Music is the ultimate universal language. You should be speaking it

MUNA at Spotify House.
MUNA at Spotify House.

Why aren't more brands making noise at SXSW Music?

We, as human beings, are social creatures. But the word "social" seems to be selling the real notion of this profound instinct of ours a bit short.

At this point, and perhaps especially in our industry of brands/marketing/advertising, "social" almost implies "sharing" or a certain breezy intermingling/socializing, rather than what I am talking about here, which is our deeper need to seek a sense of community, to commune properly, to get at a truer connection to being alive and to be united with other people.

This social instinct is at the core of our collective human experience and every year I come to Austin for SXSW, particularly during the music portion, I am reminded of Music As The Great Connector. Music is truly the universal language, one that supersedes all other languages and traverses cultural boundaries. It is the essential instant community. And at SXSW, all one needs to do is simply look around to see the massive cultural and social power of music.

I had expected to find at SXSW Music new ways brands are utilizing and playing with music #IRL: in experiential ways, partnerships, collaborations, activations, and more.

But interestingly enough, I found very few. There were some usual suspects in place and a few to be applauded for having done an incredible job (as always) — congrats to 15 years of the Fader Fort presented by Converse, as an example. But overall, it was in fact, a year in which the story about brands and music actually seems to be about the absence of brands and music.

I was quite puzzled by this. Though it looks like brands and music are still growing during the SXSW Interactive portion — for example, Samsung decide to be music-centric for its activation, calling it Galaxy Life Fest — this is is the second year running that I’ve noticed a downturn in overall brand presence during the Music portion.

In past years, I had a found a number of interesting examples of brands and music, such as: 

That said, this year there were major exceptions to my observation, as the music tech companies once again pulled off some amazing events:

Each of these music/tech companies (i.e. brands themselves) needs to be recognized for their efforts. Each had great locations; facilities; curated lineups; and overall, good vibes.

I was impressed by their offerings and tried to soak up as much as possible. This is what brands should be doing more of, I thought. So it begged the question: Why weren’t other brands involved as much? And frankly, I’m not sure what to make of it. Maybe the music portion is feeling too crowded, maybe the audience the brands are wating to reach are showing up more during Interactive, or maybe they’re finding they can cut through the noise by doing music-oriented ideas. 

In any case, I’d suggest a kind of call to action to brands: 

Music is the ultimate universal language. You should be speaking it. 

In other words, if your brand really wants to engage an audience in valuable ways, music should truly be at the heart of your strategy and creative thinking. Music is the ultimate connector.

And if you use it right, it connects in a deep and meaningful way. And this is the most important thing you can do for your audience. Give them a memorable and unique experience. And SXSW is a great barometer and lab to test these experiments out. I’d suggest getting in there and mixing it up.

Eric Johnson (a k a DJ Bunny Ears) is executive music producer with McCann New York.

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