Wading through the crowds on Sixth Street in Austin the last Saturday of SXSW, one could easily lose sight of why we were all there. Was it the fashion? The street teams? The snakes? But then as you strolled another few hundred feet, you would hear and see and feel the pounding of a live band at the next bar, with frantic, urgent energy blasting out the open windows.

Ah, right. This is about the music.

BYGMusic was a partner of SXSW this year and was a sponsor in the Artist Gifting Lounge, basically the green room for the 2,000 musicians officially playing the conference. It was in a ballroom in the Austin convention center and we were there with brands such as Pandora, Bud Light and Google. Bands could drop by, get some free swag and hang out.

We were there introducing our service to the musicians and explaining to them the benefits of joining our network. We connect advertisers to consumers on the social feeds of cool bands. A social influencer network where 100% of the influencers are musicians. We source the brands and get the artists paid.

At our booth, sitting on the table, was one of our Founder’s Grammy awards. (He won his first for producing Ziggy Marley; this one was for working with the Rolling Stones). I would see artists notice the trophy as they approached our booth, and they would stop dead in their tracks, peering closer.

“Is that what I think it is?” their faces would say.

I would slowly pick up the Grammy and bring it to them.

“Is it real?” they would ask.

Yes, it is, I would tell them.

“Can I hold it?”

Of course you can.

Eyes would widen as I handed them the golden phonograph trophy.

“It’s so heavy!”

Some would hug it, cradling it like a baby. Some would stroke it affectionately. Everyone took out their phones.

Pictures and videos and faux acceptance speeches in front of our step and repeat would follow. They were in awe, plain and simple, and they could hardly contain themselves. The cool swagger many carried fell away and I recognized their reaction as pure joy. This was not what they expected from our booth. A free keychain, perhaps? Or some other giveaway? They did not expect to come face to face with the physical symbol of their hopes and dreams, a glimpse of the intended destination of the artistic journey they have been trekking. A career in music. Artistic legitimacy. Stardom. A free beer is one thing, this was quite another.

So to me, this joy is the real meaning of SXSW. The joy of the artists as they create their art and pursue their passion. And for the rest of us, as music fans, it is the joy we feel personally and emotionally as we experience their creations.

Joy as we discover our new favorite band, if only for a night. The joy of a friendly mosh pit, or the joy that motivates someone to stage dive and crowd surf. (Even if you are a CEO.) Or the positive energy of a packed room of drunks singing 90s cover tunes along to dueling pianos. Ah, the joy!

Marketers have almost limitless choices in how to reach consumers. There are video strategies. There are social strategies. In my role at BYGMusic, and at MTV for almost 20 years prior to this, I have always urged brands to consider “What is your music strategy?”

I passionately believe music is crucial to human life and should be part of how nearly every advertiser connects with their customers.

But maybe I have been asking the wrong question this entire time.

Perhaps the right question is “What is your joy strategy?”


Brendan Shepherd

Head of Brand Partnerships & Business Development