I had the privilege to attend SXSW Sydney in October last year, and here are my top five takeaways that affect the entertainment industry
Tiktok has changed how young people listen to music.
In a panel titled TikTok soundscapes, WPP House gave the participants blindfolds and headphones and played us a series of narrations with soundtracks. That was a good way to demonstrate how music elevates storytelling by augmenting emotional connection. It also shows how pairing songs with narration can completely alter the meaning of the song, bending it to the storytelling. In a way, that’s what the platform does, especially with its audio trends. You know, those bits of audio that consist of a song or voiceover, and that users can add video to. Musician Ashwarya mentioned that if she heard a song first on the platform, she would tend to associate it with the mood of the videos using it, even if that wasn’t the original intent of the songwriter. And everyone who’s been on Tiktok long enough will agree.
Licensing and sync are currently some of the best income streams for working musicians
Songtradr CEO Paul Wiltshire, who recently purchased Bandcamp, told us how his platform uses AI to scan audio files and extract data points like bpm and genre to determine who is the best target audience for that track. More than that, they use that data to match these tracks to brands looking to evoke a specific feeling in their customers. With streaming platforms paying pennies and physical media sales dwindling due to the cost of living crisis, it’s smart to explore every revenue stream available. Oh yes, he also reassured us he has no intention to change the experience that Bandcamp offers their users, so indies out there can breathe a sigh of relief.
Science-based marketing gives us the chills
No, literally. Speaker manufacturer Sonos teamed up with Eric J Dubowsky and creative agency Amplify to design a track specifically to elicit physical responses like goosebumps, chills, elevated heart rate, and I get butterflies in my stomach. Campaigns like this aim to grab our attention in an increasingly noisy landscape, using a scientific approach to make them impossible to ignore. And with spatial sound becoming more ubiquitous, their impact is greater. It’s fascinating but also a bit dystopian if you ask me.
Check it out here.
VR and AR are still very niche but growing steadily
There was a special section in the expo for VR exhibitors and there was a lot of competition to get to a headset. People are excited about these technologies and I particularly didn’t test any experience that had immersive sound, which in my view would elevate the experience exponentially. An interesting take on the possibilities of VR was given by artist Lynette Wallworth, who creates interactive experiences in partnership with indigenous communities to translate their worldview to Western minds. She says that the new technologies open space for new ways of working with them, and producing for them. That makes them more flexible to work within different cultures. An Amazonian shaman told her that VR headsets work just like Ayahuasca, changing your perception to deliver a message, and afterward, you come back to your reality.
AI in music is more a partner than a threat
One of the highlights of my SXSW was the panel on AI in Music production, by Justin Shave and Charlton Hill from Uncanny Valley studios in Sydney. Both have been at the edge of the intersection of Music and Technology for decades; and have been involved in projects such as Music of the Sails, a generative piece made for the 50th anniversary of the Sydney Opera House, and developing their own AI Music Engine, Memo. Their argument is that generative AI tools like DDSP, Lyrics generators, Voice replicators, Musicgen, Source separation, and others are to be seen as tools instead of competition. They use synths and Napster as examples of technologies that disrupted the music industry and stirred fears that they would end it, but in the end date didn’t. Playing with any of the above-mentioned, it becomes clear that they are useful resources; but if they might one day replace a skilled human, that day is still far away.