South by Southwest (SXSW) takes place every March in Austin, Texas and features ten days of conferences and festivals that combine music, technology, cinema, and interactive media. In 2022, for the first time in two years, SXSW was held face-to-face, and the Ircam Amplify team went to Austin to be part of the French Tech Pavilion presented by Business France. Read on to learn about the major trends in audio technology that were showcased at SXSW 2022.

The Heart of SXSW: Music and its Connected Industries

Music is the core of the SXSW festival. One of the most discussed topics this year was the links between music and other industries, such as video and mobile gaming, virtual reality (VR), and immersive sound technology.

On the music industry side, the future of live music is still a question that was widely discussed, both by major musical artists and labels and by audio tech leaders. The future of music was, in fact, one of the major themes for 2022 at SXSW. The future of live performances was linked to discussions about virtual reality performance and augmented reality (AR) music as well. Immersive sound is a vital step in building experiences in VR or in the Metaverse, and is an essential technological bridge between the music industry and other related sectors, like gaming. Understanding the potential of spatial sound, at all levels of the value chain, from creation to monetization, is a crucial issue especially with the continued increases in the processing power of devices and the proliferation of 5G networks.

Music continued to be discussed in the context of video games. While the link between video games and music is well established, a number of exciting discussions brought out new insights about the intersections of these two industries this year, including “Music In Games: The Future is Now” or “All About Games. Data, Trends, and What’s Next?”, which heavily featured music as an essential part of the future of video games. One example of the crossover between VR, games, and music is Musical Range, which requires players to distort, create, and alter music as a core game mechanic. The entire game experience takes place in a virtual environment.

Technology at the Service of Sound

The music industry is still in the midst of an accelerated digital transformation and consistently ventures into other sectors like gaming and into new technologies like blockchain. Anticipating future use cases and evolving with technological and cultural trends have always been core topics at SXSW.

One such trend that was often discussed at SXSW 2022 was NFTs. These “Non Fungible Tokens” were a hotly debated topic, with experts on all sides of the issue discussing whether this new type of content was just a fad or warranted new distribution strategies for music. Another element of discussion was how NFT technology could provide an advantage in the music value chain, and at what level.

As technology has come to have a profound impact on music and audio experiences, mastering musical data is becoming a strategic asset. Data analysis has a huge impact on the artistic direction of sound. Discussions at SXSW 2022 on music data touched not only on the technology behind a sound, but also the ways in which the information we have about music, sound, user trends etc. can be used. Spotify, for example, not only discussed the ways technology impacts music regarding NFTs, but also shared that data analysis is central to directing their strategic efforts.

Ircam Amplify was a vital part of discussions on the intersection of cutting-edge technology and sound at SXSW 2022. MetaSound from Ircam Amplify combines AI, signal processing, and machine learning techniques to identify the sound quality of any piece of music, and assess its structure and characteristics in real time. This linking of data, real-time music analysis, and audio creates new possibilities for enhanced sound quality, and has numerous applications for musicians, as well as record labels, music distributors and broadcasters. MetaSound goes beyond just the sound data and musical databases, to better filter, utilize, and enhance metadata.

Sound experiences are being reinvented for the digital environment of today’s music industry, thanks to tools like MetaSound, and dozens of other technologies that serve the music and audio worlds. Data, spatial audio, and the technology of sound quality are just some of the technologies that this year’s SXSW explored in relationship to music.

Social Audio: New Modes of Communication

In recent years, especially in light of the global pandemic, technology has required that our voices become more central to the world’s audioscape, via video conferencing, social networks, and voice-assisted technologies. The increased use of voice as a form of digital connection and technological command is raising questions of sound design and UX that are just now showing up in emerging research, and at SXSW, in forums like the “Conversations with Things“, hosted in part by the Pratt Institute.

From sensory marketing to social networks and sound branding, audio occupies a prominent place in the online world. Sometimes, voice is used to add emotion to our online exchanges, as is seen in emerging social networks like Clubhouse, or Swell, that seek to humanize our online exchanges by adding voice to the mix.

While voice may be a boost in social networks, language can present a barrier for the evolution of voice interaction with objects. Not everyone speaks the same way, so there is concern about bias when mixing voice control with AI, a topic which was explored at the “Can AI Eliminate Bias?: Mind the (Language) Gap” session of SXSW 2022. Ircam Amplify is regularly faced with these issues and works on new ways to convey emotions through sounds, not just words.

Maintaining the essence of what makes sound human, while living in a world that is increasingly oriented towards the virtual is a major challenge. Sound is an unmistakable form of transmission and of authenticity, but this has often been overlooked. It seems this year, after several years of necessary, but difficult, adjustments to more digital lives, conveying the emotions of sound is finally becoming a real focus at SXSW.

Ircam Amplify: At SXSW and Beyond

In partnership with Business France, Ircam Amplify helped showcase how French sound innovations are at the heart of all of the trends found at SXSW 2022. Additionally, the experience of SXSW is already inspiring the Ircam Amplify team towards new sound technology applications. To learn more about MetaSound, and other cutting-edge audio technologies, contact Ircam Amplify for a demo!

Experience SXSW with the soundtrack of our journey recorded in binaural. Listen with headphones for an immersive result, as if you were there!

Sound recording : Claire Lassalvy – Sound editing and mixing : Vincent Meurisse