Overheard at SXSW

South By Southwest is one of the world's largest gatherings of entertainment industry power players. We're eavedropping to bring you the goods. 

South By Southwest is underway in Austin, Texas, and we’re bringing you bite-sized nuggets of information and advice from this year’s festival. Check back often, as we will update throughout the week. You can also watch the SXSW official live stream online

March 7, 2014

If you’re thinking about making your game free to play, it pays to identify your pay audience fast, says John Davison of Red Robot Labs, maker of the MMO Life is Crime, which has been downloaded by over 4 million users. “0.1 percent of an audience for a free to play game is responsible for 50 percent of the revenue,” he says.  

Game developers don’t necessarily need tons of press, but they do need a strong online presence, says Casey Lynch, former editor-in-chief of IGN. “Developers have realized, ‘Hey, we can go out and control the message,’” he says. “We can [use] Twitch, use Twitter, stream stuff and we don’t necessarily need press.”

Steve Perkins, director of global marketing for Bethesda Softworks, on the music in the upcoming Wolfenstein reboot: “We started thinking about what would popular music sound like if the Nazis did win. … If they started co-opting it for their own uses, what would popular music sound like?” He goes on to warn, “Basically, with this trailer, we want to get you pissed off. … We want to get you ready to kill some Nazis with some big heavy guns.”

Click here to listen to a new track from Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Related: An interview with Wolfenstein 3D creator John Romero

March 8, 2014

Neil deGrasse Tyson was at SXSW to deliver a keynote address and promote Cosmos, the FOX reboot of the Carl Sagan series. Ahead of the festival premier, he laid down some science with a dash of charm: “The dinosaurs didn’t have opposable thumbs. They didn’t have a space program. I’d like to think that if they did, they would have deflected that asteroid. … Space can render us extinct. The universe is one of the greatest killer of life.”

What is the most frustratingly misunderstood scientific fact? According to Tyson, “There are so many to choose from. … People think that it’s summertime because the Earth is closer to the sun. They’re not thinking that in Australia, it’s their winter and they’re as close to the sun as you. People don’t think that through. … I got another one. It’s darkest before dawn. No, it’s not! … I’m sorry, it’s false. What goes up must come down? No, you’re just not throwing it hard enough. If you throw that sucker hard enough, it’s going to go to the edge of the atmosphere and it’s gone.”

Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Designers from Telltale Games and Gearbox offered a tease of Tales From the Borderlands, including screenshots from the game and a first look at characters. When asked how the development studios created the turning point choices in the game, Telltale designer Harrison Pink said it largely relied on finding scenarios that could passionately divide opinions amongst developers. “If one person in the room is like, ‘No way. There is no way I would ever do that’ and there’s someone else who says the opposite … write that down. That’s a great choice,” he said.

"Tales from the Borderlands" screenshot

March 10, 2014

Coming off her hosting gig on Saturday Night Live, Lena Dunham returned to SXSW to deliver a keynote address aimed at promoting women in film and television, but also encouraging young artists to stay the path.

“Don’t wait around for someone else to tell your story,” she said. “Do it yourself by whatever means necessary. … Tell the story that only you know because it makes the world feel smaller, it draws people to you, and I think it connects you in mystical ways.”

Dunham’s first film, Creative Nonfiction, was made with $5,000 of babysitting money and was “promptly rejected” from South By Southwest. Charmingly, she admitted her first submission to the festival was “about as watchable as public access minus the jazzy graphics.” 

Her 60-minute short was finally accepted in 2009, and Dunham recalled “all these low-budget filmmakers with a level of craft and style that I didn’t really know was possible given the constraint of making small movies. I suddenly realized that lack of budget was no longer an excuse not to hone your skills as a filmmaker.”

March 11, 2014

Kim Sherman, producer of You’re Next and V/H/S, appeared on the “How NOT to Produce Movies” panel at SXSW today. While warning aspiring filmmakers about the perils and pitfalls of poor production, Sherman shared that finding the cash for a horror flick is less a teeth-pulling endeavor. “I don’t know if you know this, but horror movies are easier to finance than just about anything else. People love horror movies.”

March 12, 2014

What’s the best way to get your music into film trailers? Sign on with a third-party company, says Toddrick Spalding, director of music at Trailer Park. Artists have a much better shot of getting into trailers if they’re pitched by companies the trailer house already trusts.

Pop music, orchestral pieces, covers and remixes are hot in trailers right now, but trends shouldn’t define your music. “If you do hear a trend, write a few cues that are like that, but don’t write 100,” says Natalie Baartz, music director at Ignition Creative.

Sean "Diddy" Combs

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.

March 13, 2014

The focus turned to music today, with industry descion-makers doling out advice to artists clawing their way to popularity.

On Getting Noticed:

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,” says Eric David Johnson, executive producer of Search Party.

When I’m listening to something, I’ve got about 15 seconds and I move on. I’ve got a really short attention span,” David Shing, AOL’s “Digital Prophet,” on how long bands have to capture audience attention.

On Touring:

The best way to tour is to start cheap, says Randy Nichols, who has managed Bayside, The Starting Line, and Say Anything. “Stay with friends, build a network of people in different cities and crash on their floor. … You don’t need to be in a hotel until you can afford to be in a hotel.”

Those services that buy you “likes” and plays on social media? They don’t work, says Nichols. “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.’ … If you have a million plays on SoundCloud and not one comment? Your plays were bought.”

Do your due diligence and research and see bands that are pulling 200, 300 tickets a night and do a mini-tour with them… those strategic alliances are super, super important,” Victoria Camera, VP of music industry relations for ReverbNation. 

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,” Peter Sotos, owner of Epic Proportions Tour LLC.

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