Wish You Were Here: SXSW Day 6

It's all about the music now. The pros talk song-plugging for film trailers, online strategies for artsits, and Diddy hands down some words of wisdom. 

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.

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