SXSW 2016: highlights from this year’s Music Conference programming – The Obamas, Tony Visconti, Richie Hawtin and the latest in song syncs

By on Monday, 28th March 2016 at 4:00 pm
 

2016 marked the 30th anniversary of SXSW and with reaching such a milestone, it just wouldn’t be right to not celebrate with appearances by some heavy hitters, right? And the Austin festival managed a one-two punch in his music conference programming by securing not only First Lady Michelle Obama but the President of the United States Barack Obama as well. The President delivered the keynote address during SXSW Interactive on Friday. Watch below as he discusses the importance of civic engagement and his support for new technologies.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfsIZioIpdI[/youtube]

SXSW Music Conference attendees did not miss out at all, as the First Lady graced the conference with her presence Wednesday, bringing along fellow influential ladies Missy Elliott and Queen Latifah, known as female pioneers of hip hop, and Diane Warren, famed for penning some of pop’s greatest hits in the history of popular music. The three of them were in Austin to promote the Let Girls Learn initiative, which will no doubt be one of Mrs. Obama’s enduring legacies long after she and her husband have left the White House. In the short clip below, she speaks on how she finds young people inspirational and disappoints a good many present in the room with her announcement that she won’t be running for public office in favour of taking care of her and Barack’s two young daughters.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hdl_W1BhpHw[/youtube]

The Obamas’ separate appearances to speak at SXSW 2016 caused considerable headache to both event staff and conference attendees alike. The understandable security around the First Lady created additional problems, delaying sessions and bringing frustration to people like me who like to keep to a schedule. Not aware that legendary producer Tony Visconti‘s keynote had been moved from Wednesday to Thursday was just another thing to throw a spanner in the works.

One wonders what was going in Visconti’s mind when he received the news that his speech would be delayed by a day due to a more famous, more important VIP. I also had to wonder if his selection was coincidental or done on purpose as a memoriam of sorts for the late David Bowie, with whom Visconti collaborated on and off with for nearly 5 decades. Knowing his audience well, he quipped early on that he’d be speaking about how he met Bowie soon enough, and he did. (Similarly witty stories were shared by Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo in another session Thursday afternoon, telling stories about Bowie and Iggy Pop that can’t be reprinted in a family-friendly publication. Mothersbaugh was in town during an exhibition of his art at the Contemporary.) Biographies in print are great of course, but for me, nothing can replace personal, first-hand anecdotes from the people that were there. That’s what makes interviews great for me, to truly be let into another creative’s world, to be let into the little secrets, and part of the fun is doing the research and trying to fit together someone’s pieces before you actually get to the interview and then let your interviewee go off in whatever director he or she wishes.

Hearing Visconti speak, in such a humourous, personable way, it makes total sense how he’s become such a famous producer and been confided in by not just Bowie (being one of the few dear people in his circle aware of his impending departure) but the late glam rock star Marc Bolan and someone as crotchety as Morrissey. Visconti is the kind of guy you wish you could knock a few beers back with because he’d make you feel at ease, but is ever so talented at what he can do in a recording studio, to be able to pull out the best from whoever he works with. And if that wasn’t enough, he is also a writer, sharing with the audience bits from his upcoming book The Universe, that paints a bleak picture of what music will be like in the future.

We can laugh but there’s also a sense of sad acceptance that the signs, the klaxons of warning in our industry have already rung out. “Your product is culture”, Visconti said in a matter-of-fact way, and he believes that boutique labels and self-releasing is a good but not great solution to the lack of support for true visionary artists. He, like us here at TGTF, want to see more quality in music and he gave a great example of going to the grocery store and having variety the kind of ketchup or bacon you want to buy. There isn’t one choice and there shouldn’t one choice in music in all the manufactured top 40 we’re hearing these days, either. Watch Visconti’s keynote in full below.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0S406X4sMg[/youtube]

At a session for Convergence late Tuesday night, Canadian DJ vanguard Richie Hawtin spoke with Resident Advisor‘s North American editor Andrew Ryce (pictured at top) about his new performance mixer Play Differently, which has been a project he’s worked on for 2 years with Allen & Heath and Audiotonix. What I found most interesting about Hawtin’s responses – in additional to his clearly unwavering passion for DJaying and electronics – is that he’s not all about chasing the next big thing in electronic music.

You’d expect someone like him who’s into making the best sounds possible onstage to embrace every digital technology known to man, and indeed, he made everyone laugh when he air-manipulated an imaginary device he noted as “this is my girlfriend”. So it surprised me when said that he didn’t necessarily agree with digital DJaying as being the be all and end all, saying, “there shouldn’t be a formula to make music and play it…Follow who you are, and make the music *you* want to make.” In that respect, I felt this view of Hawtin’s echoed Tony Visconti said about tapping into culture and talent and going beyond just mere technology. It gives me great hope personally that these titans of the industry still believe that even in spite to everything distracting and potentially detrimental to our business, the cream should and will always rise to the top. Have a watch of Hawtin’s Q&A with Ryce below.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfGC03SId70[/youtube]

A topic that has been of interest to me for a long time is the business of song syncs and how one goes from a composer who writes specifically for or has already written a song for a particular commercial use to that composer and any deserving middleman earning money off of the song’s use. As record sales have dwindled in the face of music piracy, song syncing is no longer looked upon as the selling out it once did. And in many cases these days, such syncs have enabled artists to continue working where they might have otherwise run out of money.

Among the many panels on the subject of syncs in this year’s music conference programming, there were two in particular that caught my eye. In the session Creating Custom Songs for Film, TV, Trailers & Ads on Thursday, the emphasis was on the composer side, with the panelists making suggestions to the prospective songwriters in the audience on how to market and indeed, possibly direct their writing to get the best chance for a sync. It was intriguing to me that Josh Collum of Sorted Noise recommended writers to focus on songs about home and coming home, as they’re perennially needed and used across film and TV. Who knew? Meanwhile, Phillip Phillips with his 43 million YouTube views is laughing all the way to the bank…

On the other side and in more specific, the placement of songs in TV was explored Friday in the session entitled TV Promos: Sync’s New Best Friend. Going on from a similar session at Norwich Sound and Vision 2015 last October, it is mind-bogglingly amazing to me that one of the biggest recommendations to fledging artists these days to land a sync is to record good quality, unique cover versions of popular songs. The idea is that because the original song by the original artist will be too expensive and therefore out of reach or too complicated a permission for most copyright clearance offices to negotiate, a music supervisor will instead go for a cover that costs less money, and as a win for the little indie musician, the musician gets paid. Score! A specific example from Joe Berman of MediaHorse brought even more hope: a cover of an Elvis Presley song was deemed too risky, as Presley’s estate had to agree to its use even as a cover, but in a shock turn of events, Priscilla Presley herself liked the cover Berman’s client was putting forward, and it’s now being used in an advert for The Bachelor and for Trojan condoms. So you see, dreams can and do come true…

I look forward to seeing what keynotes and panels are in store for us in the 31st year of SXSW Music. I wish to thank Elizabeth and her team at SXSW Music Press for granting me a badge for the purposes of covering both the conference and music showcases this year in 2016.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave Your Response

* Name, Email, Comment are Required
 
 
 

About Us

There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

All MP3s are posted with the permission of the artists or their representatives and are for sampling only. Like the music? Buy it. If you want a track removed, email us and we'll sort it ASAP.

E-mail us  |  RSS Feed   RSS Feed  

Learn More About Us