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VOL. 126 | NO. 56 | Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Biz of Memphis Music Topic of Chamber Forum

JOE BOONE | Special to The Daily News

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In light of a busy week for the music industry in Austin, Texas, at the 25th annual South By Southwest music festival, Memphians will hear the importance of that industry to the city this week.

Dean Deyo, president of the Memphis Music Foundation, will hit the ground running after a busy week in Texas when he addresses the Greater Memphis Chamber Thursday morning during its Breakfast Forum series.

Deyo will highlight Memphis’ strengths as a music culture and as a music economy during the forum titled “Memphis Music Means Business” Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. at the Memphis Marriot East, 2625 Thousand Oaks Blvd. Cost is $25 for members and $35 for nonmembers.

Deyo leads an organization unique to Memphis. The Memphis Music Foundation is charged with fostering local business in the music industry. Memphis’ musical culture is an advantage for the region’s economy at large.

Richard Florida, the author and demographer known for coining the term “creative class,” agrees.

“I know Memphis well – its incredible music legacy speaks for itself and provides a critical asset around which to build a more innovative and prosperous economy,” said Florida, most recently author of “The Great Reset” and director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto.

“From San Francisco to Seattle and now Austin and Nashville, we know that music is a driver of innovation and economic growth. Vibrant music scenes add economic value directly and signal a community that is open to new ideas and entrepreneurial people.”

Youthful problem solvers gravitate toward specific types of environments. They want what Florida calls “Street Level Culture,” experiential interaction with other smart, tolerant people.

SXSW has become the queen bee of the Creative Class.

Deyo’s job is not for the weak. No aspect of the music industry is safe.

Even in the “good” times before the recession, the industry was in chaos. File sharing of recorded music had stricken music sales and metastasized into major label production budgets well before the collapse of the easy credit bubble.

Labels consolidated in panic all through the last decade only to agree on a business model just as the “consumer” economy imploded.

But music holds strange sway over people. It’s an integral part of every important aspect of human life from militarism to religious practice.

Since music married portable technology, it forms a symbiotic relationship with emotions and memories.

A bleak economy won’t likely have a Hummer effect on music.

Sometimes it seems like everybody under 30 is making a record. And they all went to Austin last week.

Deyo was joined in Austin by delegations from local labels Ardent and Goner as well as independent artists like Valerie June and Alicja Trout.

“Everyone gave that distinct Memphis flavor we’ve all come to be familiar with. The best part was seeing how their new material and songs were received,” said attendee Tommy Kha, a Memphis-based filmmaker and photographer.

South By Southwest, now in its 25th year, began in Austin as a music festival. Since then it has exploded in scope to include film and interactive media. The festival has come to define the cultural life of Austin.

“The SXSW Festival is huge for Austin,” said Kelly Allen Bauch, a Memphis native who owns Bluebird Photography Studio in Austin.

“It has become such an amazing draw to this ‘little-big’ town. Every part of the city is alive and jumping to the sounds and shenanigans.”

Memphian E.J. Friedman publishes Loudersoft.com, an influential music blog. He is a veteran of SXSW and advises potential attendees to prepare before assuming the considerable costs of attending.

“As a performer, there’s a certain level at which SXSW is a valuable experience,” he said. “It’s a much more valuable experience if you have an actual reason for being there. For musicians who already have contact with the world outside Memphis and some sort of a following, SXSW can solidify opportunity with media contact to give them a wider audience. Everyone else is a tourist.”

In 2010 SXSW had more than 35,000 registrants. Sixty-three percent were under age 40 and 44 percent earned more than $100,000. Marketers like young people with expendable income and the corporate sponsors are all A-list brands such as Chevrolet, Miller, AOL and Pepsi.

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