It's not unfair to say that a SXSW panel on women in rock was dubiously named. Girls and Tech: Why Young Woman Rule in Music was a discussion less of women in music as much as women consuming music. Most notably, the concept of the teen superfan.
After gushing over just having met Jared Leto, Shana Krochmal of Out Magazine started off the panel by going through a list of bands that had made girls squeal throughout rock history, asking people to raise their hands.
“Don't laugh,” she said. “There's no shame here.”
When she got to New Kids on the Block, the panel broke down into a fan-off, including one panelist, Lindsay Gabler, a social media specialist for the Grammys, showing off her her NKOTB T-shirt and Krochmal showing off a vintage NKOTB scrapbook from “before there was Tumblr.”
The central thesis behind the panel was that fans drive the market, regardless of whether or not their taste is critically lauded, and that young girls are statistically the most rabid fans out there.
“What pisses me off is that we respect the people that market to these women, but not the women that consume the products themselves,” said Megan Westerby, vice president of marketing at Collective Digital Studio.
Westerby also pointed out that while the tweens who went wild over the New Kids were a joke back then, they are now grown up with middle-income salaries. That's why the band is playing stadiums on its upcoming tour, despite being decades past relevance or cuteness.
Another observation made by the panelists was regarding the quickness with which young girls pick up on social media trends that can then be used to reach them.
“That's why you're seeing this shift now where Justin Bieber and his manager are investing in startups,” Westerby said. “So if Justin Bieber says, 'Oh, I love this new app,' then it immediately has users because he is using it.”
The booker for an all-ages club in Boston threw in that respecting the audience regardless of its taste has done well for her business as well.
The panel was more than two-thirds finished by the time an audience member asked the question that seemed to have been posed by the panel's title: What about the female performers?
The answer remained much the same: The fans rule the market, especially the women.
“Those artists that learn how to market themselves are going to be successful,” said Gabler.