SXSW in Austin, Texas wrapped up last Sunday and most attendants agree that it was an improvement over last year’s event: it was slightly smaller, better organized and felt a good deal safer.

The New York Times sums it up:

This year SXSW took a small yet welcome step back from the relentless corporate blare and celebrity swanning of recent years. There was no stage set up to look like a vending machine disgracing the Austin skyline, and the sponsors that sustain SXSW’s business were present without being quite so ubiquitous. Yes, Miley Cyrus made an appearance on Thursday evening, but it was a cameo in support of her producer, Mike Will Made-It, not a grand self-promotion. Her costume was made of glitter in a camo pattern: a neat metaphor for wanting both to be seen and to blend in.

That was our impression as well: for example, there was a lot of talk about the McDonald’s stage before the festival, but it actually was not bothersome at all. And at least from one band we heard they were paid and treated well for playing there.

The Guardian lists ten things they learned from this year’s SXSW. Number 4 says “The best new music is being made by women”:

The number of all-female or female fronted bands at the festival this year was vast. Waxahatchee, Speedy Ortiz, Mitski, Chastity Belt, Girlpool, Sheer Mag and Hinds all turned heads and dealt a blow to the concept of male dominated indie rock. Perhaps it’s not surprising following 2014, the year that Chumped lead singer Anika Pyle dubbed: “the year that women tore down the punk-boy clubhouse and erected a big middle finger in its place”. The bros are running scared.

And their list doesn’t include 17 other female and female-fronted acts we have seen at SXSW. You could get the impression that the default, all-male configuration of a band is a quaint thing of the past.

Like every year, some people want to make a case that SXSW is not worth the effort. The New York Times tells the story about how two (mostly female!) bands made their way to SXSW. Does it pay off to pay all this money just for the remote chance to be picked and receive a career boost? In the end, does it matter anyway?

Judging by applications to perform — there were 7,960 last year — bands don’t need much convincing. Just playing SXSW, Ms. Kasparhauser said, “feels like an accomplishment in and of itself.”

Wait, the Prettiots of the Times story payed $10,000 for their SX trip? That’s not how real musicians do it, says Ed Rodriguez of Deerhoof:

You want to talk inequality? Talk to the band that drove a friend’s van with expired tags to the festival, slept in it and played some makeshift hole in the wall because it’s just insane and (can be) fun to do it.

He then gives an interesting insight how Deerhoof became a sustainable full-time job for its members.

Kendrick Lamar’s new album was discussed everywhere in Austin, even though he didn’t stop by for a surprise show. The fact that it was released without announcement brings The Fader, who presents one of the big stages at SXSW, to the speculation that timed album releases are a thing of the past:

Given the fact that it takes considerably less time to get something to the public, and because releasing an album to iTunes before manufacturing CDs and vinyls no longer cannibalizes physical sales, the importance of the release date has waned. The thought that an album could drop at any moment and sell as many, if not more, copies than it would have with a traditional release date further confirms the value of the strategy.

Let’s see how this plays out in the light of changing the global release date to Friday in summer.

Naturally music streaming and the free options offered by Spotify and Co. are a big topic at a music conference. The labels feel uncomfortable with the free listening options, while Spotify claims that free is the only way to convert pirates into paying customers. You probably heard that before. If not, Quartz has a good write up.

Jack Stratton sums up nicely what my problem is with Spotify:

Normal listeners are subsidizing yoga studios that play Spotify all day. Catalog artists have to compete with Top 40 for the same pot of money. If someone likes Vulfpeck and Daft Punk on iTunes, they spend a dollar on Vulfpeck and a dollar on Daft Punk.

That’s why I still buy my favorite albums.