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Best of SXSW 2023: Highlights of Austin’s Premier Music + Tech Event

We came, we saw, and we ate sound bites and plenty of food bites, as well. SXSW 2023 was one of the most informationally rich events and the top conference of its kind in giving a massive platform to music and tech. Here were the best parts of my visit…

Music Startups That Solve Problems and Serve Artists

Labelcoin was the very first name one sees alongside the SXSW logo on the Music category lanyard when picking up a conference badge, and they backed up the visibility by hosting what proved to be the best music and tech mixers of the week, as well as a slate of topically relevant panels as well.

The song exchange and music market share platform that allows fans to invest, trade, and earn royalty dividends via shares of songs, is forging a new path for artists at every level to make a living in music outside of traditional revenue models in music.

“As the biggest intersection of music trends and tech, SXSW was the ideal spot for us to reveal our Labelcoin platform to the Music Industry’s forward thinkers,” said Labelcoin CEO Mark Miller to Hypebot. “ The reception was unbelievable, and we look forward to announcing several partnerships, and onboarding new labels and artists in the coming months!”

The platform stands out as a great investment amidst a space full of music startups built around features or functions destined for convergence, often without objective or realistic market trajectory much less practical application with consumers. Labelcoin tackles artist revenues head on, addressing one of the biggest issues in music today with solutions via a direct-to-fan platform.

Data Garden’s Joe Patitucci also curated a full slate of programming throughout the week with his Plant Wave room that included live performances, giving many attendees their first experience with biodata sonification. Given the role this technology could play in live performance ecosystems in the future, it is another one to keep an eye on.

Top Stops and Venue Activations

The British Music Embassy and UK House was a favorite and most frequent stop for me during the week. That and the Canada House locations both became frequent gathering hubs with interest topics from prominent impact markets beyond US borders in music. BME highlighted amidst it’s programming the work being done in the city of Manchester, England whose City Council in attendance has had economic studies supporting their efforts by Shain Shapiro’s Sound Diplomacy. The UK was also well represented in the curation of the Immersive Futures Lab and BEYOND Conference XR rooms, as were many other nations in the Creative Industries Expo floor.

Performance rights organization ASCAP, the only non-profit PRO, even hosted an event at the BME location, amidst events it curated that were dedicated to supporting emerging music creators, which also included a showcase, song camp, as well as a collaborative panel with Dolby.

Usable urban space location-winners included Dolby, who built out a fully integrated and branded immersive build and interactive experience featuring their atmos spatial audio technology, in a nearby building downtown, complete with panels, evening parties, and daily Waffle Love food truck offerings. White Claw also had prime real estate across from the convention center doors, with a full immersive brand activation that also featured free daily tacos and a stage with artist showcases.

La Croix and Avocados From Mexico also had standout activations, with the former being a bit too far from the convention center but featuring a fake-cooler door entrance that made me wish we’d seen more Meow Wolf/Omega Mart-style immersive experiences. The latter delivered a fun fully interactive room of that kind, complete with giveaways built into the room design.

Community and The Range of Market Convergence Was Unparalleled

As was evidenced in numerous meetups and mixers, community was what stood out most during the week in and around the programming, including those at the unique cross sections of music business, tech, and cultural office spaces that were represented.

In addition to the international houses and convergence of the music and tech communities at Labelcoin’s gatherings, SXSW programming hosted by Dmitri Vietze’s Rock Paper Scissors PR and the Music Tectonics team curated by head events planner Shayli Ankenbruck , as well as fun daily collaborative activities in a curators group led by NOLA MusicCon and SF Music Tech’s Brian Zisk, took the cake in Austin this year.

The Best Thing About SXSW

The best thing, and my favorite feature of the conference itself, one that I hope will be expanded both to its schedule and locations as well as adapted to other live events, is the participatory culture cultivated through interactive voting and Q&A’s.

From the panel picker process of submitting panel topics ideas and prospective speakers for people to vote on to determine who makes it on the programming schedule, to the ability of attendees to up vote questions in chat feeds similar to social media comment threads, to elevate those better questions to the top for post panel and keynote Q&A sessions.

It’s one of the best and most needed in-real-life applications of online community behaviors to date, and I’ve never seen as many examples of panelists stumped by Q&A participants knowing more about application of their tech and what it’s capable of then they do, which is a testament to the smart-audience it draws.

The only thing that the conference didn’t hold space for was saved, open slots for current topical points of interest that were not featured on the panel or keynote schedule, such as ticketing and the emergence of ChatGPT.

That such headlining topics during the week outside of SXSW were not talked about or prevalent in any of the panels that were voted on in advance, perhaps makes a case for some panel spots to be reserved for short-term voting on current topics and panelists as well.

All You Can Eat

I’d be remiss as a lifelong concertgoer and foodie not to mention the wealth of quality courtesy eats. I’ve never seen so much at a conference before frankly. In fact, food and bev was so readily accessible and interwoven into the schedule that if you plan accordingly, you can eat all week without paying for outside meals.

Austin is already a destination on account of its wide range of restaurants and eateries, and SXSW took that aspect of the local community’s personality and interwove it into their identity.

Daily free Tacos at activation destinations like the aforementioned Canada House and the British Music Embassy’s UK House, a stellar Chicken and Waffle grilled cheese offering courtesy of Dolby’s activation and Waffle Love, as well as others such as the gourmet snackable bites at Labelcoin’s base at Banger’s on Rainey Street, and my favorite brand food activation of the week in which Hattie B’s hot Chicken hosted a part showcase/part record shop in a collaboration with Oh Boy records, were all headliners. Suffice to say, I was in food Heaven.

David Benjamin De Cristofaro is a recent grad ‘available-for-hire’ who achieved National success as an award-winning student of Music Business, Tech, Marketing and Economics with The University of The Arts and Berklee College of Music. While in school, he met with members of Congress in advocacy with The Recording Academy, worked with some of the largest artists, tours, and festivals in Music, and on creative experience projects and solutions for NARAS, the Capitol Records Innovation Center, Fender, Bose, MusiCares, Spotify, and Republic Records. He has served as an international speaker at universities and conferences. He spent the pandemic writing journalism pieces on immersive and fan experience ecosystems and researching emerging ticket models + solutions, while also contributing to USA Today SMG.