5 Takeaways From SXSW Sydney: AI, Songtradr, Chance The Rapper and More

SYDNEY, Australia – After seven days, roughly 300 performances (nearly 40% of which were international) and upwards of 600 speakers, the inaugural SXSW Sydney is done and dusted.

The likes of Chance The Rapper, Nicole Kidman and Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker were among the guest speakers who donned a SXSW Sydney lanyard and brought star power to the show, as Sydney turned it on for the music, tech, film and entertainment extravaganza.

October in Australia is a place and time asking for action. In this music and sports-mad country, the weather is heating up, but there’s a lack of competition for eyeballs, attention and cash. The Bigsound music conference finished more than a month ago, the ARIA Awards is a month away. The AFL and NRL seasons are recently wrapped up, the quadrennial cricket and rugby World Cups are playing out abroad, the NBA season has yet to start.

With its brand splashed in the districts around Darling Harbour, and activations dotted around the city — Australia’s biggest metropolis — SXSW Sydney had the place all to itself.

Billboard was there to soak it up at the International Convention & Exhibition Centre, the Tumbalong Park outdoor events space, and the network of pubs, bars and venues that embraced SXSW for a full week, from Oct. 15-22, completing its first expansion out of Austin, TX.

Check out five highlights from the inaugural SXSW Sydney below.

Songtradr’s mission
Timing is everything in music and business. So it made perfect sense for Songtradr founder and CEO Paul Wiltshire to participate in a special interview at SXSW just days after his company completed the acquisition of Bandcamp. “Our mission is to stabilise and grow,” the U.S.-born and Australian raised, California-based executive said of the new asset. “There’ll be no adverse changes to the existing product. The team is amazing, and the Bandcamp community is extraordinary and we want to protect that. We’re very confident about the future and where we’re going to be able to go together.”

Wiltshire also confirmed that a flotation for Songtradr is something his team has “definitely looked at.” He continued, “we don’t have a definite timeline as to whether that will happen. The public markets have gone through pretty significant changes in the last two years in particular. But it’s something we continue to observe and we do love Australia.” The ASX, it’s “a very healthy market.”

Will ABBA Voyage set sail?
Thanks to the power of Netflix, the story of Per Sundin and his frontrow seat for the evolution of Spotify is known to millions. The veteran Swedish music industry executive has worked closely with the late Avicii, Tove Lo, Swedish House Mafia, and, of course, ABBA, and is the face of “The Industry” in The Playlist, Netflix’s dramatized account of Spotify and its founder Daniel Ek. After a decades-long career with major music companies, first with Sony Music then Universal, Sundin now serves as CEO of Pophouse Entertainment, the Stockholm-based entertainment company which, among its assets, owns the SHM catalog and a 75% stake in Avicii’s works. Pophouse is the lead investor and production partner for ABBA Voyage, the virtual live concert experience in London.

Sundin, on his first trip Down Under, regaled with tales of the music industry post-millennium SNAFU, working with Björn Ulvaeus (in short, the ABBA star won’t settle for second-best), and he told SXSW Sydney what everyone wanted to hear: that ABBA Voyage could set sail to these parts.

“We have a lot of interest from Singapore and from Australia, from (promoter) Paul (Dainty) and (TEG CEO) Geoff (Jones) and his team. We’ll partner up with them to see if we can find a place, because you need to build an arena. Because in the roof of the building is 600 tons of equipment,” Sundin said during the featured session, Unlocking the Power of Entertainment. “We can’t just go into an existing theater. That’s a challenge for everyone.”

There has been talk about doing another ABBA Voyage in Europe, and, Sundin added, “Las Vegas is really calling for it.”

Chance raps on hip-hop and capitalism
When Chance The Rapper was announced as a keynote speaker at SXSW Sydney, some delegates were quick to hose down the excitement. The Chicago hip-hop star wasn’t booked to perform on this trip, aside from his on-stage interview with The Brag Media editor-in-chief Poppy Reid. And, for those with a decent memory, he canceled his appearance at the 2019 Splendour In The Grass festival, just one day before he was due to deliver the closing headlining set.

There was no drama, just action, as Chancelor Johnathan Bennett made the journey and delivered a compelling SXSW Sydney Q&A which delved into capitalism, and hip-hop on the genre’s 50th anniversary.

“We all live in a capitalist society and no matter how close you are to your moral center, you’re still working and operating within a system that lives on the backs of the least empowered people. I do a lot of philanthropy work, I do a lot of advocacy, I do a lot of just trying to help people,” he told Reid. “But also just the way that the world is set up right now, I gotta sell merchandise, and even producing T shirts — it’s really hard not to be a capitalist.” To be able to operate “outside of that and to create more cooperative economic systems is something that I’m working towards but I haven’t fully figured out yet.”

Chance also stepped out to enjoy some of the showcase program, throwing his support behind 11-year-old Aussie rapper Inkabee.

GenAI, Web3, Metaverse. Jump in, cautiously
AI is “not on the horizon. It’s here now and it’s not the Wild West.” APRA AMCOS CEO Dean Ormton told guests at the PRO’s breakfast gathering at SXSW Sydney, during which the organization’s annual results were explored. Computer learning is both “a huge challenge and potential opportunity for music,” Ormston told guests. Those challenges and opportunities are something the PRO and every major content provider and partner is currently trying to figure out.

A separate daytime session on “Activating Music in Web3” brought together Con Raso (Tuned Global), Matty Soudagar (The Metakey) and Becky Yeung (Warner Music Group). “We’re coming into a space where some of these experiments are making some real impact,” explained Soudagar. Four years ago, the popular Roblox game has gone from 20 million users a month to 200 million users a month today, he continued. “It could be half a billion a month in a few years from now. If you zoom out of this metaverse conversation, we realize its primed for exponential growth. The next stage is, how to put together a solution that brings everything together in a frictionless manner for a specific industry. We’re at the stage where we have the technology and we can bring together some strong minds.”

Yesterday we attended @sxswsydney. Our session on Music Activation in #Web3 was amazing, thanks to @conraso our MD, @larsbrandle at Billboard, Becky Yeung at Warner Music Group, and @DCLBlogger at @theMetakey for their insightful participation. #SXSW #musictech #musicbiz pic.twitter.com/0xRGjpYizE

— Tuned Global (@tunedglobal) October 20, 2023

K-pop isn’t slowing down
K-pop is roaring, and there’s a lot of fuel left in the tank. Over the course of the week, Spotify House at The Lansdowne Hotel proved a popular hideaway for thousands of SXSW Sydney guests, with its curated lineup of daytime panel discussions, and evening showcases, which included hip-hop star TKay Maidza, punk outfit Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers, Thai rapper Milli and more.

The House opened its doors on its fourth and final day for a special daytime session on Hallyu (Korean wave), featuring Jungjoo Park, Head of Music at Spotify Korea; Live Nation Australasia’s Wenona Lok; and Virgin Music’s Claire Tate.

Ten years ago when PSY’s “Gangnam Style” blew up, many observers figured Korea’s music scene was a one-hit wonder. Nope. Five years ago, folks were thinking, “this is it guys. It’ll never get bigger,” noted Lok. “This year, Live Nation, we’re bringing the first K-pop act to a stadium in Australia for the first time” with TWICE. “What’s more amazing is, it’s the first girl group of any genre to play a stadium in Australia.” In terms of streaming and ticket sales, there’s no sign of slowing for the Korean music explosion.

To drive home the point, South Korean rappers Lil Cherry and GOLDBUUDA performed at Billboard‘s one off night at The Stage.

Penske Media Corporation, Billboard‘s parent company, is an investor in SXSW.

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