South by Southwest 2004 proved that rumors regarding the death of the music industry are greatly exaggerated. Hot on the heels of Warner Music Group’s plans to slash 1,000 jobs, one might have expected the biggest music conference in the country to be feeling the burn. Instead, SXSW experienced the largest turnout in years, with more than 7,000 attendees and 1,279 acts playing in 60 venues. But, as more than one industry veteran noted, the high energy wasn’t coming from the major labels. It was the indies who were strutting their stuff with showcases galore, and most of them were packed.
During my first venture to SXSW—joined by our Marketing Manager, Laney Erokan—I learned these things: The sidewalks in downtown Austin are dauntingly uneven, and they often end without warning; some bars should not be made into live-music venues; and the smell of barbeque is ubiquitous (which is charming at first, and less so after a few days). Also not to be disputed: Should Philadelphia rockers Marah come through your town, definitely do not miss them. And keep an eye out for Franz Ferdinand and Secret Machines, as there was a reason the lines for their shows extended down the block. Finally, the Von Bondies, the Polyphonic Spree, Broken Social Scene, the Decembrists, and Modest Mouse are still very much bands of the moment, and Mr. Airplane Man proved they can rock just as hard live as on record. It’s hectic, exhausting, and inspiring, but anyone who truly cares about music should make an effort to experience SXSW.