South By Southwest gets tons of hype, but the real hardcore game developers head straight to San Francisco. Offering more than 400 lectures and workshops, this year’s Game Developers Conference is particularly enticing to those interested in game narrative. Dr. Deborah Hendersen, a researcher for Microsoft Studios, discussed what her testing shows about how much players care for narrative. While players deeply care for story arc, studies show that they care for characters more and when given a choice, will sometimes opt for character over plot development. For game creators, that means having characters players want to embody is crucial in making emotional connections with those experiencing the game. Hendersen also covered the importance of gauging whether players are interpreting the characters as the game designer intended.
“Players will tell you if your characters are misogynistic or selfish or stupid … but only if you let them draw their own conclusions,” she said.
Hendersen’s session was followed by one focused on playtesting of a different kind—with pen and paper. Disney Digital Publishing designer Jamie Antonisse, a developer who’s also worked on award-winning indie games including The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, walked session attendees through how and why they should create a paper prototype of their digital games. Donning a tuxedo t-shirt Antonisse called “a prototype of a real tuxedo,” the designer led the audience through the steps of creating an initial write-up on a game, which includes jotting down:
- The game’s premise
- The player’s role
- The player’s goals
- The player’s conflict
- The player’s choices
- The player’s actions
- Game events
Doing so, Antonisse asserted, helps game designers “put the player in the narrative as early as we can,” and uncovers glaring plot errors before any coding is done.
Of course, there will also be lots (and even more) iteration after a game has been shipped. In a discussion on the mobile trilogy Infinity Blade, ChAIR Entertainment’s lead animator, Scott Stoddard, delved into the evolution of the game that led to the franchise raking in more than $60 million in the first two installments alone. While players immediately loved the concept for the game, one facet they did not embrace was the parry mechanic, which was required for defeating almost any major boss encountered.
“Our players really sucked at it,” Stoddard admits, adding that in the original release of the game, players failed at parrying 90 percent of the time. “That was a huge red flag for us.”
To help newbies adapt, ChAIR made the mechanic easy enough to have a 90 percent success rate and switched from a pass/fail system of parrying to a tri-mode system wherein players could perform a good, better, or perfect execution. ChAIR also added in feedback channels designed to help players get better, even going so far as to go back through each of the game’s fight sequences to analyze the best kill angles.
ChAIR’s efforts paid off and wound up transforming “a mechanic that basically failed at launch to one of our most beloved,” Stoddard said.
When and how to launch is a major question for developers and unfortunately there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. The team from Vlambeer in the Netherlands discussed their experiences with creating their game Nuclear Thrones with the world watching. Using Steam Early Access, a program that enables developers to gain an audience early by documenting their development process, Vlambeer offered a new game build every week, live-streamed their development twice a week, kept a strong development blog, and networked with fans. The process came with several pros, including invaluable promotional opportunities, the ability to educate game fans about the development process, and pressure on the developers to stay productive.
“When 3,000 people are watching you do something, you don’t just like check your Twitter all day,” said developer Jan Willem Nijman.
It’s also tough. Creating a game while live streaming the development process is far more time-consuming than simply working and fans will be quick to call out when deadlines aren’t met. Developing with such a strong degree of transparency also makes it difficult to build secrets into the game, but it’s worth it, said Rami Ismail.
“It takes a lot of time to make a community that gives back, but when you get there, it’s amazing.”
Our day wrapped with a workshop led by developer Daniel Greenberg, who encouraged new designers to think like a filmmaker when creating game narrative and think outside of dialogue and text. Incorporating storytelling elements like strategic costume design, nonverbal communication, and color scheme is not only a more effective way to keep a player engaged, it’s also cheaper than paying voice actors for extra lines. Greenberg cited everything from detective stories to superhero outfits—ever notice how the heroes are all in primary colors and the villains typically wear secondary ones?—to Breaking Bad as examples of using visual cues to further a story. The goal, Greenberg said, was to give players just enough verbal or written story to raise suspicion or get ideas flowing.
“It’s their own mind that’s creating the story,” he added.
“Art for me is supposed to be dangerous. It’s supposed to be cutting edge. It’s supposed to challenge the establishment,” Grammy Award-winning performer Cee Lo Green said in a Q&A led by NPR music editor Frannie Kelley. Fresh off of a late flight in last night, Green kicked off South By Southwest’s final official day with a reiteration of a fundamental battle performers at South By have covered time and time again this festival: artists and fans are tired of seeing the same cookie-cutter acts gain attention, but with a dearth of funds in the industry, labels are oftentimes forced to play it safe. Green re-emphasized many of the points made by Lady Gaga, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Nicolas Cage, and Lena Dunham earlier in the week, namely that in order to be an artist, in any medium, you have to be different despite industry forces pushing for artists to ruffle the fewest feathers and reach the broadest possible audience.
When asked if he stresses about being misunderstood by fans, Green stated, “No, no, no. I make sure I’m misunderstood. A true artist isn’t meant to be understood by everyone at the same time.”
Green delved into his past, honing his skills as part of the Dungeon Family hip-hop collective, which he described as “a shelter from the war outside,” as well as his upcoming projects that include a new album titled Girl Power and an eight-track of television theme song covers called TV on the Radio (titled with permission from the band of the same name). One thing that he says has changed is the music industry’s ever-shortening attention span, a factor which Green says has turned some music into ” just product. It doesn’t have a pulse. It’s not alive anymore.” Once legendary acts who made significant contributions to the music landscape may very well be overlooked by today’s standards to the detriment of listeners everywhere.
“What happened to the A&Rs who said, ‘Oh, my God, Rush! [What about] Moving Pictures?” Green asked. He also chided fans for allowing it to happen. “Take some responsibility for yourself. … Demand more from your artists. Demand more from your music. Stop being as tolerant as we are. Demand more.”
Cee Lo is ready to show fans exactly what that means. Showcases by Green, Childish Gambino, Willie Nelson, Ludacris, Talib Kweli, Ingrid Michaelson, Skrillex, and more finish out the phenomenally inspiring (and exhausting) festival. Thanks for sticking with us throughout. Can’t wait to see you next year.
Gaga was the buzzword of the day as SXSW resumed, still reeling from a barbecue and puke-inflected performance from Lady Gaga the night before. An in-depth write-up of Gaga’s keynote is available here, but highlights of her Q&A with former MTV VJ John Norris included:
- De-emphasizing the power of the pop charts:
“When you do that, you take the power out of the hands of the artist and you put it in the hands of the corporation and that means that you have less of a chance, you at home with your guitar, you have less of a chance of making it because you need someone in a corporate tower to say, ‘No, no, no. This is how you do it.’”
- The importance (and pain) of being an original:
“I refuse to compromise and allow my talents to be monetized to the point that I don’t want to be here. … If I can’t be myself in this moment then everything I have said to my fans since the beginning will be a total lie. … I’ll be myself until they f——— close the coffin so that you can all be yourselves.”
- And over-reliance on social media for young, aspiring artists:
“Nobody is going to remember what you tweeted when you die. Nobody is going to remember your web content for the week. What’s going to be remembered are those magical moments that you have helped to create bringing artists and the artistic community together to breath the compassion and the love that comes with creating.”
Gaga, as well as several other panelists throughout the day, praised brands for financially stepping in when record labels can’t. She credited Doritos, which sponsored her show the previous night, for granting the fiscal resources to support her Born This Way Foundation without attaching those funds to creative constraints.
“The only time anyone sells out is when you can see that they’ve made a choice that inside, it’s wrong,” Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Melissa Etheridge stated in a different panel. Etheridge admitted that the song “Breathe,” the single from her 2004 album, Lucky, and the only track not written or co-written by Etheridge herself, wound up on the album due to pressures from the music industry.
“I, at that moment, sold out inside,” Etheridge said. “I cried. I cried and was diagnosed [with cancer] about six weeks later and everything stopped. That’s when I made my choice, no no no, I make my music for me.”
To make that work, both the band and the brand have to embody each other’s culture, said Victoria Camera, vice-president of Music Industry Relations for ReverbNation, in a one-on-one interview.
“I think a lot of artists get a little over zealous and they want to cast a wide net and kind of submit to any and every [brand partnership] they can,” Camera said. “They don’t realize how much that actually hurts them.”
The backlash for a bad brand partnership can be extensive, not just for bands and their fans, but also for festivals and performance venues that rely on sponsorship dollars. Competition for that funding is getting harder, said Kevin Lyman, creator of the Vans Warped Tour, meaning that those running fests have to step up their game by offering year-round sponsorship promotion and innovative ways of reaching audiences outside of the festival season.
One way Lyman is doing that is with a partnership deal with Fuse TV. Through Warped Roadies, a Fuse reality series that chronicles the making of the namesake tour, Lyman gets to promote new bands as they sign on to the upcoming summer tour and keep fans psyched about the festival ahead even when it’s months away. HARD Fest electronic music festival president Gary Richards said that viral videos have helped his event stay in contact with fans.
“We came up with this idea that we would dress up dogs like all the DJs that were performing,” he said. “Who doesn’t want to see dogs? The next thing we know, we have a million views.”
Print and television campaigns generally don’t work, said Wakarusa fest founder Brett Mosiman, who added, “If you’re dropping money in the traditional media, I just think you’re setting it on fire.”
For newbies who are thinking about starting their own festival, the competition is stiff and the money is tight. “None of us made money on our first festival,” Lyman said. “You lose money because you’re passionate about what you do. … Build those relationships and be patient.”
Today is the final day of South By. Stick with us for the latest.
Universal Orlando has released new information about the expanded Wizarding World of Harry Potter coming to Universal Studios Orlando this summer. Currently under construction, the Hogwarts Express will transport visitors from Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure to London and Diagon Alley at Universal Studios.
You can devour all the details from the full press release here:
All Aboard! Universal Orlando Resort Reveals Never-Before-Released Details About The Magical Journey Guests Will Experience Aboard The Hogwarts Express
Universal Creating First-Ever Experience that Will Allow Guests to Actually Ride the Iconic Train Between London and Hogsmeade - Just Like in the Books and Films
ORLANDO, Fla., March 14, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — One of the most memorable and exciting experiences from the Harry Potter series will come to life at Universal Orlando Resort this summer. Imagine:
- Being transported from the Muggle world to the wizarding world as you pass through the brick wall at King’s Cross Station to arrive at Platform 9 ¾
- Watching in amazement as the Hogwarts Express pulls into the station – its billowing steam and authentic whistle beckoning you to hop aboard
- Sitting in one of the train’s cabins with your family and friends and actually riding the Hogwarts Express – just as your favorite characters did in the Harry Potter films
- Looking outside your cabin window and enjoying a scenic, breathtaking journey through the British countryside as you encounter magical creatures, some of your favorite Harry Potter characters…and even Dementors…
Since the very first Harry Potter film, every fan has dreamed of taking the same classic journey Harry Potter did aboard the Hogwarts Express. And this summer – they will get to live it.
Today, Universal Orlando revealed never-before-released details about the Hogwarts Express experience that will debut as part of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley – the all-new, magnificently themed land opening this summer. The train will connect the new land in Universal Studios Florida with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure – allowing guests with park-to-park admission to enjoy a real journey aboard the iconic locomotive.
Never before has this been done – creating an actual train ride experience to connect two spectacularly themed environments. The Hogwarts Express experience combines powerful storytelling, live special effects, lifelike animation and state-of-the-art technology to take riders on the journey of a lifetime. Guests will enjoy two completely different experiences depending on whether they’re traveling to Hogsmeade or London.
Once seated in the cabin, guests will be able to look out their windows as an incredibly authentic and magical adventure unfolds before them. They’ll see Hagrid come alongside the train on his flying motorbike, Buckbeak the Hippogriff swoop gracefully over the black lake, the Weasley twins on brooms and up to their usual antics, the Knight Bus swerving through London traffic – and other special moments and surprises.
Universal’s Creative team has been working closely with Warner Bros., Stuart Craig and the production team from the Harry Potter films to create a sensational Hogwarts Express experience that the entire family can enjoy. The Creative team has gone to great lengths to ensure the experience is true to the books and films. Everythingabout the train is authentic – from the paint and the materials used to build it….all the way down to the whistle.
Park-to-park admission is required to experience the Hogwarts Express journey from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley (located in Universal Studios Florida) to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade (located in Universal’s Islands of Adventure). For more information about the Hogwarts Express – including a new video that features a first-look at the ride experience – and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, visit www.universalorlando.com/harrypotter.
For some reason, Adult Swim posted an upcoming episode of the hilariously twisted series Rick and Morty on Instagram ahead of its Monday premier. But you’ll have to watch it in 15-second chunks. That’s more than 100 individual clips. “Adult Swim feels Rick and Morty fans are more than up to the challenge.” So, there’s that. The animated show, which is sort of like Ren and Stimpy meets an obvious Back to the Future reference, follows the bizarre exploits of a sociopathic (and drunk) scientist and his not-so-bright grandson.
Here’s the gist from today’s press release:
After missing for nearly 20 years, Rick Sanchez (Justin Roiland) suddenly arrives at his daughter Beth’s (Sarah Chalke) doorstep looking to move in with her and her family. Beth welcomes him with open arms, but her unremarkable husband Jerry (Chris Parnell) isn’t too thrilled about the tearful reunion as Rick’s arrival serves to shake things up quite a bit around the household. Rick converts the garage into his personal laboratory and gets to work on all sorts of dangerous sci-fi gadgets and contraptions. That wouldn’t be so bad if not for the fact that Rick continues to involve his grandchildren Morty (Roiland) and Summer (Spencer Grammer) in his insane adventures.
Dan Harmon (Community, Channel 101) and Justin Roiland (House of Cosbys) are the creators and executive producers.
The episode is now live on the Rick and Morty Instagram account. If your micro attention span can’t tolerate 100 clips (or worse, 30 minutes on Instagram) you can catch the episode when it airs on normal-people TV on Monday at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.
Just hours after slathering herself in barbeque sauce and vomit during a live performance at Stubb’s in Austin, Mother Monster herself sat with Fuse TV’s John Norris for a Q&A on art, the music industry, and what it means to sell out. Donning what appeared to be an ‘80s cellophane wedding dress, Lady Gaga opened up about her struggles over the past year, which included four months spent in a wheelchair following hip surgery and a lawsuit from a former personal assistant and best friend, as well as her determination to remain a true artist despite industry pressures.
“Once you have so many people’s attention and once you have so much, they think that because I’m a female, it’s better to make inconsequential music,” Gaga said. “…That’s the thing that poisoned me from 2013 to 2014 or 2012. That was the poisonous thing. ‘We just want you to look beautiful’ over and over and over in my head until I just wanted to look ugly all the time. … It really crushed me. I’ve won Grammys now. I’ve written albums. I’ve toured the world four times. You’re telling me to be beautiful? … Is it all back to tits and ass? That’s so sad.”
Breaking away from those pressures is what both her puke-tastic performance and her latest album, ARTPOP, are all about, Gaga said. She also had a few wise words for critics of her partnership with Doritos, who sponsored last night’s show, the proceeds of which benefitted Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation.
“To be completely honest, whoever is writing or saying all those things, you don’t know f—- about the state of the music industry. …The truth is that without sponsorships, without these companies coming together to help us, we won’t have any more artists in Austin. We won’t have any festivals because record labels don’t have any f——— money.”
For aspiring artists, Gaga was quick to add that success isn’t about knowing the right people or having a killer social media campaign, nor does it revolve around the coolest video you made for YouTube or your craziest Instagram pic.
“The way to make it in this business is to write songs and to go out into the world, pick up your guitar, and walk from block to block and say, ‘Hi, I’m Lady Gaga. I’m an artist. Can you book me at 7 o’clock on Friday?”
Gaga, who has been performing live since age 15 and developed a strong grassroots following by working neighborhood New York clubs in homemade costumes and no budget, credited her experience coming up as crucial to her current success. While social media has made it possible for young artists to get discovered without having those hard lessons, she said that honing skills through trial and failure (and failure and more failure) is still invaluable.
“Go to a city, sit in an apartment by yourself, and stop shaking hands with people and taking selfies because it’s not going to make you a star. Nobody cares about that. … Be careful what type of business you’re selling because if you’re selling anything other than talent and anything other than good songs, you’re in the wrong business,” Gaga noted.
Because, she said, success in any artistic industry really boils down to having a genuine connection with fans, which can only be built over time through personal connections. Maintaining that bond also means staying real, despite pressures to appeal to the broadest audience.
“I know that it’s fun being on top. I know that it’s fun having everyone wish that they were number one, but having people envy you really isn’t fun at all,” Gaga said. “Having people feel a part of you and feel one with you, that’s the greatest feeling that there is.”
After a drunk driver ripped through downtown Austin, killing two and injuring more than 20 on Wednesday night, South By Southwest regrouped, launched an initiative for victims and those who want to donate to help, and proceeded on a more somber note. Like in previous years, the major theme of the SXSW music panels is money—how artists are getting paid, why they’re not getting paid more, and where they need to monetize. Heated debate about the value of streaming services for artists has permeated several different panels. In a session on monetizing videos as an artist revenue stream, Rich Stumf, CEO of Atlas Music Publishing, heralded streaming services for offering the opportunity for listeners to discover musicians they never would otherwise.
“When you sell one song, you make 9.1 cents. That’s called the mechanical rate. Then it’s done. I buy your album, you get paid nine cents, and I can play it as much as I want,” said Stumpf. Though the industry undoubtedly has to improve at how music is monetized, the streaming model provides a continuous revenue stream for artists, he added.
All four panelists agreed that streaming is here to stay and that’s not necessarily a bad thing for artists, though many agreed that monetization models need improvement. Ad-supported free services offer the chance for lesser-known artists to have their music discovered by a broader range of listeners, even those who will never pay a dime for music.
“It’s monetizing that consumer that’s completely passive,” Stumpf said.
Artists may be losing money on album plays, but they’re gaining it in spades with brand partnerships. While partnering with a brand used to be considered selling out, aligning with a company that embodies the same values as the artist isn’t just OK, it’s financially necessary in some cases.
“Bands need brands and brands need bands. … It’s an ecosystem that exists and that’s just the reality of it,” said Eric David Johnson, executive producer of Search Party Music. The secret is to form a partnership with a brand that makes sense, both product-wise and culturally, he added. “Authenticity is a key word for sure. It depends on what the brands want to do and what the bands want out of it.”
The panel also agreed that in addition to forming the right brand partnerships, the best thing bands can do to promote their music is be fresh and create something that grabs attention fast.
“When I’m listening to something, I’ve got about 15 seconds and I move on. I’ve got a really short attention span,” said David Shing, AOL’s “Digital Prophet.”
Johnson added, “You have to be a badass at what you do. Cream rises. … You need to either be so amazing that you cut through everything or you need to align yourself with good companies and good people who can help you reach people like me.”
Mastering the art of touring doesn’t hurt, either. Make no mistake, it is an art. Before ever heading out on the road, your band will need a fan base in your home town, killer marketing materials, and merchandise, which is where the real money on the road is made. You’ll also need to do your research, said Peter Sotos, owner of Epic Proportions Tour LLC.
“The strongest and most important thing you can do, especially if you’re trying to break into a new city, is network with other bands,” he said.
Victoria Camera, vice president of Music Industry Relations for ReverbNation, added that your band should also partner-up, targeting other groups that are selling more in towns where you don’t have a fan base.
“Do your due diligence and research and see bands that are pulling 200, 300 tickets a night and do a mini-tour with them,” she said. “Those strategic alliances are super, super important.”
Most bands can benefit by investing more in high-quality promotional materials and analytics to track their sales and can cut back by chopping hotels and fast food out of their budgets. Spending money on fake social media “likes” is also a no-no, but taking the time to actually network with fans and club owners, both in person and online, is a major asset.
“If I see a whole bunch of likes but no activity on [a band’s] page, I automatically go, ‘This is a band that’s lying and cheating,’” says Randy Nichols, who has managed Bayside, The Starting Line, and Say Anything. “If you have a million plays on SoundCloud and not one comment? Your plays were bought.”
More SXSW is headed your way today. Stick with us for updates.
Interactive attendees went home and music lovers flooded in as the SXSW music portion ramped up. In a room packed with artists struggling to break out, a panel of music supervisors and directors gave a crash course in getting your work into film trailers. Unlike film scores and soundtracks, which are typically only heard by those viewing the movie, trailer music is seen by a much broader audience and not only has to have wide appeal, but also capture the essence of the film, the panel said. Covers and remixes are particularly hot in trailer music right now, but so are pop tunes and big orchestral cues.
“If you have a song that builds and builds and builds and the production gets really full, that is the kind of music that we’re going to use,” said Natalie Baartz, a music director at Ignition Creative who has overseen music in campaigns for films like The Hobbit and Lone Survivor.
“Thin” music that doesn’t have enough build is out, as are songs that have low production value. If you’re trying to get your work into a trailer—and all aspiring musicians really should—your best bet is to sign on with a third-party company who regularly works with trailer houses. Always avoid firms that charge musicians for their work.
“If things are pitched to us from those sources, we tend to ignore them,” said Angel Mendoza, music supervisor at AV Squad.
A list of reputable sound and music firms is available at GoldenTrailer.com.
The real (and for some, unexpected) highlight of the day was a fireside chat between Forbes editor Zack Greenburg and rapper and entrepreneur Sean “Diddy” Combs. Promoting his new-ish music channel, Revolt TV, the hip-hop star brought his trademark confidence, proclaiming that Revolt will reach 1 billion devices in the next few years, as well as strong words of encouragement for audience members. When Greenburg stated that everyone couldn’t have a fashion label or their own vodka, Combs was quick to jump in.
“That’s a thing that people put in people’s heads … that I am doing something that’s special,” Combs said. “I think I’m doing a good job, but what I’m doing you could do to, you just have to work as hard as me and believe as hard as I believe.”
Artists also have to take initiative and can’t be afraid of the pain that comes with that struggle.
“There has to be a starting point when you make that decision from, ‘Yo, I’m young and it’s all good and I don’t know what I want to do’ [to] ‘I’m going to do even though it’s going to be painful and it’s going to be scary and it’s going to hurt,” he said, adding later, “Don’t wait till you’re like 35 to do it. For real. Don’t wait. You’ll be mad at yourself.”
Combs also said that it’s harder for an artist now than it was when he was coming up, which is perhaps why he was so gracious with offering to hear projects from audience members. He even granted one woman an in-person lunch back in Los Angeles.
“I would be scared to death [to start out now],” he said, adding that if he were trying to launch a company or music career now, he would probably also be at SXSW networking and promoting his projects just like everyone else. “I would be overwhelmed. I would feel abandoned in a sense, but I think that anger that I would start to feel would fuel my passion because I just feel that there aren’t as many opportunities as there was when I first started as an entrepreneur as far as just people believing. … Everybody [now] is starting at the bottom and nobody is helping to pull them up.”
Which is why artists and entrepreneurs alike have to help themselves. That starts with having a passion, is helped by staying immersed in youth culture, and is fueled by having an undeniably good product.
“If something is dope, it’s just dope. It’s going to spread like the bird flu,” Diddy said. “Everyone thinks they have to have these fancy marketing plans. … I’m not saying stop there, I am saying start there.”
Combs wasn’t the only one taking audience requests. A panel of reps from Atlantic Records, Relapse Records, Warner Brothers, and Crown City Studios stopped by South By to do live demo critiques. Advice for those pitching their work to major labels: keep the intros short, don’t skimp on revising your work, and pump up those vocals.
“Singers should never mix their own music,” said Eric Lilavois of Crown City Studios while critiquing The Giving Tree Band. “As an artist, I never would have agreed that they need to push my vocal, but when I sat behind the board, we push vocal every time.”
The panels wrapped with a session on the modern hip-hop mixtape. For as much criticism as it draws, putting music online for free is still a vital part of an artist’s strategy, both with fans and with their own label. A prime example of the impact of instant online distribution is Jay Z’s song Open Letter, which was recorded in response to criticism the rapper received after going to Cuba last year and released via his website. Within 24 hours, the song had over 1 million plays.
“The traditional model is to put it through some sort of supply chain model, which takes seven to 10 days to [get to fans],” said Ted Suh, head of music partnerships at SoundCloud. “Instant distribution is key.”
The difference between giving music away for free and using it as a valuable tool is data. Google Analytics and SoundCloud can provide invaluable resources for understanding who is coming to your site, where they’re coming from, and what they’re enjoying. Even for artists who are already established, having that data can help prove to a label that songs they may not be interested in have value to fans and can be hits. Besides, artists lose nothing by engaging fans for free, which explains why other forms of media are following the same model. HBO’s Game of Thrones, for example, released a mixtape this past week.
If an artist feels like their free material is detracting from sales, they can always monetize it later, said Eric Henry, senior director of Rostrum Records, the label that manages Wiz Khalifa. “You don’t have to worry about losing sales by putting [music] up first for free.”
South By Southwest music is in full effect all week. Stand by for updates from the trenches.
Sean “Diddy” Combs took the stage at the Austin Convention Center for an interview hosted by Forbes senior editor Zach Greenburg to discuss Revolt and his long career as an entertainment mogul. Despite his elevated status, Diddy insists that he sees himself as a relatable figure for the younger generation. “I like to say that I specialize in millennials or I specialize in youth culture. … I call myself a curator of cool.”
“The thing that’s real about me and the thing that I hope inspires people is I come from a neighborhood that you can relate to,” Diddy said. “I come from a type of personality that you could relate to. I’ve always been an introvert in an extravert’s body.”
Greenburg countered that everyone can’t have a fashion label or their own vodka, but Diddy jumped in, “That’s a thing that people put in people’s heads … that I am doing something that’s special. I think I’m doing a good job, but what I’m doing you could do too, you just have to work as hard as me and believe as hard as I believe.”
On the evolution of the music industry and indie artists, Diddy admitted that the landscape has changed and so must the Old Guard.
“The days of major labels and the days of the regular type of traditional marketing, those days of the traditional type of distribution and the power you may have as an executive in any of these forms, whether it’s advertising companies or it’s tech companies or music companies or even films, your time is ticking unless you embrace and align yourself with the independent movement.”
So what is Diddy looking for when he recruits new members into his empire? “I’m looking for a certain level of passion that’s unique. I’m looking for people that are smart and people that are fearless in the sense of they have an idea of what it’s going to take for us to accomplish our goal.”
The highlight of the talk, at least for one lucky attendee, came when Diddy invited an audience member to take him out to lunch after having a member of his team evaluate her project on the spot. There’s certainly something to be said for taking initiative and being fearless in the face of your idol.
Christina Couch and Tyler King contributed to this article.
The Funny or Die crew started their SXSW experience with a bang even before their panel began. As their newest video made political headlines, a Between Two Ferns sketch that features President Obama and a plug for the Affordable Care Act, the Funny or Die crew broke down their business strategy, creative vision, and production logistics in front of a packed Austin audience. Unsurprisingly, production times are short, often only lasting three to 12 hours from first concept through completion, and 60 to 70 percent of the site’s original material is shot on green screen or just outside of Funny or Die’s Los Angeles studios. The ideas can come from anywhere—writer Erin Gibson, for example, created a sketch based off of her gay hairdresser’s vivid recap of Game of Thrones. Gay of Thrones is now a regular Funny or Die series that will continue into the next season of its HBO namesake.
The Funny or Die reps on hand answered a few questions about the logistics of their production process. Here are the highlights:
- Sketches can take anywhere from a few hours to two years to put together.
- Brand partnerships and sponsored content play a large role in Funny or Die’s financial side.
- Actors aren’t paid to be in sketches, but the 30 in-house staff members and the roster of 500 production freelancers the site relies on are.
And if you want to land a job at Funny or Die, get to work. The site frequently recruits from those who upload free content to the site. According to social media writer Dashiell Driscoll, even if your sketch isn’t pure comedic perfection, you’ve got nothing to lose.
“There’s no risk in making an Internet video,” he said. “Worst case scenario is no one watches it and you’re back to where you started.”
In a panel focused on digital game publishing, the conversation that once centered on how games could be more like blockbuster films has officially switched to how films can be like games. Mike Wilson, founding partner of the independent game publisher and film distribution firm Devolver Digital, said that indie films suffer from a publicity and curation problem.
“If you haven’t heard of a film by the time it’s out, there’s kind of this assumption that it sucks,” Wilson said, adding that film fans are less likely to try an indie pic they’ve never heard of than gamers are to pick up an unpublicized title.
One reason may be the emphasis on transparency in the gaming world. Developer blogs, crowdfunding campaigns, better community outreach strategies, and active social media accessibility have helped small development teams reach broader audiences in a way that’s still tough for unknown filmmakers. Mike Morasky, an audio director for Valve Software, said that one reason so many Valve titles have done well is because those creating them are excited about their work and are actively involved in the promotion process. Public relations expert Stephanie Tinsley Schopp countered that indie developers trying to get their names off the ground can also benefit from a good PR manager.
“There’s an inherent divide between the creator and the marketer [because] the vast majority of the time the creator doesn’t know when the best time to talk about X, Y, and Z is and they don’t know what to say about it,” Tinsley Schopp stated. “To maximize the buzz of your brand, your product, your game, there is a way to tease out the information, to capture the audience’s interest, to educate them about what’s coming.”
Even the greatest PR strategy won’t help if your product isn’t good. In a panel titled “How NOT to Produce Movies,” film producers from all walks dished on their greatest mistakes and lessons learned along the way. One prominent trend is take your time, whether it’s sending your script out, evaluating your coworkers before joining a project, or submitting your finished film to festivals. Expectations should be set as early as possible.
“Something that we learned the hard way on [the set of horror flick You’re Next] is we came from this world of micro-budgets. … We were able to make something out of nothing,” said producer Kim Sherman. “We worked with this company in LA who were used to making much bigger productions, much bigger crews. … We just never sat down and said what does everyone want to get out of this? How do you work on a set? We ended up being very reactive to problems instead of that and I generally try to stay ahead of problems.”
Emmy Award-winning director Michael C. Mills echoed the sentiment, “Once you’re involved in a movie with somebody, you’ve involved with them inextricably, probably forever,” he said. “Make sure that you’re doing it with people who are collaborative and make sure you’re not doing it with people who want to hog the spotlight for no reason.”
Unless, of course, it’s for parody’s sake. Portlandia stars took the stage to give fans a taste of the Northwestern comedy life. Airing sketches, taking questions, and indulging the occasional audience selfie, the dynamic duo, accompanied by comedian Matt Braunger, discussed character creation and Portlandia’s goals.
“I think we want this to be that kind of thing where, even if you know the joke that’s coming at the end, visually you can watch it over and over and over again,” said Armisen.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. Armisen readily admitted that a lot hits the show’s cutting room floor, even material that felt right throughout the writing and production process.
“You walk away from shooting thinking you’re a genius … and then the editors tell you it didn’t work and I’m like, ‘Let me see that,’” he said. “You just can’t attach yourself to sketches like it’s the end of the world. That’s how I deal with it.”
And boy howdy is it working. The show’s nearly rabid fans were in full effect at SXSW, bringing gifts, begging for photos, and lavishly bestowing praise. It’s not relegated to Austin. Armisen and Brownstein said that they’ve even seen fans create their own Portlandia costumes, and that they’re grateful for the audience participation.
“We really do appreciate that people feel a sense of ownership with our show,” Brownstein said.
More South By coverage is headed your way tomorrow.