As the world’s most important creative convention celebrating and connecting innovators in music, technology, art, food, politics and more, it was inevitable that blockchain would come up in a big way at the 2019 SXSW Conference & Festival. The concept of decentralization got its first real introduction to festival-goers last year in the zenith of the crypto craze, creating mostly media buzz, so it was encouraging that this year’s program was well-balanced between theory and practice with plenty of in-market solutions actively addressing many of the music industry’s shortcomings (such as economic models, transparency, royalties, identity, and more). With keynotes by Joe Lubin (Consensys) and David Schwarz (Ripple) and a featured session with the Winklevoss twins (Gemini), as well as over 50 sessions and demos, cryptocurrency and blockchain were highly visible in this year’s conference. Members of the eMusic team along with our advisors (former Sony/Universal Music Group exec Bill Campbell) and featured eMusic artist collaborators (pop singer/data scientist Shelita and hip-hop artist/entrepreneur Don Rio) came to Austin to collaborate, listen, and learn.
Our own Tamir Koch took the stage as part of “Artists in Control: Technology and the New DIY” — a panel featuring a mix of entrepreneurs and industry insiders from legal, business, marketing and creative backgrounds (Jeff Leven, Hayley Rosenblum, and Shelita Burke). Addressing a room full of artists, managers, and technologists, the group engaged in an interactive and substantive discussion around how new technologies (in particular, blockchain) are tipping the power dynamic towards artists and creators.
After a short intro to blockchain from Shelita, several panelists pointed to the potential for blockchain to influence and cultivate a stronger and more profitable relationship between artists and fans. Hayley, a member of Amanda Palmer’s management team focused on digital marketing & fan engagement, provided her personal guiding principle on considering technology: “Remember … your music is art and your fans are more than customers. When considering new technologies think about how they will bring value to your community first, and then consider how to monetize.” Shelita agreed, stressing that technology should be leveraged for impact for the long term relationship you have with your fans vs. quick hits, which is why she feels the transparency and equity of blockchain is so important. Jeff Leven, a partner at the storied law firm of Davis Shapiro Lewit Grabel Leven Granderson & Blake, LLP, mused over whether blockchain could create a whole new era of artist/entrepreneurs like Chance the Rapper, but cautioned that the path forward would be tough, and that the challenge will be in convincing the industry forces with the least to gain to be supportive. Both he and Tamir agreed that it will be interesting to see how adoption evolves… but Tamir’s optimism reflected his confidence and investment in the idea that blockchain can change the industry: “It’s not a question of how, but when!” Check out a bonus Q&A follow-up in this separate post for more on what’s next in the eyes of our experts.
And, wow the music. Walking around the festival was an experience itself, where every new block would bring a new creative voice to discover. With Brandon Schmidt and Bill Campbell as our guides to the venues and talent, each night gave us plenty of fan favorite staples, as well as performances we don’t get to see every day, even in New York. Highlights of the trip: post-punk band David Boring, the first-ever band of Hongkongers to be booked at the festival, was a mad intense shock to the senses; the uber-playful, sardonic love-letter style of UK’s Sports Team (who else would use Ashton Kutcher as a metaphor for relationship struggles?); and eMusic artist Don Rio’s authentic personality and good-vibes performance with collaborator Vega Ramon at the Jack Thriller showcase. Other blown away moments: if you haven’t yet heard of Yahyel, run, don’t walk to your preferred app to find this Tokyo-based electro-pop band, who have a big big sound that breaks any and all stereotypes of West/Eastern music. Also a big shout out to the high school that let the colorful and quirky teen quartet The Pantones grace the stage on a school night (including Mom selling merch out front!), and the energy of our last night with the MKIT Rain hip hop crew out of Korea featuring Nafla, Loopy and more bringing it big until the wee hours.
A huge thanks to the SXSW staff and crew for a great year, see you in 2020!