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SXSW – The Next Industry Confab

AUSTIN (CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — South by Southwest may have started out as a cutting edge showcase for independents but it’s since become the cutting edge meet and greet for the corporate music industry.

This trend is perhaps best symbolized by the event held by Ticketmaster and four of its subsidiaries on the opening night of this year's SXSW. According to the Wall Street Journal, Ticketmaster rented a house for the event where a DJ orchestrated invitation-only, "round-the-clock VIP treatment" for industry professionals.

The problem is that these events are not a sanctioned part of SXSW, and SXSW Inc. has been taking action to discourage such parties, including calls to the local Fire Marshall and taking the party promoters to court.

The issue, according to SXSW managing director Roland Swenson, is one of fairness. According to Swenson, such invite-only parties are a threat to the open nature of the festival. If people pony-up $650 for all-access passes to SXSW showcases, only to find the best bands booked into industry oriented, invite-only events, how many of them will come back?

According to the WSJ, in 2007 nine unaffiliated events were shut down, after Swenson called the Fire Marshall and reporting them as events taking place in makeshift venues that were a threat to public safety. Its unclear how many or if he called the Fire Marshall this year and even if he did, the tactic would likely produce diminishing returns. He's not just up against fly-by-night promoters however and many of these events are deep pocketed corporate sponsors and some have responded to his Swenson by retaining event consultants to ensure that the events are properly licensed to avoid contretemps with local officials.

Ultimately, the issue is one of cachet. The very thing that makes SXSW relevant is that it’s a showcase for what's new and fresh; what is fermenting in the music scene away from MTV and EMI press releases. It is this cachet of cool that draws the corporate investors who are looking to seize of piece of the indie landscape to colonize and associate with their brand. Corporate involvement isn't necessarily a bad thing – sponsors with deep pockets can help to smooth over many rough edges and make an event more enjoyable but there is a tipping point where corporate entities starts to edge out the indies and if SXSW's organizers hope to continue to champion independent music, they will need to continually innovate ways to provide space for both of these conflicting interests. – CelebrityAccess Staff Writers