Among the thousands of bands, bloggers, CEOs, celebrities and consumer brands heading to Austin, Texas, this week for the annual South By Southwest Music Festival will be a couple of state government employees looking to drum up interest in Colorado’s music industry.
One visit won’t turn Denver into the next Nashville, but Colorado Creative Industries’ chief Margaret Hunt and her colleague Christy Costello do hope to pitch the potential of the state’s already bustling music industry to musicians, record labels and recording studios, and, perhaps, attract another major national festival.
They have success stories to tell — nationally known acts including The Lumineers, OneRepublic and The Fray hail from Colorado — and can tout major performance destinations, including Red Rocks Amphitheatre and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
“Colorado Creative Industries‘ goal is to meet with industry leaders and explore what’s happening in music and the future of the music industry to help position Colorado in the forefront,” said Hunt, whose office is a division of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
Although her office spent $10,000 on the business-development venture, Hunt said Colorado’s official foray into the SXSW marketing fray doesn’t have specific goals attached.
Hunt hopes to make impressions and identify industry trends. She’ll meet with the Future of Music Coalition — individuals involved in music production, distribution and sales, television and radio, music directors, composers and more.
“I thought this would be a good opportunity to put our toe in the water,” Hunt said.
CCI also is co-sponsor, with the Colorado Tourism Office, of the 30-band Colorado Music Party on Thursday and Friday. The unofficial showcase, also sponsored by OpenAir, Reverb and SpokesBuzz, will feature such local bands as You Me & Apollo, Rose Quartz, Gungor and Wheelchair Sports Camp.
While CCI supports a wide spectrum of creative industries — fine arts, dance, writing, publishing and more — Hunt sees music as a key area to develop.
“You look at music festivals and events, the number of venues, the number of recording artists — and Colorado is up there with the cities known for music, like Seattle and Austin,” Hunt said.
SXSW, which runs through Sunday, is considered the premier music industry showcase and festival in the country. The event draws more than 25,000 official participants, including bands and industry professionals.
“We’re approaching this as an industry team to market and brand Colorado,” Hunt said.
CCI, which has an annual budget of $2.7 million, provides grants to arts and cultural organizations and public art programs, funds the Creative District Program, and supports artists and creative entrepreneurs through the Denver Music Summit, youth arts education, and public school programs.
Major players in Colorado’s music industry see the SXSW investment as an important gesture of support.
“It sends the message that the state is more and more committed to helping this place become even more of a mecca for music,” AEG Live Rocky Mountains CEO Chuck Morris said. “The more people that want to move here, the more studios that open up, the more interest from musicians and songwriters is a great thing for our state, our economy and music community.”
You Me & Apollo vocalist Brent Cowles said state backing of the Colorado Music Party means a lot to him and his indie-rock band.
“There’s a lot of music coming out of Colorado that’s getting attention,” he said, “and this means (the state is) going to invest in it and believe in it.”
Kendall Smith, from The Denver Post’s Underground Music Showcase, and Dani Grant, who runs the Fort Collins band incubator SpokesBuzz, approached Hunt to get the state involved in music efforts at SXSW.
“They recognized that Colorado Creative Industries and the state had a role to play in advancing the music industry,” Hunt said.
As the Colorado contingent hits Austin this week, it will be among the likes of Doritos, Converse, Spotify, iTunes and countless other brands trying to be heard in the marketing scrum — a challenge for any brand pushing its product at SXSW.
“There’s no question that SXSW is loud,” said Elaine Garza, an Austin-based marketing and PR expert who has worked with brands at SXSW for 15 years.
“There’s so much going on and there’s always the question: Is it worth the investment to come?”
Garza said she knew of no other state being represented at SXSW, and since Colorado isn’t pitching a consumer brand, like an energy drink or jeans, the message might resonate with fans and industry pros.
“It kind of makes a bigger statement that Colorado is investing in the music scene and spending money to promote that,” she said.