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6 Themes We Saw at SXSW 2019

If you (like us) were learning, listening, and collaborating at SXSW this year, you know there was a lot to glean from every individual moment, talk, and interaction. But, through all the noise (and we mean that in a good way thanks to all of the wonderful showcases!) multiple common themes stood out to us and really resonated. From collaborative sessions, expert panels, creative keynotes, and even podcasts at SXSW this year, we learned A TON and leave Austin more inspired than ever to live a creative life.

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Here are the top 6 themes we saw (and heard) at SXSW 2019.

1. Try New Things

Creators at SXSW were poised to push boundaries, leave their comfort zones, and try new things as we witnessed when Sunny Megatron and Ken Melvoin-Berg of American Sex podcast joined Ashley Manta of CannaSexual to take their podcast live for the first time. The group held an informative and entertaining conversation while taking an unconventional and humorous look at sexual expression — all in front of an engaged audience (check out our Tweet stream, here). The result? The crowd loved it!

Resident experts on trying anything, The Try Guys shared their perspectives at their House of Creativity panel, noting that "trying things makes you a better person.” That was Monday. On Tuesday? They tried (and nailed!) their first ever podcast taped in front of a live audience.

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We also had synth-pop musician, Zola Jesus, take the stage during our Monday night showcase, sharing a new, stripped-down set that even featured a cover of Beyonce’s Halo, much to the crowd’s delight. Zola Jesus had a good time, too...

Embedded content: https://twitter.com/ZOLAJESUS/status/1105346691660726272

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Not convinced? If you need more reason to try something new, take a cue from artist, musician, and creator Amanda Palmer, who shared how picking up the ukelele helped her become a better musician.

"Pick up an instrument you're not good at and make it your second instrument. Make it your songwriting instrument. I'm so bad at the ukulele but it unlocked a new level of songwriting - as I'm bad at it, it allowed to make mistakes." — Amanda Palmer

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Read the whole thread from Amanda Palmer's conversation with Ben Folds and Patreon CEO and co-founder, Jack Conte here.

2. Get to Know Your Audience

When it comes to creating, it’s important to know who you’re creating for, why they love what you create, and what makes them tick. That’s why so many SXSW speakers were focused on getting to know their audience on a deeper level.

For example, when Grace Helbig and Mamrie Hart, took the stage for a live taping of their podcast “This Might Get Weird,” things did indeed get weird when they learned one of their fans wanted a photo of Grace’s feet. Luckily, an audience member volunteered to share his feet instead, and everyone present felt involved in the action. Inviting your fans in builds connection and fosters community, which can only help bolster your creative business.

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But this tip isn’t just about feet pics (#Feeties? Forgive us.), as we also learned that audience feedback can transform the way artists and creators create. For instance, Ashley Manta of the Cannasexual, conducted Facebook polls to choose the name of her project. She wanted something that combined sex education with cannabis, and this proved most popular with her fans. Not only did this save brainstorming hours, but this simple act let Ashley’s audience feel in on the experience from the very beginning.

Camille again

Hayley Rosenblum, digital music strategist and head of Amanda Palmer’s social and community team, gave more than a few pointers on the importance of getting to know your audience during a session with Patreon’s Head of Merch and Product, Camille Hearst. Hayley is constantly looking at data, reading social media posts, and digging deep into what fans are looking for and what they care about. As they also discussed in the session, you have to think about what you know to be true about your audience. What do they like, what do they get from you? Then ask, “what can I offer that is enticing to my audience?” The trick is to research, ask, and think about your goals, and then? Try new things.

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Knowing your audience can transform the way you set up everything, from the content you create to the tiers and benefits you set up through Patreon. Alexis Gay, Patreon’s Creator Partnerships Lead put this well when she told attendees at her workshop to ask, “why do people engage with your content? What keeps your audience coming back week after week? What’s on brand for you?” Knowing your audience is critical to your success, both on and off Patreon.

3. Trust Yourself

As our CEO, Jack Conte shared (during his standing-ovation-inducing) talk on The Business of Creating, ”Life is a never-ending trash fire and art makes it all worth it. Art is the best part of living - it gives life meaning.”

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So yes, we know that as a creator you’ve witnessed that to be true, but when you’re walking the line between gut instinct and pure data it can super difficult to just ‘trust yourself,’ but we’ve heard first hand from creators that it’s possible. Embracing change — moving in a different direction — can be scary, but your real fans will come along for the ride.

In a talk focused on the idea of Speaking “Your Truth” vs. “The Truth,” creator Tanya Depass, of I Need Diverse Games, and other panelists discussed the cultural shift between “speaking your truth” and “uncovering the absolute truth” and the authenticity behind knowing the difference.

That ability to trust yourself also reigned supreme during the aforementioned American Sex Podcast session, when Ashely Manta talked about the importance of keeping a journal of what works for you and getting clear on what you want. Clarity and trust.

Say it with us: clarity and trust.

Another great takeaway we witnessed was during the Propelling the Next Gen of Creative Entrepreneurs Panel as Dayna Johnson who shared her thoughts on truth, stating “Just because something is trending doesn’t mean it’s right for you.” You don’t need to be everything for everyone. You need to be yourself for yourself, and the right people will find you.

4. Embracing community and growing “good”

Within your sea of fans, you’ve got super fans. Super fans are magic. No matter what you make, they’re listening, watching, and happily along for the ride. How do you connect with them?

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Here at Patreon, we’re all about building, embracing, and being part of dynamic communities, and so are the creators we met at SXSW. Basically, we’re firm believers that you’ve got to find your people and network with them because, well, life’s pretty lonely without them. As Gloria Kellett shared, “We are often isolated as creators. The more we can build communities around us and hold ourselves accountable with other creators by doing nourishing and creative things, it will make the whole thing less lonely.”

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Building a community doesn’t mean you have to be everywhere — the right approach is growing where you’re planted and building your network there. And, once you find your community, give them genuine value by using your platform for good.

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At a panel on designing emotional experiences, we heard a lot about a desire to make people feel human again. In this light, “doing good” is about accessing, experiencing, or acknowledging our emotions without the interference of a digital screen. Rebecca Throne who does Ticket Operations for Burning Man spoke about the opportunity to shake people up enough from their everyday experiences so they question their regular experiences. In a way, that’s a force for good, so we don’t become complacent with how we’re moving through the world today. Hannah Hart of Hannahlyze This, talked about the importance of destigmatizing conversations around mental health.

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5. What you’re doing has value

As Hayley Rosenblum also shared in her session noted above,

"Your fans are happy to give you money. Let's pause and remember that." — Hayley Rosenblum

Hayley continued, "you're giving them value and they've giving you value. You're offering value in the art you make. But make it good art. Make it something you're proud of and proud to share. Your price tag should reflect what it took to create and that will allow you to create more.”

We know that creators often feel like they love what they’re doing so much that they’ll just create it for free, or that for some reason people won't want to pay for what they’re offering. We’re here to tell you that you’re worth it, and so are the speakers we spent time with at SXSW. When you create something great, remember why it has value, because as Amanda Palmer shared, "I just made a record I really standby and I've got the self-worth demons of doom sitting on both shoulders. My self-worth is more defined by the actual human beings in the room capturing the music than the designated gatekeepers.”

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6. Your Voice Matters

One of the most important themes from SXSW was giving the proverbial microphone to diverse voices. As Emily Ladau shared in a session on The Disability Story, ”Too often our story is told by able-bodied people and we're here to take back our story. And that theme comes into play very often when the stories shaping the way we view people, aren’t told by those we are viewing.” Your story deserves to be in the conversation.

We also saw the importance of diverse perspectives and voices during a session on cognitive bias called, How You Can Fight Bias with Content Strategy, where we learned that it isn’t always easy, but awareness of and the desire to work on our innate biases can transform the way we create. Being more aware gives us the opportunity to make inclusive content that reaches and resonates with our entire audience.

While many sessions and speakers focused on the greater impact of multiple voices, valid technical points were raised across panels on podcasting. During the “So, You Think You Can Podcast” panel we learned that although it may seem super simple, one of the reasons people will turn off your podcast and find another one is that they can’t hear you or what you’re saying clearly. Of course, you should stay true to who you are and never trash your distinct voice, but annunciate, slow down, and make sure your listeners receive your message.

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Now what?

The learning doesn’t stop just because SXSW does. We’ve got ample Patreon Workshops that constantly cover topics that impact creators:

  • Tools for podcasters and musicians
  • How to talk about membership
  • Membership best practices for 18+ creators
  • Tools for video creators
  • Benefits best practices
  • “Selling is loving: How to gain new patrons through love” with Author Ksenia Anske
  • Tools for Authors and Illustrators
  • “How to not waste your money on Facebook/Instagram ads” with Suzanne Yada

Also, check out Patreon U, where you can access all the tips, tricks, and tools you need to get started on Patreon. Looking for what you might have missed in our SXSW coverage? You can view everything, from our House of Creativity recaps to specific post on sessions we knew you’d love, here.

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