The trip to SXSW is always fraught with adventure, and this year was no different. Flying into Los Angeles on Friday afternoon – and arriving earlier that morning thanks to the wonders of the international date line – we hit the ground running and enjoyed the spoils of the Universal Studios to keep ourselves from passing out and ruining any chance of avoiding jet lag. Thankfully we did just that.
The benefit of this was that this pushed us through until our first music event of the trip, the lovely Emma Louise, who played the famed Hotel Café in Los Angeles – a venue known for its support of singers and songwriters and respectful crowds. Of course she played her most well known Australian song “Jungle” which went down a treat, and though in Australia people would be singing along to every word, here the respectful crowd laid silent, appreciating the young talent and listening to every note and every word. Emma and her band (which included the wonderful Hannah Shepherd from Charlie Mayfair) sounded phenomenal in the venue and with this her first non-industry performance ever in the USA, we certainly don’t expect it to be the last.
On our last day in Los Angeles, the 11th, we made it to The Echo in Silverlake for The Aussie BBQ, stopping in for a few hours just before we had to head to Austin. Entering to the sweet sounds of Pets With Pets, I also caught Emma Louise once again as well as a very hungover Busby Marou (pictured below), who worked the room with the usual swagger. New talent Chet Faker went over well and I would assume that’s not the last we’ll hear of him. Artists Big Scary, DZ Deathrays, Gold Fields and more went on to play the rest of the evening – but after a quick burger we had to make tracks to the airport. You’ll be able to see our interviews from our time at the venue soon.
We arrived in Austin on Sunday night in efforts to hit the ground running (again) on the Monday morning, quickly picking up our passes and getting things moving. I made tracks for some lunch at the Smart Company Grill (one of the interactive hotspots featuring free food, drinks and plenty of networking opportunities)… and what a lunch it was. Burgers, tacos, nachos and more… oh my!
After checking into the Sounds Australia booth in the convention centre (which this year featured a “backyard” theme - Hills Hoist covered in USB clothing pins – genius!), we were invited to check out the new online App, Zya, which was making its official launch at the festival. Andrew Wade has a few words to say about the App, and then you’ll be able to watch the makers talk about the project when we get that video online later in the month.
One of our first SXSW experiences was to find out some more about the new, ground-breaking product from Music Mastermind called Zya. Zya is a music platform that allows enthusiasts and casual consumers to record and/or remix popular songs with their own creative edge.
Founded by Matchbox Twenty and Carlos Santana producer and former Virgin executive Matt Serletic, Zya aims to allows even the unsavviest computer user to create their own beats and melodies, as well as allowing them (through licensing with some of the biggest global labels) to remix songs. These songs (we were shown 'Just Dance' and 'Pokerface' by Lady Gaga, although we peeped 'Girls Just Want To Have Fun' by Blondie alongside Madonna with the promise of many more to come) are split up into sections of hooks, chorus, verse, breakdowns and rhythms, and allows users to mix and match with simply their keyboard and mouse, as well as record their own vocals using a USB microphone. Currently Zya has no ability to interface with high end musical devices (a limitation of the Unity engine used for programming) but the team has plans to fix and expand that after launch.
Zya also aims to give any potential maestros an inlet into the digital music marketplace, with a rating/popularity system feeding into the front end of the software; essentially allowing the cream of the crop to rise to the top as voted by consumers or a special internal Zya team. This then allows users to sell their remixes (there was no information on a pricing structure at the time of the interview) a la iTunes.
To this writer, this seemed to be the only weak point of the system that wasn't addressed; record labels are notoriously letigious and protective of their royalties, and it seems like a huge jump from the RIAA-backing labels of 2012 that we know and love...hate...are indifferent towards to allow what is essentially a free market upon copyrighted content. While interactive music providing platforms such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero have sustained themselves in the past with the backing of global corporations, even they weren't immune to the constant changes of label rights, where certain songs from Rock Band 2 could not be moved into Rock Band 3 through the export funtion, and even certain downloadable songs have not been accessible after a certain point; that said, all the contracts and legal details are performed behind closed doors, so it's possible that Zya have found a foolproof way to close the gap between these labels and the bedroom musicians that are so prolific today. Not to mention Mr. Serletic, who as we mentioned has a history with large record labels; it's possible that with the right amount of influence and business sense that the labels may have finally embraced the digital revolution.
Check out the demo we had of Zya:
With the amount of phenenal interactive projects on display, it’s clear we need to come back next year and cover the full event. We understand one of the many highlights of the interactive event was a talk with Al Gore and Sean Parker – who would have thought they would ever be in a room together, let alone speaking…
After popping into an interactive party featuring The Eggmen (a Beatles cover band who I first caught at my first SXSW in 2010), Club Nokia (see photo above), the Zya launch party (which featured a DJ set from Nick Cannon, aka Mr. Mariah Carey), our night finished the same way my first night did last year – enjoying a few drinks and some live music at the CNN Grill. Tonight we enjoyed the sweet sounds of the lovely Gemma Ray (pictured below), who brough along the same flair and enthusasim we saw in Australia at the end of last year, playing a short set jam packed full of gems – most noteably “Please Let Me Explain”, one of my favourite numbers.
hellogoodbye (pictured below), who were a part of last year’s Counter Revolution events, closed out the night, and showed why they’re a band who fans of a variety of genres can warm to. Their music, which tonight included tracks such as “Getting Old”, is palatable for many (not just the normal “Soundwave” crowd, but they could easily hit something like Laneway, too), and as a band they’re a tight as you get. An enjoyable evening and a great way to get my 2012 South by Southwest festival off to a running start.