SXSW 2018: Wednesday afternoon at the convention center – 14th March 2018 (Part 1)

By on Monday, 26th March 2018 at 11:00 am
 

Carrie left for the Austin Convention Center early to catch Lyor Cohen’s keynote, so stay tuned for her report from that session. Shortly after that wrapped up, I was headed to the Beyond Music: The Secret Economy of Music session led by Ryan Walsh, current partner at Floodgate Fund, a venture capital firm. Walsh has a particularly interesting background, in that he was formerly VP of Product at Beats Music and also worked in product management for media at Apple. I think a lot of us have the impression that people who work in higher-up positions at companies like Apple aren’t as savvy about what’s going on in their business as they should be, or at least they don’t want to talk to people like us. I decided before the sessions that I would bolt if I was bored or felt talked down to. Spoiler: I was overwhelmingly pleasantly surprised.

I found Walsh an incredibly compelling speaker, with a down to earth manner as he spoke on the gaps he saw open in the music industry. This is a man whose passion about our industry is evident from everything he knows and all he is willing to communicate. Loads of people say they want to help artists get paid properly, but very few have communicated this in such a way that I felt they were genuine. It is hard to find people in this business who don’t ultimately turn out to be self-servers. I don’t know Walsh personally, but he doesn’t seem to fit the mold of a venture capitalist as I have imagined them, existing for the sole purpose to chasing after the next big thing that will make them loads of money and that’s it.

Ryan Walsh of Floodgate
Photo of Ryan Walsh from his Twitter

As he talked about the exponentially growing Soundcloud user base and where the holes were in the major label ecosystem, it was like listening to any number of hyper-engaging professors whose biology lectures I sat in on in university, wide-eyed with wonderment. It was the most positive, data-supported, forward-thinking industry talk that I’ve been to IN YEARS. (The music journalism talk I’d attend the next day, which you’ll read about soon here in on TGTF, made me want to punch my fist through a wall after it.) Instead of being yet another talk of doom and gloom, of how our industry is dying and will never recover to its former heights, Walsh painted an optimistic picture of its future. A future that sees artists collaborating, getting along with each other and sharing the spoils of success. A future that sees artists getting smart about how they work on record deals, like SZA and Top Dawg did on ‘Ctrl’, or partnering up with Kobalt’s AWAL, who have reinvented how to interface with and better work with artists so the artists get a bigger piece of the pie. A future that sees people who want to think out of the box not only survive but thrive.

As his talk progressed, I realised that despite how many years I have written about music and thought I was reasonable savvy about how things are done, I actually knew little about the mechanical (if you will) goings-on behind the creation and distribution of music. I clearly have a lot more to learn about all this stuff works. Like all industries, really, success in the music business will become even more being intelligent and agile enough to roll with the punches. Ryan, if I can think up something new and great to contribute to this business, I’ll run it by you!

On an entirely different subject and even outside of Music Wednesday afternoon was The Original Celebrity Chefs and Restaurants, starring moderator, journalist from the Daily Beast and cocktail enthusiast Noah Rothbaum, celebrity chefs and Food Network stars Tyler Florence and Amanda Freitag, and Ti Martin, co-owner of the famed New Orleans restaurant Commander’s Palace and several other eateries in Houston including Brennan’s. As a major foodie, I was very interested to hear each of them speak at the JW Marriott about their own experiences and what they have drawn from the greats in their profession who came before them and how they have made them who they are today. You can read more about Florence, Freitag and Martin on the internet, so I’m only including here the bits that impressed me the most.

Freitag is one of the several big names on The Food Network, most notably lately as a judge on Chopped. She appeared in Austin to sign copies of her book The Chef Next Door, along with appearing in this session. She spoke about the influence of seeing Julia Child and The Galloping Gourmet, Graham Kerr. Both she and Florence noted that seeing chefs in French toques – those tall, brimless hats favoured by the French – impressed them so much that they knew they wanted to be part of that. Freitag also noted that even though she noticed she was the only woman in the kitchen at her first professional job, she never thought of ever being famous for being a female chef: it was more important to her that she was the best she could be in the kitchen. As one of very few female editors and owners of music Web sites, I relate to this entirely. While I personally understand the problem of missing out opportunities entirely because of being a woman and being a person of color, I think what Freitag said needs to be considered and repeatedly. Prejudice will always exist at some level to all of us. I can be difficult, I know. But work hard and rise above. It will pay off. (I want to be clear that my thought here does not extend to harassment, which should never be tolerated.)

Celebrity Chefs panel Wednesday at SXSW 2018 2
Freitag and Florence at The Original Celebrity Chefs and Restaurants session

Florence’s advice for the audience was “fake it until you make it”, citing his experiences as a young chef in New York, grabbing opportunities as soon as he could and then learning as he went along. It’s clearly paid off, with an empire of stores and restaurants in the San Francisco area and countless tv show concepts at the Food Network under his belt. An audience member asked the panel about the #metoo movement and how it has affected the culinary industry. Without naming or shaming, it was obvious who the audience member was talking about: Italian-American chef Mario Batali, whose career appears to be irreparably damaged by multiple allegations of sexual harassment. Florence volunteered that his staff at the Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco are not allowed to drink while they’re working, circumventing any alcohol-fuelled issues between employees and between employees and customers. Perhaps this seems like a little step, but given the restaurant world being male-dominated, why not take out of a variable that could cause some staff members to be inappropriate?

Martin told stories about how her mother started recruiting little-known chefs for their restaurant, including one Emeril Lagasse. Her mother invited the American culinary world to Commander’s Palace and gave them the kind of hospitality that has since made their restaurant a globally known, world-class destination. Remember that trying to invite a large number of people before the internet was a major undertaking. The whole session was a reminder, too, that before the Food Network and the fame of Lagasse, ‘the celebrity chef’ didn’t exist. Restaurants weren’t the destinations they are today. The hard work of people like Florence, Freitag and Martin and their moving the culinary world forward will make it easy when they are ready to pass the baton to the younger generations. The youngsters are excited to learn and work and innovate in this industry these greats helped to build.

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