Carl Verheyen: Some Good News from SXSW

July 8, 2014
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I JUST RETURNED FROM Austin, Texas, where I was asked to be a panelist on one of the many sessions the SXSW (South by Southwest) conference schedules for the music industry. The conference panels are too numerous to mention, but you can attend everything from Rodney Crowell discussing songwriting to an interview with Neil Young.

The session I participated in focused on the new world order of the music business. Panelists consisted of a record producer, a music attorney, a branding/talent executive, and myself representing the recording artist. I found the discussion to be invigorating and quite positive.

GOOD THING #1
THE CD IS NOT DEAD

As guitarists, we are obsessed with tone. And, for many of us, this obsession with picks, strings, pickups, cables, tubes, and speakers feels like an exercise in futility when the final recorded product of all this effort is an mp3—the worst-quality media for music playback in many decades. But I heard multiple times that, contrary to popular media ranting, the CD is not going away any time soon. Everyone from artists, management, marketing people, and booking agents agreed. In fact, David Goldsen, who is an A&R executive for Warner/Chappell Music, said the CD would be around at least until 2035. He cited many reasons including the most basic: a fan’s desire to own a piece of product from the band, and to get that product signed by the artist at the show. Audiophiles, serious listeners, and collectors make up another “CD Lives” demographic. Then, there is the infrastructure currently in place for playback in cars, computers, and home-entertainment equipment.

For touring bands that rely heavily on merch sales on the road, this is positive news. And if you’re a tone freak, knowing that the higher audio quality reproduced by the CD is not going to disappear is even better news.

GOOD THING #2
THE GUITAR IS NOT DEAD

Another positive observation I made was while checking out the shows in the clubs. Most of the bands were guitar based. It seems that the guitar is still king, and many young guitarists are tearing it up! I heard a duo from London consisting of an accomplished singer/songwriter named Alex Vargas on an acoustic Martin D-18, and an electric guitarist playing a Gretsch Duo Jet. I wish I had caught his name, because the tones he got with a few pedals plugged into the house amp were astounding. The beauty of our instrument is the degree to which we can create a personal sonic statement using simple tools. Beyond tones, the guitarists I saw in young bands like Phox and Thumpers each had tons of vibe in their approach to the instrument. Taste and chops are a satisfying combination.

GOOD THING #3
MUSIC IS NOT DEAD

Finally, I came away with a sense that music is still important to people in this country. NPR radio offered a free download of 100 songs from 100 selected bands appearing at SXSW, so you could plan your club excursions, and people enthusiastically did.

The upbeat songs and exciting stage show of Fantogram created a strong feeling of community within their audience. And, with the band Wild Cub (two Tele players can’t be wrong!), the buzz was infectious. Kate, my 28-year-old niece and her friends had researched many of the featured bands, and I was swept up in their excitement. All of this confirmed the truth that we, the musicians, matter!

Carl Verheyen is a critically acclaimed, Grammy-nominated guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, arranger, producer, clinician, educator, and tone master with 12 CDs, two live DVDs, and two books released worldwide.

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