The Weather Isn't the Only Reason I'm Going to SXSW

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Headed to the swamp of the bearded uber-hip that is SXSW Music festival in Austin, Texas next week with one thought burning in my brain: get me away from winter.

I'll be fashionably late to the party, as always. My colleague Deb Borchardt left Friday afternoon to cover SXSW Interactive, with video team member Sophie Bearman and a heavy schedule of interviews. I'll get there Tuesday for the start of the music events as SXSW Interactive is winding down.

The trip, my first to SXSW, will be a lot of fact-finding, a lot of meetings and interviews and, of course, a ton of listening.

But I'm not shortchanging the side-effect of some beautiful weather: 80 degrees expected when I land Tuesday, in the 60s and sunny the rest of the week. After months of temperatures in the 20s and below, after God knows how many total inches of snow and the frustrations of ice and bitter winds, after months of finding my mail and newspapers frozen and buried, after months of wondering if by some miracle the plows and salt trucks will be timed to actually clear the roads ahead of peak traffic or what logic decides one inch is enough or eight inches too little for schools to close, after months and months cleaning off the icicles from the underbelly of my pet dog, after all of that -- I mean, I'm seriously done with this -- 60 degrees and sunny sounds like a choir of angels, tattoos and facial hair be damned.

The highlights for the trip will include meetings with some of the people making streaming music happen, including executives at Pandora  (P), Beats Music and Spotify and hopefully including a sitdown with Rdio folks as well.

The purchase of The Echo Nest by Spotify Thursday and its ramifications for the rest of the streaming sector will no doubt come up in those conversations and in the sessions where industry folks will be speaking. Echo Nest has said the deal won't have any impact on its existing contracts, but that doesn't exactly clarify what impact it will have on the future of the streaming landscape. We're not even sure what contracts Echo Nest has, so it's hard to say who will be affected.

Beats Music really needs the kind of data that Echo Nest could provide -- with Spotify controlling the tap, that could prove problematic.

On the other hand, one of the beauties of the Spotify-Echo Nest deal is it gives Spotify an extra revenue stream. Beats Music is a subscription-only service, where Spotify is "freemium" -- that is, it offers both a free, ad-driven service and a higher level, ad-free, paid subscription. If Spotify can profit from other subscription services like Beats by selling them data and data services, Spotify is effectively monetizing its own competition in the subscription space, which could work as a hedge against difficulties in its own subscriber growth. 

This is all speculation of course, raising some questions I hope to get at least partial answers to while I'm in Austin.

On the Jukebox

Two other highlights I'm looking forward to at this juncture: First, the SXSW Interview of Neil Young. Young has been a hero of mine since before I was musician and his songs were among the first I learned to play. His protest anthem Ohio convinced me at a tender age that music could matter in direct way, could change people's lives. Over a long career his music never got tired, never fell into nostalgia, even with a song like Harvest Moon, which gives old age a comforting kiss on the cheek.

Spearheading Farm Aid in the 1980s, championing the latest technology in electric cars in the last decade or high-quality digital audio today, talking about raising his two sons with cerebral palsy or publishing a frank autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace, he still seems like a hero to me, still singing to change the world.

Second, I hope to hear the Mexican Institute of Sound live, a band consisting of DJs and vocalists, led by Mexico City-based DJ and producer Camilo Lara. Everything I can find by M.I.S. is terrific -- a cool physicality, raw politics and a fever-dream blend of urban hip-hop and traditional Mexican musical culture. The most recent M.I.S. album was 2012's Politico, so I'm hoping that I'll get to hear some new about-to-be-released material.

In addition, I'll be scanning the music-related gear and looking for the next big thing in the mash-up of tech and music-making while simultaneously trying to get a crash course on enormous swell of popular music styles coming out of Africa.

Oh and, in case you didn't hear, Lady Gaga will be there, daring her Little Monsters to "be bold." I'm not yet sure if my bold act will be to try to go to her show or to try to ignore it. Still pondering that one. For sure, I'm not taking the three-hour flight down there to see a TV star.

But the biggest thing about SXSW is . . . well, it's the biggest thing. The festival is huge and its channels labyrinthine. I'm confident its best moments will be completely unexpected.

-- Written by Carlton Wilkinson in New York City

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