again, you'll eventually wear down their defenses and they'll actually tell you what you think," says Constine.
The Grapevine panel envisions itself as a self-help guide to bands and brands looking to accelerate the social aspects of streaming to further their own causes. A click is all it takes to listen to album now, but with millions of acts available, doesn't easy access crowd out the voices even more?
"I'm curious to ask what kinds of sharing and what kinds of descriptions and contexts lead people to actually listen," says Constine. "When people post a Soundcloud link to Twitter or Facebook, I don't know if people are listening. Music is tough to work into your daily life alongside all the other social media. What should artists be doing or encouraging their fans to do that creates the most listens?" – Luke Winkie
Viva Album Art!Wed., March 18, 5pm, ACC 11AB
Books Are the New VinylFri., March 20, 5pm, ACC 16AB
A decade ago, album art's days seemed numbered, with online music platforms like iTunes and Spotify reducing artwork to a tiny icon. Yet on the way to the digital dustbin, peripheral album features found a new significance. Demand for deluxe vinyl sets rose among fans at the same time that digital capabilities allowed artists to expand how artwork can interact with their music and fans.
"We grew up experiencing music in a way that was more controlled by the artist and the people that produce the music," attests Nate Auerbach, music evangelist at Tumblr. "I can't separate the artwork of [Green Day's] Dookie from the album. Now you open your phone and you get a whole spreadsheet of music to listen to, but the artwork is in thumbnails. How do you get visual technology to rise up to how great the audio technology is?"
Along with Brian Schopfel of the Uprising Creative, and representatives from SoundCloud and Loma Vista Recordings, the Viva Album Art! panel explores the more interactive experiences artists are creating for their music. Album art isn't being confined to packaging, but rather exploited online and off.
Those opportunities extend back into the physical experience. With her panel Books Are the New Vinyl, Rynda Laurel roundtables Chuck D and Danny Bland to discuss how artists are monetizing their digital efforts through books.
"Every artist I've ever known, their art expands beyond just the music," says Laurel. "There are these digital formats that now we can pull together to create these physical forms. It's a new revenue stream for artists, and I think those revenue streams are going to expand beyond what we've ever thought about." – Doug Freeman
Ladies First: How to Be a Woman in Rap JournalismWed., March 18, 12:30pm, ACC 8C
Beethoven to Beyoncé: The Science of a Hot BeatThu., March 19, 12:30pm, ACC 16AB
Opening the selection process to the public revolutionized SXSW Music panels. Rolling Stone writer and panel moderator Sowmya Krishnamurthy leaped at the chance to make her pitch. Now, her clique of high-powered women hip-hop journalists – Kathy Iandoli, MTV News' Nadeska Alexis, and Boombox Editor Georgette Cline – air out the genre's dirty laundry.
"We've worked together, we're friends, we've had brunch together," says Krishnamurthy. "We felt it would be great to share conversations we've had about being a woman in rap journalism. They're conversations so many women in journalism and hip-hop have privately, why not open it up? There's so many universal truths in there that are invaluable.
"Historically, rap really was young men talking to young men," she continues. "What's incredible is that we're at a time right now where some of the genre's biggest superstars, not just successful stars, are women. Whether it be Nicki Minaj or Iggy Azalea, women aren't just representing for female rappers, they're becoming cultural icons unto themselves."
That's where Nana Ayensu comes in. A day later, the mechanical engineer leads a technical summit on production that begins with classical eloquence and ends – where else? – with Queen Bey. There are more than a few feminist declarations on her live-wire eponymous LP of 2013.
"There's also an interesting lyric on 'Buried Alive' on Drake's album [Take Care], where Kendrick Lamar raps about women being the tastemakers," says Krishnamurthy. "At the end of the day, the numbers don't lie, the dollars and cents don't lie. Those people who understand women not as just a demographic to hit, but a main demographic to embrace, are the ones who are winning.
"People who understand that are the ones who are successful, and those who don't are getting left behind." – Nina Hernandez
Hip-Hop's Evolution in India – Why You Should CareWed., March 18, 12:30pm, ACC 10A
How Sampling Saved MusicThu., March 19, 2pm, ACC, Artist Central: Ballroom E
Sampling in the Music BusinessThu., March 19, 5pm, ACC 11AB
India and hip-hop. Doesn't seem like an ideal matchup, except that India's likely the ideal location for such germination. There's questionable politics, open ethnic hostilities, and vast poverty.
"They have just started to embrace it, literally in the last six months," says Hardik Dave, panelist for Hip-Hop's Evolution in India. "Through Bollywood songs tied to a movie that have rap in them. That's how the mainstream is going to eat it up. Every song has a little rapping in it."
Method Man ("What's Happenin'") and Mobb Deep ("Give It to Me"), meanwhile, have sampled Bollywood films. One usage, Truth Hurts' "Addictive," was subsequently tagged with a $500 million lawsuit. Discussion of the still-divisive practice continues in How Sampling Saved Music and Sampling in the Music Business, for which the latter's Travis McFetridge, president of publishing concern Great South Bay Music Group, takes up an old-school stance.
"When a hip-hop artist samples, like, the O'Jays, it breathes life into older music catalogs."
Who's doing it matters. In the cases of Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records Inc. and Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films, these landmark decisions changed the direction of popular music, at which point hip-hop, a predominantly minority-driven culture, was put in the judicial crosshairs. The latter decision actually enabled price setting of samples used.
Both added a criminal element, altering the perception of the genre.
After all, application of the ruling has depended on the artist, specifically their color. For example, DJ Shadow released the highly acclaimed Endtroducing... with no lawsuits. Fair Use champion Girl Talk (Gregg Gillis) samples and creates party friendly mash-ups of highly visible (and profitable) artists, having never been served with a cease-and-desist letter.
From this vantage point, one has to wonder, "Which is it going to be?" Regardless of the lost possibilities, sample-based music thrives alongside the more affordable drum-and-synth driven productions through artists who can afford the fees. Then there's the mixtape. – Kahron Spearman
A Global View of the Next Digital Music GenerationThu., March 19, 3:30pm, ACC 8C
U.S. & UK Immigration Options for MusiciansThu., March 19, 5pm, ACC 8C
At a moment in time when music created by a band in one country can set ablaze the earbuds of another person anywhere, where is here? While streaming digital music increasingly renders international borders irrelevant, artists are finding that physical borders worldwide are being enforced with righteously complicated zealotry. Your visa's the wrong kind? Your passport's arphid intel has gone all buggy? Woe unto you. Or maybe not.
Immigration attorney at Surowitz Immigration PC Sharon Brenner:
"Future complexities could be very much alleviated if the laws more closely reflected the realities of the creative industry, particularly as we exist in the technology age. More frequently people have multiple bases around the world and work very productively this way, so something that reflected this fluidity would be a welcome addition."
Anushka Sinha, fellow panelist on the U.S. & UK Immigration Options for Musicians dais and senior associate solicitor with Laura Devine Attorneys LLC, paints a marginally rosier picture for musicians looking to enter the UK.
"The current trend for creatives," says Sinha, "is to allow certain short-term paid activities as a visitor, so short-term gigs should be fine – provided there is no criminal background [or] adverse immigration history."
For touring acts, that last bit can rank a full stop. Sinha mentions high-profile cases.
"Amy Winehouse not being able to attend the Grammys in the U.S. in 2008; Snoop Dogg being refused entry to the UK in 2007 following his fracas at Heathrow in 2006; and Mos Def canceling his U.S. tour citing legal/immigration issues in 2014."
Entering foreign ears, digital music faces far fewer constraints, obviously. Other than the occasional government-run firewall, accessibility has never been more broad. Karim Fanous, head of research at Music Ally in London, posits a Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear a Chip Embedded Underneath My Skin Through Which Music Is Transmitted Straight to My Nervous System scenario.
"Regarding nearer term and the Internet of Things," adds Fanous, "our digital lives will become fully synchronized and interconnected. As the Internet of Things and wearable technology sector matures – maturity is still a long way off – then our digital experiences will flow across our devices and movements and environments constantly throughout the day." – Marc Savlov
Life Beyond Music: Making ChangeWed., March 18, 2pm, ACC 15
"Man does not live by bread alone," intones ex-MC5 guitar firebrand Wayne Kramer. "Being a song-and-dance man is not the be-all/end-all of the contribution one can make. The problem is not capitalism and Republicans. The problem is cynicism, apathy, and ultimately, meaninglessness."
Your doom metal band overflows Hotel Vegas on a Wednesday. Your Tortured Midriffs EP, recorded on recycled two-inch tape in your bedroom and pressed by hand in your kitchen, needs restocking at End of an Ear. That Midwestern tour with Incandescent Thighs begins in two days, and your van's transmission just dropped out.
Your career – or expensive hobby – is going great guns. Is that all there is?
Kramer and participants, including Flaming Lips manager Scott Booker, provide a sequel to last year's Life Beyond Music: Musical Hobby to Musical Career panel. As far back as the MC5's involvement with Detroit's White Panther Party, Kramer's experience pool runs deep on this issue. Recently it manifested in the Jail Guitar Doors program, begun with polemical UK minstrel Billy Bragg, which puts musical instruments in the hands of prisoners.
"How does one oppose this meaninglessness?" Kramer muses. "I think it's done by taking ethical action. I'm a formerly incarcerated person. I have great empathy for people who have gone through the kinds of experiences I've gone through."
One recent bridge: Jail Guitar Doors' songwriting workshop.
"We run one Tuesday nights in the Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail, the largest jail in the world, for about 20 men. We help them learn how to express complex feelings in a new, positive way."
Similar JGD workshops exist in Austin's Travis County Correctional Complex, Chicago, and New York.
"We leave every day feeling better than the people we just worked with. And they feel pretty good." – Tim Stegall