SXSW 2016: The 11 Must-See Music Panels

Welcome to the second week March! Having survived the wintery tundra most of the world refers to as January and February, we have finally arrived at the third month of the new year. There is a good chance the cold that has our country in a stranglehold will largely remain in place during the weeks ahead, but for those of us in the industry we know that this month does provide a temporary escape for those able to afford a week in Texas. South By Southwest, otherwise known as the world’s largest music conference and festival, takes place the second and third week of this month. We’ll be on site from March 15 all the way until March 20, and we hope any of you planning to attend will make it a point to say hello. In order to do that however, you will likely have to find us as we move from panel to panel throughout each day.

Concerts and screenings always steal the spotlight during SXSW, but the panels (sometimes referred to as ‘sessions’) are where to real work is accomplished. It’s in these gatherings, which can range from one on one chats to one speaker addressing hundreds at a time, that the state of the industry is openly discussed, questioned, and (hopefully) made better. We will be conveying much of the information we gain through these sessions on the blog, but we’ll be the first to tell you that our secondhand advice is nothing compared to getting your information from its original source. With that in mind, we’ve settled on a list of 10 panels we feel everyone who wants a leg up in this industry should attend. This isn’t to say the rest of the panels offered are subpar, but these topics are one we feel passionately about, and we’re excited to see how some of the industry’s greatest minds hope to see the conversation around these ideas evolve moving forward.

Your Music Startup Sucks… Just Kidding, Get PR! 

When: Tuesday, March 15 (5-6PM)
Where: Austin Hilton Downtown – Salon B 

A few simple words can help draw attention to your music tech company. PR veteran Dmitri Vietze (CD Baby, Rumblefish, LyricFind, GigSalad) will give you an overview of press pitch development, the PR cycle, timelines, and higher level PR tactics and strategies. Emphasis will be placed on the types of story angles that generate positive press reactions. Dmitri will also discuss how PR fits with business development and overall strategy. Time will be allotted to help audience members brainstorm their best press angles. Whether you are handling your company PR yourself or considering hiring out, you won’t want to miss this information-filled practical presentation.

Back From the Dead: Is Rock & Roll on Life Support

When: Wednesday, March 16 (2-3PM)
Where: Austin Convention Center – Room 10C

Media and industry executives discuss the trend of rock, hard rock and metal being sidelined as a genre, rock radio stations closing shop, market share down, big names getting old and tired, and nothing new on the horizon. What will happen when the old guard dies and we are left with Shinedown? The truly great eras of Rock and Roll have been defined by great change, birth of Metal, Hardcore and Punk, Grunge, Nu Metal and now? We have passed the decade bridge with nothing to catapult the genre forward, is rock music capable of breathing on its own? Or is it time to buy the headstone?

The Network Effect: Transparency in the Music Industry 

When: Wednesday, March 16 (3:30-4:30PM)
Where: Austin Convention Center – Room 8C

While a streaming future promises the possibility of unprecedented transparency in tracking and reporting revenue and statistics, massive industry-wide data challenges stand in the way. Ironically, the collaborative, interconnected nature of the music business is the both a root cause of these data challenges, as well as the key to their solutions. This panel will examine the progress and contributions companies and individuals are are making in the space, and discuss the challenges in building a networked, more transparent music ecosystem.

DIY Music PR: The Secrets of Pitching Your Band 

When: Thursday, March 18 (12:30-1:30PM)
Where: Austin Convention Center – Artist Central in Ballroom E

The dream scenario: you enlist a top-notch music PR firm to successfully pitch your band to all the best tastemaker blogs and magazines, catapulting you into a whole new level of musical success. The actual scenario: you’re borderline broke, so you need to master the art of pitching yourself to the press. But how do you get taken seriously without professional representation? How do you build up a press list? What’s the recipe for a pitch email that not only gets opened, but read and responded to? And finally, how do you determine when it’s time to bring on a publicist? This all-star panel of veteran journalists and publicists will answer all of your burning questions about getting press.

Preservation Tips for DIY Labels & Indie Bands 

When: Thursday, March 18 (2-3PM)
Where: Austin Convention Center – Room 10B

Technological developments in the past 20 years have made it easy for bands and labels to succeed with little more than laptops and Dropbox. Unfortunately, very few people know how to prevent losing the work of their band, or their label. This presentation will focus on practical physical and digital preservation techniques for indie bands and record labels. Beginning with the results of a survey we conducted on how DIY record labels keep track of their work, we will present concrete solutions to preservation issues faced by labels and bands, whether their work lives on a hard drive or on a series of cassettes stashed in a closet.

Music Content Value in a Post-Ownership Age 

When: Thursday, March 18 (3:30-4:30PM)
Where: Austin Convention Center – Room 17A

Technology-driven disruption – from piracy and digital downloads to YouTube and streaming – has created an endless supply of easily accessible digital music content. The good news, music has never been more popular. More people are consuming it in more ways than ever before. The not so good news, fans no longer see a need to own, so it’s becoming less and less viable to make a living from content alone. This value shift requires a fundamental rethink of music industry business models and how music media, in all its forms, is produced and used. This expert panel will debate and discuss this changing landscape, what these new models look like and what role content will play in this ‘new normal.’

Bringing Out Your Fans in the Digital Age 

When: Friday, March 19 (12:30-1:30PM)
Where: Austin Convention Center – Artist Central in Ballroom E

Touring is now the main income source for many artists, and also an important platform to develop and break artists. So one of the most important challenges for artists in furthering their careers is: how do you get your fans out to your shows? We’re going to put a contemporary spin on this age-old question. In the digital era, with a wealth of data available to artists, how do we best harness and use this data to get your fanbase to show up? We’ll be digging into our playbooks to share new techniques, addressing the question from different perspectives for artists at all stages in their careers: from DIY to developing to superstar.

Digital Distribution & Security: The End Of Piracy 

When: Friday, March 19 (2-3PM)
Where: Austin Convention Center – Room 10C

In 2015, knowing how to securely share your new and unreleased music with industry professionals and journalists alike is one of the most important things you need to understand in order to succeed. There are a number of methods currently being used to share promotional music right now, from cloud storage services, to digital promotional platforms, streaming services like Soundcloud, and even file transfer sites. This panel will cover the status of the war on piracy and the best methods for promotional distribution today. We will also touch on which services allow for customization of presentation, as well as digital security (watermarking, automated takedowns, etc.).

How to Build a Disruptive Music Brand 

When: Friday, March 19 (3:30-4:30PM)
Where: Austin Convention Center – Room 17B

With the ever changing model of the music industry, we will be talking to some of the biggest new music brands to come out of the new media industry. The Disrupt session will be with some of the UK’s biggest music brands who are responsible for 100 millions of hits on youtube, breaking new artists and creating and realising new products to their owned audiences. We will highlight their story when growing their brands, from bedroom to boardroom, their key learnings with case studies while gaining a better understanding on what they believe it takes to create a disruptive brand in music industry.

From Vine To Signed: The Future of A&R

When: Saturday, March 20 (12:30-1:30PM)
Where: Austin Convention Center – Room 17B

In the last two years there have been several success stories of artists crossing over from YouTube, Vine, and other social platforms into the mainstream music industry. We have seen artists like Shawn Mendes and Lindsey Stirling debut in the Top 1 and 2 sales positions. Where is this trend going and how are labels really integrating social platforms, mobile apps, and data into their talent discovery and artist signing strategies? What are the best platforms and apps for new artists looking to get discovered? Our panel of experts will discuss the future of talent discovery and the integration of the mainstream music industry with the social music space.

Small Live Music Venues – Who Needs Them Anymore? 

When: Saturday, March 20 (2-3PM)
Where: Austin Convention Center – Room 17A

Across countries, all around the world, small live music venues have been the backbone of the live touring circuit for bands & local music fans for decades. Now, venues are facing challenges from rising costs without rising revenues, artists touring less for the same reason & new residential neighbours bringing noise issues. How do these changes affect established venues & artists at all levels, local communities that want a place to see live music & what is being done to keep the independent spirit alive? We explore how venues are fighting back, how the industry & government should, could & is supporting them and be how artists feel about these venues in the past, present and future.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.