Sennheiser And Neumann Give SXSW A New Direction

Although the word "conference" may conjure the images, smells, and boredom of stuffy meeting rooms, burned coffee from dolly-cart percolators, and overly-careful explanations of uninteresting minutiae, there is at least one conference that's so unbelievably cool that some would scarcely call it a conference at all. With over 1,400 acts that represent the leading edge of indie music's varied genres, Austin's annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Conferences and Festivals is one of the largest music events in the world, and is unarguably the place to be for scene hipsters, A&R executives, and the world's aspiring musicians. Not surprisingly, Sennheiser and Neumann microphones, the choice of discerning musicians on arena tours and in garage bands alike, were all over Austin at SXSW 2008. Here are just a few highlights!

As a SXSW venue for 17 years, getting a slot at Maggie Mae's on 6th Street is coveted, and this year was no exception. Among many others, LA's Upground, Chicago's Sybris, and Washington DC's Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds used the complete set of Sennheiser evolution series microphones in Maggie Mae's Gibson Room. Locally-respected house engineer Claudia Alvarado reported that with nothing but Sennheiser's on stage, every band sounded crisp and clear. "Our usual 'standard' vocal mic gives me a lot of mud at 250," she says, "but the Sennheiser e 935 had a clearer, more balanced frequency response. The instrument mics were incredible, and we surprisingly didn't have any feedback problems at all. The tom clips on the e 904s were some of the best I've seen and amazingly easy to use. The e 902 on the bass drum had a nice snap without compromising any of my low-end. All of my guest engineers that accompanied the bands were just as impressed!"

Food Network goddess Rachael Ray's highly-anticipated, if rather unexpected SXSW party at the Beauty Bar also boasted a complete complement of Sennheiser evolution series mics. They were put through their paces by The Raveonettes, The Stills, Holy F---, the Cringe and many others. Apart from their great sound, engineer Rich Saccoliti of Event Systems was impressed by the resilience of the Sennheiser gear. "Austin was awash in wireless frequencies that week," he said. "We were able to easily find open channels, and once we locked them in they remained perfectly stable."

LA singer-songwriter Jenni Alpert's hugely successful Spin It Indie showcase at the One 2 One Bar featured the host herself along with a collection of the most promising talent from around the country, including Jay Nash, Amber Rubarth, and Libby Shrader. "In previous years, I felt perfectly comfortable with the performers at Spin It Indie, but I always worried about the sound," recalled Alpert. "It was sometimes shaky and especially nerve-racking since label signings were often a real possibility!" This year, Sennheiser sponsored the sound. "We had a packed bar, and the e 935 vocal mic cut through. It was awesome! The vocals were bright and crispy, but still warm on the bottom. The bar owners were so impressed they're going to purchase the same mics for the house sound."

Not all the bands were "up-and-coming" at SXSW; many, such as veteran rockers Helmet, are solidly established. Helmet performed for wall-to-wall crowds at the TKO Booking Showcase at Red 7 and at the L.A. Viper Room's party at Orchid. Band leader Page Hamilton sang through a Neumann KMS 105 live condenser vocal mic at both shows and marveled at its clarity and otherworldly coolness: "The KMS 105 didn't have the standard live vocal mic 'gray-fuzziness' that seemed to plague the other bands we performed with. I could hear myself perfectly, and with more bottom and more top than the usual fare delivers. But beyond that, the KMS looks really bad ass!"

They say that at SXSW there's a song sung about every sorrow and every joy at every moment. Sennheiser and Neumann are proud to help deliver each of those moments with a clarity that conveys artistry and nuance worthy of the musicians who sojourn there.