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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.

 

SXSW 2018: Mary’s Monday SXSW Conference sessions roundup starring London mayor Sadiq Khan and chefs José Andrés and Andrew Zimmern – 12th March 2018

 
By on Tuesday, 20th March 2018 at 11:00 am
 

Heading up to the fourth floor for sessions, I stopped in an overflow room to hear the second half of Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s Convergence talk. Khan’s interviewer Lydia Polgreen of The Huffington Post seemed eager to hear about his controversial stance against worldwide rideshare giant Uber. (For those wondering about the context, Austin’s politicians also outlawed ridesharing companies for a time before ultimately reversing the decision.) Khan explained his position that he was for companies like Uber as long as they abided by the rules and played fair along with the rest of the London cab ecosystem.

His comments on Uber mirrored his closing statements about Britain’s relationship with America. Likening it to a bond between best mates, he made the excellent point that the relationship between the two world powers should allow one to call out on the actions of the other. His measured way of speaking and approaching controversy is not at all surprising, given his background as a human rights solicitor prior to entering politics. But given that he is the first Muslim mayor of a major world city and is leading by example, the kind of person Khan is is all the more refreshing. Watch the entire keynote and follow-up q&a below.

It seems every year there are more and more conference sessions on the world of food. The internationality of the foods we consume and the interest generated on how foods are made, by whom, its origins and even its photogenic qualities (thanks, Instagram) have turned chefs, restauranteurs and specialty food purveyors into global stars. Chefs José Andrés and Andrew Zimmern were paired up in a session called ‘Changing the World Through Food’, moderated by former Food and Wine Editor-in-Chief Dana Cowin. Both Andrés and Zimmern come across on television as masters of their craft while also being affable, hilarious and down to earth individuals. Their appearance at this year’s SXSW Conference confirmed that, as they told anecdotes about their childhoods and travels.

Chefs Jose Andres and Andrew Zimmern at SXSW 2018

Andrés was viewed primarily as a local Washingtonian celebrity restauranteur until his humanitarian work feeding people in weather-ravaged Haiti and Puerto Rico raised his profile and rightly so. It’s a sad state of affairs that all the coordination of a chef and who he knows was better at feeding and helping the people in Puerto Rico who were without electricity than efforts by FEMA. Andres explained that growing up, his family didn’t have a whole lot of money or food, but he never went hungry. Both he and Zimmern agreed that the pervasiveness of childhood hunger, and within the context of food waste, is a red flag that we have failed as a first world country. While neither guest offered direct solutions to this, both contribute or are in heavily involved with anti-hunger organisations and charities. If there is one big benefit to society from the celebrity-ization of chefs, it is the chefs’ ability to raise aware the causes dear to their hearts and foodies will open their pocketbooks, just like music fans will when their favourite artists are also promoting charities.

Zimmern’s tv show Bizarre Foods has highlighted the origin and popularity of food in far-flung places, bringing the world closer in to his viewers and helping them better appreciate the diversity and the artistry in the making of food. I agree with him that making food for someone and sharing your love through the medium of food is one of the most loving connections you can share with another human being. I caught up with the Austin episode of his new Travel Channel show The Zimmern List upon my return. Filmed last summer, he chats with local musicians at Stubb’s about the similarities between food and music, in particular the associated creative freedom.

I see these parallels too: the making of an amazing dish, like writing an album, is the preparatory work before you hand your work over to a consumer. They might love or hate it. Regardless of how it’s received, you’re giving a part of yourself and that, in itself, is a loving gesture to another person. It may be hard to wrap your head around the idea that the guy who made that burrito behind the counter for you thinks what he’s just handed to you wrapped in paper is art. I get that. But if we stopped to think that the other person who has just given us something meant for it to be important, wouldn’t we put more value to it? And wouldn’t we all have more meaning to our lives? Watch the entire session with Andrés and Zimmern below.

 
 
 

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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 was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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