It is bleary-eyed yet energized, and with enough new business cards to warrant a dedicated carry-on, that Frédérick Ranger, Stingray’s Vice-President, Product Marketing, returned from a week-long journey into the belly of the massive creative beast that is the 2018 South by Southwest Festival (SXSW).
Now that he’s back at the Stingray HQ in Montreal, he’s taken the time to share with us the discoveries that blew his mind, his prognostics for the future of music and technology, and stories of Austin’s famous BBQs (are we jealous, yeah, maybe a bit!)
This was not your first experience of SXSW, how has it changed since your last visit almost 10 years ago?
You need to remember that this is the festival where Twitter (2007) and Foursquare (2009) were launched. It was the mecca for startups with money to burn to get noticed. SXSW is still completely over-the-top, but not to the free-for-all spending degree it used to. Rather than using the festival as a launch platform, companies are there to solidify their brand equity.
For the uninitiated, can you describe this year’s SXSW conference in just 3 words?
SXSW is close to indescribable. It’s like no other conference out there in its scope and ambition. But, if I had to describe it in a few words, I’d choose overwhelming, inclusive, and FOMO (for the sake of argument, let’s agree that it’s a single word!)
Every hour there are 20 conferences to attend and hundreds of contacts to be made. Is it too much? No. But, there’s always a nagging feeling that there some other amazing things to see just around the corner. There is a stress level that adds a few dark circles under the eyes after a few days, but it’s incredibly motivating to be surrounded by so much creativity and innovation.
Paint us a picture. What makes SXSW so special?
SXSW is all about connections (the beer and breakfast tacos help break the ice very quickly!) What makes it unique is the opportunity to meet the big guys and be inspired by the little guys! If I had to guesstimate, I’d say I shook 400 hands in 5 days. Where else can you connect with everyone from vloggers to bloggers, from music label heads to songwriters and CTOs? Getting to meet the team from the FADER, a music, style, and culture website was a major highlight.
Last, and oh certainly not least, the Sunday gospel brunch at Stubb’s on Red River Street is worth the plane ride!
Why attend SXSW?
The energy blast created by the collision of music and technology is unreal. There are hundreds of industry conferences and events out there, but none where CEOs of major tech behemoths walk around in band t-shirts, none where the atmosphere is so laid-back and open-minded, and none that take over an entire city.
SXSW is a far cry from the neon lights of cavernous congress centers. SXSW is a living, breathing thing. In every bar and every restaurant on 6th Street there is an artist performing, in every hall there is a phenomenal brand activation. When the geeks meet the rockers, incredible things happen!
What are your key takeaways from this year’s festival?
I will never say it enough, voice search and voice activation are the future! Companies need to focus their efforts on making their services compatible with voice technology. I am 100% convinced that voice is emerging as the next Google search.
AR and VR
AR and VR have matured and are consolidating their place within the tech and entertainment ecosystem. It is now possible to truly experience a show from the first row without being there. Forget the days when VR was just a diluted version of the real thing! Montreal-based arnoovo has filmed a Pink show in VR and believe me; it is awesome! This technology offers an added value for artists since fans can now pay to experience live performances from halfway across the world.
I was also particularly impressed by BOSE’s augmented reality through sound called BOSE AR. If you have never heard of it, don’t worry, neither had I! Bose AR prototype devices combine data from embedded motion sensors with GPS information from your phone, which they connect with via Bluetooth. Audio VR is less intrusive as visual VR but as immersive.
The democratization and accessibility of AI was also a hot topic. When Apple, Google, and Amazon integrate AI into devices that are available to all consumers at their local Best Buy, you know the technology has matured. In my opinion, the next phase will be AI personal assistants at the office such as the one proposed by x.ai. Anecdotally, I have used the service to book meetings. The service is so unbelievably human that my AI assistant Amy received flowers at the office from a client. True story!
The data-driven artist
We are seeing artists using data in new ways to support their creativity. Data is giving artists more control over their careers, the ability to connect more deeply with their fans, and the tools to make strategic decisions such as booking tour dates.
Looking forward to next year, can you give us a quick SXSW survival guide?
Happy to! Have hand sanitizer on you at all times (all that handshaking!). Register to parties and advance and RSVP immediately if you hope to get in. Forget your business attire, pack jeans, shorts, and t-shirts. Use the SXSW app to connect with people you’d like to meet ahead of time and book meetings.