Every year Powerhouse packs our posters and ourselves into a 15-passenger van and heads south for SXSW Music Festival. For the week-long festival, 50,000 people descend on the heart of downtown Austin, Texas to see 2,000 acts perform. When SXSW began nearly 30 years ago, it was a regional music fest showcasing artists’ and performers’ abilities. Over the years, it has grown into a platform for established bands and multinational brands. For example, Lady Gaga plus Dorito’s equals a 62-foot vending machine stage. You should really Google that last bit — it’s as ridiculous as it sounds.
This is just an example of how the constantly evolving landscape of the music industry has shaped SXSW today. Labels would be lucky if they could afford half of what some of these brands are shelling out, but they can’t. Though Lady Gaga’s $2.5 million payout from Dorito’s seems a bit exorbitant to me, we saw plenty of other brands help promote the other 99 percent of SXSW’s bands. Brands like Vans, Converse, Levi’s, Ray-Ban, Filter, Hurley, Red Bull, Tito’s Vodka, Jabra, all lent their money in exchange for “presented by” credits and brand visibility. The industry is certainly evolving, but is that necessarily a bad thing?
Access to music has changed dramatically since I was coming up all those years ago and that’s an understatement. As a music fan, I used to shop in brick and mortar stores for albums. I used to order imports and B-side rarities from actual record shops. I even used mail order for merchandise and certain albums. This obviously predated the era of the iTunes Store and Spotify. As technology began to drive a massive paradigm shift in the music industry, labels chose to resist change. As a result, they’ve been playing catch-up for years. Meanwhile, a select few entities have realized that the proper brand/band partnerships aren’t necessarily a bad thing.
I’ve worn Converse All Stars since my adolescent punk rock days, when I was still being dropped off at shows by parents (so punk, I know). The Ramones wore Converse All Stars. And chances are, if you care enough about music to be reading this, you probably have worn or know someone who wears Converse All Stars. It’s a pretty ubiquitous shoe in the world of rock ’n’ roll. So do I mind that Converse is opened a studio in Brooklyn that provides up and coming as well as established artists free studio time to record songs? Not one bit. Do I mind that artists are given the option to utilize the Converse platform to promote their music and their band’s individual brand during these sessions? Absolutely not. In fact, as a musician and a fan, I think it’s pretty rad.
But though the industry is undeniably changing, thankfully, the core idea of music isn’t going anywhere. Music has always brought people together. Over the course of the festival, we met with friends from all over this country and well as the globe. Multiple continents and nationalities were represented—and celebrated—all in the name of this festival and the music.
If you didn’t make it to SXSW this year, check out our experience in the video above or photos below. For even more photos of our trip check out our gallery on Facebook.