Three years ago, which was about five months into my “professional” music writing career, I personally put a manila folder of clips into Rob Tannenbaum’s inter-office mailbox at Blender. A few days later he emailed me some nice comments, and also a little critique:

You’re writing within the biosphere of your enthusiasms and subjects; the reviews communicate in a code that’s shared by a coterie that only feels large when you’re in a rock club.1

Now imagine that club is 20 clubs, and imagine they all line a couple of connected streets.

There’s been some mention of how the recession doesn’t seem to exist down in Austin right now; parties are just as huge, gift bags just as gross, bands just as plentiful. And while there’s something sweet and anachronistic about that, part of me thinks that it only proves that this, smaller world, is still in the business of making itself feel large, talking to itself at the exclusion of everyone else, no matter what it costs. A lot of time is spent laughing at bonehead moves made by major labels, but I wonder if these labels/publications/bands are making the same moves.

CMJ, as poorly run as it is, still has a clear purpose to me: it’s a way for small-town college radio kids to visit New York and see bands that would never make it to their city.

I don’t see that with SXSW. I think it should be the reverse: big city publicists/labels/writers come down to check out the bands that can’t afford to do big tours, so everyone can come back with something new to followup on. Right now, I’m digging through Twitters and blog posts to find those recommendations and observations. But 90% of coverage I’ve read online has been devoted to bands that have already been covered heavily in the past.2

So this is what I want to see from SXSW coverage: What’s new and what’s good? And from the panels: What’s going to change, or what has to change to keep people reading about and buying music? Hiring one less photographer or skipping the free t-shirts in your gift bags this year isn’t going to save your label or website or magazine. It seems silly to me that anyone would know where the best tacos are found, but couldn’t tell me where their industry will be in a year.

Or maybe I’m reading the wrong sites. Can anyone point me in the right direction?

  1. Besides that lesson, Rob told me to never use the word “anthemic” in a review ever again. I think I’ve used it twice since then.↩
  2. I’m guilty of this too; though the one time I covered SXSW and in my CMJ coverage I tried to pick at least one band a night that I thought deserved more attention.↩