By Matt Mannino
When I was selected by BerkleeICE to represent Berklee in the SXSW Hackathon and Incubator, I was honored, but also unsure of what to expect from SXSW. I had heard of the hype surrounding SXSW, but I was not expecting to meet such an overwhelming creative energy flowing through Austin. For a week and a half, the city becomes a breeding ground for ideas as bright minds both young and old examine the current state of the music, film, and tech industries, and try to pave a better future for the way we experience entertainment and the world around us.
A common theme that I noticed as I visited various music events was a tremendous excitement to usher in the next generation of the music industry. It is time that the music industry catches up with technology, and it seems that we are getting closer and closer to providing a fairer and more transparent music industry. Even a year ago, the conversations regarding the future of the industry were in a much different place—a more pessimistic place. However, my experience at SXSW gave me the opportunity to witness the sheer level of creativity that has led us to a more hopeful outlook.
My first encounter with this creative output was at the SXSW Hackathon. This was the first Hackathon that I have ever attended, so it was an entirely new experience for me. After 24 hours of grueling, sleep-deprived coding, the teams were able to produce some truly impressive projects. At least 20 teams, made up of about 100 people, pitched their ideas to a panel of judges. The variety of ideas ranged from new ways for people to experience music to more transparent means for artists to get paid for their work (and everything in between).
Following the Hackathon, the winning teams rested up and began preparing for the Incubator. I paired up with Dan Noskin, an employee at DropBox who had an app idea in the making for three years and decided to use the Hackathon to bring it to life. Noskin’s app is called Parallel and allows users to listen at the exact same time with their favorite musicians or athletes. Imagine being able to listen to what Michael Phelps is listening to before his big race, or hearing what music is influencing your favorite band.
After pairing up with Noskin, it was time to determine the actual mechanics of making this project successful. The creative flow did not cease as mentors attended the Incubator to bring the winning projects from ideas to reality. These mentors included Travis Laurendine, founder of the SXSW Hackathon, Panos Panay, founder of SonicBids and BerkleeICE, Michael Hendrix, managing director of the IDEO Boston studio, Alex Ebert, entrepreneur and lead singer of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and Kiran Ghandi, musician, feminist activist, and music industry thinker. For myself, my interactions with these individuals were the most valuable part of my SXSW experience. Much of my inspiration and motivation is born from listening to experienced, innovative thinkers speak about the things which I am most passionate about. The Incubator not only allowed me to listen, but I was also able to ask questions and cultivate thoughtful conversations—something that does not happen every day.
Although the panels in the daytime and the festival shows in the evenings were the cherry on top, I had three major takeaways from the experience. I was able to: explore Austin, Texas, a city I had never been to before, that has an awesome culture, excellent food, and a budding music scene; network with truly creative people of all backgrounds congregating for countless reasons; and contribute to the conversations that will improve the thing that I care about most: music.
There is a reason that BerkleeICE is not called BerkleeIE. Being able to tap into and harness your own creative potential is such an important skill to have. Despite everyone having their own personal agenda and goals, a creative energy unified the city of Austin, bringing people together to answer the questions that we face in 2016. While I do not know the answers to all of these questions, what I do know is that I will be keeping this creative energy alive by bringing it back with me to Boston.
Matt Mannino is a sophomore studying Music Business and Marketing at Berklee, where he serves as a journalist of the Music Business Journal, and as one of the leading board members of the Music Business Club. Matt is cofounder of Beacon Sock Company, a local Boston-based sock company, and works as an independent booking agent on the side.