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South by Southwest Festival Changes Music’s Tune

For about a week each year, hundreds of bands perform at more than 80 venues throughout Austin at the annual South by Southwest festival, which has become a major showcase for budding and established musicians, the music industry and music fans.

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  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Take 1,800 bands of different styles in hundreds of clubs, tents, even a gift store. Add thousands of promoters, booking agents, journalists, bloggers, record company executives and fans, and you have the annual South-by-Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas.

    Part rock 'n' roll party, part business convention for a multibillion dollar industry. All music, all the time.

    Austin bills itself as the live-music capital of the world, and at least for four days every year that's indisputable. This is the place to be for bands that want to be discovered and anyone looking for the next big thing in the music world. But that world has been going through enormous changes in the last years, brought by the internet and digital technology.

    BERTIS DOWNS, Manager of the band R.E.M.: The availability of music for free has just become a fact of life.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Bertis Downs is the manager of the band, R.E.M.

  • BERTIS DOWNS:

    It's just part of our world. It's a part of our life and people have to figure out, you know, business models and ways to adapt to that.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    R.E.M., which we watched during an afternoon sound check, was formed by four University of Georgia students in 1980. By the '90s it was one of the biggest bands in the world, with CD sales in the millions and a reported $80 million contract with Warner Brothers, one of the big four record labels.

    But in the four years since the band last released an album, overall industry CD sales have dropped dramatically — 15% last year alone — and Downs says the band and its label can no longer sit back and rely on sales to pile up.

    Instead, they're reaching out online, actually giving away a lot of material from R.E.M.'s recording sessions in Dublin last year, in the hopes of whetting fans' appetites for more.

  • BERTIS DOWNS:

    So on our Web site right now, remdublin.com, you can go hear most of the songs that ended up making our record in their very rough form. In some cases they were still being written, in some cases they hadn't made it, they actually changed quite a bit. But our feeling was we're, we're proud of the music, we're excited about the music. If people want to hear the music, comment on it, you know, debate about it. It ended up being something I never in my wildest dreams two or three years ago would have thought, "Hmm, that's a really good idea."

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