By Maggie Hollander
"We see the story time and time again: college audience knows about what's going to break big way before everybody else does. If you want to see the future of music, check what the college audience is listening to first. We've seen it proven."
Those are the words of Eric Conte, Executive Producer of the "2012 mtvU Woodie Awards." In their eighth year, the Woodie Awards, which focus on up-and-coming artists as voted for by the college-aged audience, are returning to noted Austin music festival South by Southwest (SXSW). This year, the Woodies has an added component of an all-day festival on March 15 featuring fun., A$AP Rocky, Kimbra, Gary Clark Jr. and many more leading up to the award show later that night.
On a conference call focusing on the event, several 2012 Woodie Award nominees, including rapper MGK, electronic music guru Steve Aoki and hip-hop artist Mac Miller joined Conte to discuss the Woodies and the cross-section between the college-aged audience and music.
MGK (aka Machine Gun Kelly) is nominated this year for a Breaking Woodie, and was MTV's Hottest Breakthrough MC in 2011. Although he is working on his new album and preparing to embark on Tech N9ne's Hostile Takeover Tour (which claims to be the "longest rap tour of all time"), the young rapper took a moment to reflect on how he reached his new position in the music world.
An artist who built a fan base from the ground up by performing in high school parking lots, MGK attributes a great deal of his success to the college-aged audience. "I think that's really where my foundation really came from, was like the hand-to-hand, face-to-face interaction," said MGK about those early shows, "and then them spreading off and going to college and being like 'Hey man, this is a kid from my hometown, I'm proud to represent him.' College is where it's at."
While it's easy to see that some individuals have gained in popularity due to the 18-to-24 year old market, electronic dance music or EDM is an entire genre that has grown due to that generation, leading to the creation this year of the Woodies' new EDM Effect Award. Nominated for this award and closing out the show with his performance is Steve Aoki, a well-known and respected producer, DJ, and label owner who recently released an album of his own.
About the establishment of the new award, Aoki said, "Right now in America there's a scene here that's really vibrant, a lot of the international artists are most excited to play out here, sometimes their biggest markets are out here in the world."
He went on to explain that his 60-day bus tour around the country simply could not have happened three or four years ago, but that EDM has since garnered a great deal of attention from the younger generation, making expensive tours and albums more possible than ever before.
"We're definitely at a really impactful time for our music scene," said Aoki. "And I really think it's the start too because it's brand new the way that it's integrating itself into the new generation of kids downloading music and listening to music. Dance music's been around for a long time but the way that people are accessing music now and a new generation of kids getting excited about music has changed the game entirely for EDM."
The Woodie Awards in particular hold a special place in Aoki's heart. "I've been watching the awards ceremony forever," he said. "As an independent record label owner, the Woodie Awards is actually a really big deal for me, I've always looked at it as that important kind of step for artists to break out to a bigger part of their career."
Although he was mum on the details of his performance, Aoki did mention some "special guests" were in the works and that his signature interaction with the crowd would definitely be included in the show.
For duel-nominated artist for Performing Woodie and Woodie of the Year Mac Miller is actually a member of that college-aged audience and it is perhaps because of this connection that his sense of pride in the generation is evident.
"That's the leaders of tomorrow," said Miller. "It may be a corny phrase or something but you know it's true. We grow up young and people don't really look at us as having an opinion that's worth anything. And suddenly you're a certain age and you realize your opinions are worth just as much as anybody else's. There's a sense of empowerment in that age group that always inspires me."
Voting for the 2012 mtvU Woodie Awards is open through March 9 (with the exception of the Breaking Woodie Award, voting for which continues through the live show). The "Woodies Festival" begins at 1 p.m. CT on Wednesday, March 15 leading up to the actual "Woodie Awards" show at 8 p.m. CT, which will be airing as a half-hour special on both MTV and mtvU on Sunday, March 18 at 8 p.m. ET.