Column 19 — SXSW: entrepreneurs and rock stars; Mountain Goats, Kyle Harvey tonight

Category: Blog — @ 1:21 pm March 31, 2005

As a sidenote to this column, it seems like the number of bands from Nebraska that get accepted to South by Southwest continues to dwindle. This year it was only Statistics and The ’89 Cubs, and the Cubs canceled. Last year it was Statistics and Criteria. A few years ago Saddle Creek hosted a SXSW showcase, but it’s been years since the label has done anything that (though they had initially intended to do one this year). I just don’t know how relevant SXSW is anymore, but it still sounds like a good time:

Column 19 — Southwest Schmooze-a-thon

Just like thousands of other music junkies, I’ve always wanted to attend South by Southwest, the annual music festival/schmooze-a-thon held in Austin every March — the perfect getaway as winter ends and spring break begins at most institutes of higher learning. But I’ve never made it to the Mecca for indie-music lovers.

And now I wonder if its time has passed. When SXSW was first launched almost 20 years ago, the idea was to put young and hungry unsigned bands in front of hordes of cigar-chomping record label honchos eager to find the “next big thing.” Today, most of the bands accepted to perform at the 5-day event are well-established acts that are already signed to indie labels, and in fact are playing at label showcases. While only 700 people showed up for the first SXSW in ’87, more than 7,000 were there last week.

Among them, fast-talking tech-wizard Jimmy Winter, the 20-something president and owner of Omaha-based Music Arsenal. No, Music Arsenal isn’t some sort of weapon that sends intense beams of Slayer at unsuspecting foes, it’s a web-based software service used to manage every facet of a CD’s birth and life, from scheduling the CD’s recording, mixing and mastering sessions, to post production, to marketing and retail sales, to organizing press, radio and the band’s subsequent tour. Future versions will even allow record labels to manage inventory and royalty distribution. It’s what the people in the tech biz call a “killer app.”

So far only six labels have signed up for the service, but San Francisco-based Digital Rights Agency — a broker that peddles small indie labels to online services such as i-Tunes and Napster — just signed on, potentially bringing an additional 180 labels to the Digital Arsenal table. Not too shabby.
So like any good music entrepreneur, our man Mr. Winter decided to leave behind cold, gray Omaha and soak in some SXSW sun and fun while landing some new business. He and partner/advisor Sam Mandolfo set up five sit-downs and landed five clients. “It was total schmoozing,” Winter said. “We met a ton of industry people and passed out a lot of business cards.”

And saw some great bands, including The Black Halos, Tegan & Sara, Architects, The Coachwhips, 400 Blows, Radio 4, American Analog Set, newcomers Langhorne Slim and a little ol’ band from Omaha called Statistics.

“That went really well,” Winter said of the packed Statistics gig that was part of a Jade Tree and Touch & Go showcase at the Red Eye Fly. “We were standing right behind the music editor of The Hollywood Reporter, who was gushing all over them.”

Statistics frontman Denver Dalley said the Red Eye Fly show gave the band a chance to get introduced to a few “industry types” and see some old friends who came to the show, including members of Little Brazil, Saddle Creek’s Matt Maginn and some old pals from Sweden.

But is SXSW is still an important showcase for bands? “I’m not sure really,” Dalley said. “It seems like there is too much going on (there) nowadays. People are running around like crazy trying to catch certain bands’ sets. There are often lines that prevent people from seeing who they want to. It just seems like there is too much going on. At the same time, you can walk down the street and bump into so many friends you haven’t seen in ages. It has its pros and cons.”

Winter, on the other hand, said the lines weren’t bad that long as you had a festival badge. “The meetings were good, but the bands were better,” he said. “The worst part is that too many bands are playing at one time and it’s hard to catch all the ones you want to see. You have to make some hard choices.”
My guess is going back to Austin next year won’t be a hard choice. And maybe this time he’ll have some company. I could use the vacation.

Big show tonight at Sokol Underground featuring The Mountain Goats with The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers and Kyle Harvey. $8, 9 p.m. Don’t miss it. I didn’t make it out to see Maria Taylor last night (if anyone did, please give us a review here). I did go to the Todd Solondz film Palindromes at the Dundee Theater. It wasn’t sold out but it was close to it. And it was very much like going to a Creek show at Sokol — I saw members from four Creek bands in the audience, and well as other local hipsters, not the least of which was Academy Award Winner Mike Hill. Despite what you may have read in The New York Times, the film is far from a senseless, grueling downer; but I’m sure my viewpoint was skewed screening it with this audience, which laughed at damn near everything. Solondz took questions afterward for about an hour, sounding like a young, even more neurotic version of Woody Allen. The Dundee should try to do this sort of thing more often.

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