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7 Great SXSW Keynotes To Help You Pretend You’re There

by Hanna Brooks Olsen
creativity

The city of Austin, Texas is teeming with creative, smart people this week as South By Southwest gets into full swing. Musicians, artists, filmmakers, scientists, and educators are coming together right this minute to share ideas, come up with solutions, and collaborate on projects. CreativeLive CEO Chase Jarvis is there again — though this time, he’s not riding around in an Uber with some of the sharpest minds of our generation.

But for those of us who can’t make the trek to the Lonestar State, there’s still hope — some of the best SXSW keynotes from previous years are available online for your viewing pleasure. Here are a few to help you feel like you’re getting in on the action from wherever you are.

In 2013, cjLIVE favorite Tina Roth Eisenberg, of Swiss Miss, Teux Deux, and Creative Mornings talked about how becoming a mom changed her career goals.

“At the end of the day, life is nothing but the sum of total choices,” says Tina.

The Oatmeal creator Matt Inman’s 2013 Interactive keynote is full of great information about creativity, self-employment, and working in a creative field. Specifically, he talks about how he does his work, and where his ideas come from.

“I thought that I could control inspiration,” Matt says — but that’s not how it works. “Inspiration is like food poisoning: It just sprays out of you when you least expect it.”

Instead of sitting down to try to call inspiration to him, Matt explains his practice of “idea farming,” wherein he slowly grows ideas in the background and then, suddenly, they sprout.

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson was largely brought to South By Southwest to discuss hard scientific facts, but in true NdGT form, his tangents about education, apologies, and curiosity are the best parts of this conversation.

Yes, Lady Gaga did a SXSW keynote last year, and yes, it was a conversation with John Norris of MTV fame.

“It’s terrifying,” says Lady Gaga about the race to chart highly and the way that the music industry focuses on numbers. “But I think what we have to remember is that the way that we talk about that process is really what the problem is. Placing the importance on those charts, placing the importance on that system. What happens is, you start trying to influence the artist…to approach their work toward being successful within that system.”

Adam Savage didn’t come to SXSW to talk about busting myths — in fact, his talk had almost nothing to do with the show. Instead, he talked about the intersections of art and culture, art and science, and the way we rank high and low art.


Black Violin, a two-piece hip-hop duo composed of two classically-trained musicians from Florida, don’t really do any talking in this keynote but they do make some truly incredible music. Which is where SXSW got its start, so this feels appropriate.

Finally, for a fun throwback, here’s Mark Zuckerberg way back in 2008 talking about Facebook and what the company was focused on at that point.

“We’re just trying to help people connect and communicate,” he explained. Watch this talk and think about how much has changed online since this talk.

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Hanna Brooks Olsen

Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.