VID: Is South by Southwest Too Big to Be Cool?


The popular South by Southwest (SxSW) festival launches this week in Austin, Texas. While the conference has been known to bring the brightest minds in music, film, and technology together, some attendees feel that the week-long event has gotten too big for indie creators to stand out amongst large corporate brands. 

Last year, Reason TV traveled to the SwSW to see if the popular conference had lost it's indie street cred.

"Is South by Southwest Too Popular for Startups?," produced by Paul Detrick. About 5 minutes. Original release date was March 21, 2014 and original writeup is below.

South by Southwest (SXSW) is the legendary music, film, and interactive conference held annually in Austin, TX, since 1987. This year, Reason TV visited the festival, which has a rich history of popularizing hip and game-changing technology like Twitter, Foursquare, and FoodSpotting. But as SXSW came to a close in 2014, there wasn't a singular app or website that was taking the digital world by storm. This could mean we've all been over saturated with tech lately or perhaps that SXSW has lost a little of its indie street cred.

"Is it still indie? Maybe not," says Joshua Jake Vaughn, the Founder and CEO of, an Austin-based startup website and app that helps connect people who have items to donate with charitable organizations looking for goods. "Major brands are able to come into SXSW with serious funding and that funding empowers them to do things that get people's attention. Doing so can be extremely difficult for a small bootstrapped startup web app like Connect2Good."

With over 30,000 visitors to SXSW Interactive, attention seeking is the name of the game. Sponsors like Deloitte, AT&T, Chevy, Esurance, and Subway pull out all the stops with big displays and exhibitors on the convention floor beckon visitors to their booths with t-shirts, sunglasses and, in the case of The New York Times, a photobooth that dispensed animation flip books.

"There are a lot of people with booths right now that are competing to get attention," said Andrew van den Houten, the CEO of, a production studio that promises to hand over the filmmaking process to audiences through crowdsourcing. Van den Houten was exhibiting in the Startup Corner of the convention floor.

"Instead of trying to take, we're giving back," says Van den Houten. "I really feel like a lot of companies out here are saying, 'Hey, we built this widget, pay us money for this widget, it's really cool,' and a lot of it is innovative and super cool, but a lot of it isn't innovative and new and fresh."

But widgets, apps, and websites aside, some companies see SXSW as a good way to reach their audience. One of the festivals sponsors, Subway, used SXSW Interactive to promote the Flatizza, Subway's new flatbread pizza. Visitors to the convention center were treated to a brain wave detection video game put together by the advertising firm 360i.

"[SXSW] is the spirit of innovation, it seemed like a really nice match," says Lane Harris, a senior technical director at 360i. "The target's perfect, these are the people that enjoy Subway products."

It's not as if the bootstrap start ups are placed right next to the dynamic and engaging Subway display. But, the set up shows how far SXSW has come since Twitter blew up in 2007.

Vaughn gave a talk at the conference, but didn't have a booth or table at the Austin Convention Center. He says often one needs venture capital funding or serious financial backing to present at SXSW or other large conferences like it these days. Instead, he was outside the press room a few floors up, trying to talk to reporters about Connect2Good.

"I have to, like always, think creatively," says Vaughn. "Immediately what I think of is, well, lets go hang out in front of the press room and see who we can talk to."

Written and produced by Paul Detrick. Shot by Detrick, Alexis Garcia, and Todd Krainin.

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  1. There was a big stink about McDonalds this year. Lemme see if I can find the link.

    1. Here is is

      McDonalds asks indie band Ex Cops to play at SXSW. Says that they will use the likeness of the band in ads and on social media. For this consideration, McDonalds offers to pay them….. nothing (except for a free meal of McDonalds food). Compensation is “not in the budget”.

      1. I would think being featured in McDonalds ads would be pretty good publicity and worth more than if they were compensated with a check. Of course I know jack shit about that industry, so there is that.

        1. I think they were trying to project an image that is the exact opposite of a McDonalds sponsorship.

          1. I don’t think so, it’s just a money thing to me, really. If Ex Cops are choosing to get promoted in Hollister, a teen clothing store, there’s no way in hell that they wouldn’t take the McDonald’s offer if they got paid enough to do so. Nothing more, nothing less.

          2. Still, I agree with Suthenboy, they’re IMO just as shortsighted as you can get, because no matter how much more cash a company like Hollister would offer to play a song from them, a promotion from McDonald’s, even a cash-free one, just has so much more marketing scope than a chain of (maybe) 500-800 stores could possibly provide.

    2. My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do

      1. Then your last paycheck did not involve having your music used in a Mickey D’s commercial.

    3. My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do

      1. See Chumby’s comment above, loser.

  2. “Is South by Southwest Too Big to Be Cool?”

    Not if Little Fyodor is appearing.

    For those of you who don’t know, Little Fyodor is an indie pioneer/used to be a regular commenter around here at Hit & Run–who is totally awesome/cool in every way.

    1. Be honest. Is that you?

    2. No offense, I’m sure he’s a nice guy.

      But if I had to choose between listening to that, or someone swinging a burlap sack full of newborn kittens against a cinder block wall, I would choose the latter without hesitation.

      1. Be honest, You’d choose the kittens without hesitation in most circumstances.

  3. It was never cool. And I say this as someone who saw it in the 1990s before anyone really knew about it. It was always a collection of poser bands pretending not to want to be commercial while begging and pleading with any record company A&R man they thought could make them famous.

    Austin is a place that got famous after what it got famous for was already over. The music scene that made Austin famous has been dead since the mid 1980s. Forget Austin. Its not 1975, the Armadillo has been torn down, Stevie Ray Vaughn is dead and Willie doesn’t live there anymore. Its over. Get over it.

    1. I didn’t realize that Austin City Limits is still in production.

      1. Good ole PBS. Did you ever watch Hootenanny? It was another musical variety show.

    2. “Austin is a place that got famous after what it got famous for was already over.”

      Just like every place that got famous.

    3. Austin is a place that got famous after what it got famous for was already over. The music scene that made Austin famous has been dead since the mid 1980s.

      That’s so trite that it’s a running joke there. Austin still has more great music per square inch than any other city on Earth. Great and creative artists. It remains an amazing place, and I miss it terribly.

      SxSW is something I always avoided when I lived there- you can see the same people in much better, more relaxed, and less crowded circumstances the other 50 weeks of the year.

      1. True but the question is about SXSW. Corporations have killed it. Remember when it was ONLY about music? Now the music is nothing more than entertainment for the reps from the tech industry when they are partying.

  4. Why does it have to be cool or even indie? It’s a conference, a trade show, a venue for performance, can’t it just be those things? Why does a startup or a company like Subway even think it has to travel all the fucking way to Austin to setup a tent so that on the offhand chance a member of the press or someone with a wad of cash to spend might notice them. Isn’t THAT what the fucking Internet is for?

    1. Yes, that is what the internet is for and yes SXSW is a useless dinosaur of an event for that and a lot of other reasons.

      1. Its terribly ironic that these supposed Internet gurus go to a fucking trade show to market their new disruptive internet thingies. They’ve pondered the endless possibilities of connecting people on the Internet, went to bed and then drove half-way across the country the next morning to do the exact opposite of what they spent the prior night pondering.

        1. And in the next half-hour or so, there will be a comment entered herein proclaiming that so-and-sos sister-inlaw is making 75$ an hour on the Internet… Not saying I agree with the tactic or even think it’s effective, but at least they are ahead of the SxSW Internet gurus in terms of marketing in the modern Internet connected era.

          1. Ya missed; it took 56 minutes.

            1. Someone isn’t earning their 75$ an hour….

          2. Here in USA we prefer to make only ?75 a day. har har

        2. Couldn’t it be because as immersed in it as they are, they want to get away from it for a while? A tax-deductible vacation? Or more effective because they’ll feel more up for it themselves?

          1. See my comment below regarding city busses and pubs…

      2. But what about the effect on people of physical proximity? Isn’t there something about being there that makes a bazaar-circus-fair atmosphere fun for at least some people? At a time when you’d think electronic media would be working strongly against it, minor league baseball has become a money-maker again. Obviously there’s something about being part of a physical crowd, the ambience, etc. that attracts people to a show that objectively considered would be technically inferior. I’m not actively working on it, but I’d like to put together a profitable minor American football league, mostly to test out my ideas.

        1. Something like Lingerie Football?

          1. Could be. The people in “serious” women’s football made fun of the LFL & those predecessors that sold the sex, but the “serious” teams, other than in Pittsburgh, weren’t making $. Meanwhile I understand the LFL has become more serious about the competition than people expected.

        2. If that’s the case, why not just go to the local pub and enjoy the crowd as they practically butt fuck you at the bar so that they can have a shot at getting noticed by the bartender.

          No need to travel to Austin for the sensation of being in a crowd when you can get that feeling by starting a sing-a-long on a fucking city bus…

          1. Well, that’s what Maxwell’s was like.

  5. Success ruins everything.

    1. Something something call it paradise and kiss it goodbye.

  6. uptil I saw the bank draft of $6329 , I didn’t believe that my neighbours mother was like they say actualy earning money part-time online. . there great aunt haz done this for under twenty two months and just now paid for the debts on their appartment and bourt a great new Infiniti .

    pop over to this web-site http://www.TradeValt.Com

  7. This year SXSW overlaps with WFMU’s fundraising marathon period, so they won’t be “sending” anybody (traveling on their own dime, I think), but they didn’t send anybody last year either, so maybe they’ve stopped for good. I was hoping now that Super Happy Fun Land (based in Houston) has a franchise in Austin, or just because many travel to Austin via Houston (so that SHFL catches the overflow), that I could get Poopy Lungstuffing on a WFMU program. Her material’s a lot of fun; a lot of it is on YouTube & SoundCloud. Coincidentally, she’s one of 2 contemporary American singer-songwriters playing strummed/plucked strings and named Olivia Dvorak. What were the odds? Yes, they are distinct persons.

  8. Generally speaking, most of Texas likes me, I like most of Texas. Austin is another story.

    1. If you’re in Houston, check out the Green Wave children’s football team, spring & fall, for sports, or Super Happy Fun Land for other forms of entertainment. Or the medical center, for being a big medical center (although I live near a bigger one, especially if you count Jacobi-Van Etten + Einstein + Calvary as a unit).

      1. I shall do that.

  9. When hipster collides with Texas.

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  11. On the subject of NXSW, seems the Luddites are on the march again.

  12. SXSW was originally about music, and only music. Over the past 10 years, corporations have taken control and now it is nothing more than an annual trade show. In addition, the sheer size of the event has resulting in all the meaning being lost. The original idea was to bring in bands from all over the US and let them be heard by industry execs. The number of bands was limited to allow them to the greatest exposure. This year there are 2200 bands and Kanye West is playing the event. The chances of any band standing out are slim. The only upside is a band can claim they played in SXSW. Like so many good ideas, once corporate money becomes the focus, it is doomed. Just another great music festival lost to the pursuit of the almighty dollar…

  13. up to I looked at the draft which had said $5079 , I didn’t believe that…my… friends brother had been actually receiving money part time from their computer. . there aunt has been doing this 4 only about 23 months and at present repaid the dept on their home and got a great BMW M3 . hop over to this web-site—–www.TradeValt.Com

  14. Most anything underground that is any good eventually gets co-opted by the rich because people want money.

    Then everyone bemoans “those other people” who are ruining the integrity of something. It’s like white hipsters complaining about the gentrification of their minority neighborhood.

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