09 Mar

Get The Most Out of SXSW

For more than 30 years, music industry professionals and musicians have made the annual pilgrimage to Austin, Texas, for South By Southwest. The event has become an industry mainstay, welcoming visitors from all over the world for a week of networking, musical performances and panels.

The festival’s size and stature has grown considerably since its humble 1987 beginnings, and with that change has come controversy and criticism. As Austin prepares to open its streets for the start of the 2018 music portion beginning March 12, it’s worth contemplating whether the event is really worth all the hype. Are you missing out if you’re not attending? And if you’re packing up the tour van and heading south, how can you make the most of your experience? Before you plunk down the cash for a coveted wristband or worry about whether you made the right decision by staying home, these music professionals have some advice regarding the event that you may want to consider.

According to publicist Nathan Walker, attending SXSW is not a necessity, and it won’t ensure you any type of success going forward.

“The idea that there’s any specific thing in the music industry that will make or break your career, outside of putting on an amazing show or writing incredible songs, is false,” he said.

Jamie Coletta, a freelance marketing professional, agreed with Walker, and instead encourages attendees to consider what they hope to gain from the experience. “Attending is definitely not necessary for either industry or band folks,” Coletta said. “On the industry side, sure, it can help to attend because you get face time with a lot of different people you may not normally be around, especially with the digital age and professionals being located pretty much anywhere,” she said. “Meeting up with these folks at SXSW is awesome because it’s likely the only chance you’ll get to meet in person.”

Since there are two varying levels (official and unofficial) to SXSW events, there can be drastic differences in the potential advantages of partaking in the festivities. While purchasing a badge isn’t mandatory, those who secure official credentials are more likely to reap benefits that include prominent showcase placement and increased press coverage.

Although copywriter, content creator, editor and media consultant Sjimon Gompers deems badges to be “overrated,” he suggested getting credentials based on the type of events you want to attend. “A badge isn't bad if your plans are geared toward more of the official events going on during the festival,” Gompers said. “Panel attendance is something everyone should do more of, even though the day parties are often fun and exciting. The conferences and conversations at the panels provide insights into the industry with privy views into the inner workings of your favorite labels and topics that can be infinitely intriguing and inspiring.” Walker agrees, and reminds bands that securing slots on official showcases are also more likely to result in payment or a free badge.

Finding and participating in these official events is either said than done, though. Publicist Andi Wilson warns against not planning, suggesting that both artists and industry members consider their itinerary well in advance of the festival. “It takes a lot of time and planning for everything to go smoothly,”Wilson said. “Bands should start asking around about shows and sorting their travels a few months early. Showcases fill up quickly. Some things happen last minute, though, so it’s a bit unpredictable.”

Most official events begin their planning nearly a year in advance, Coletta said.

Bands that hope to participate in a future SXSW should start by reaching out to fellow musicians and industry connections.

Let it be known that you’re attending, you want to play, and that you’re actively looking for showcase spots. In making these initial connections with bookers and fellow bands, it’s crucial for artists to consider the number of playing gigs they secure and the effort their attendance may require.

“To make the most of attending, try to find two to three anchor showcases that you will center your trip around,” Coletta said.

"If you can score at least a couple quality shows, you’ll have a good experience. It’s when you’re a month out from SXSW and only have one show booked (is) where you should start to question if the trip will be worth it or not.”

There’s a ceaseless nature about SXSW events. Events begin in the morning and last well into the night. Attendees and bands might be tempted to keep a packed schedule, but Wilson warns against that. “Make sure to take care of your needs first,” Wilson said.

“If you exhaust yourself, you’re not going to perform as well. Don’t stack showcases next to each other — unless you have to."

"I think it’s smart to make sure each showcase is worth it based on what time your set is, what other acts are on the bill, and who the sponsors are.”

Industry professionals acknowledge that the scope of the festival has changed and its corporate leanings can make the week feel like a futile endeavor for smaller bands. The underground showcases and unofficial events that were once a staple of the festival are no longer as prominent, but that shouldn’t dissuade those who dream of reaching new fans and making new connections from making the trip.

If you use the time you have at SXSW to your advantage and make the most of your experience, then ultimately it’s worth it. There’s no telling what could happen during or after your trip, and chance encounters, along with a positive attitude, could go a long way in determining your version of success during the event.

“Remember, we’re all there in one place and we all share a common love: music,” Walker said. “Make time in your days to just relax and hang out at events, introduce yourself to the people you wind up sitting next to.

Some of my closest friends came from a chance meeting.”

By Lauren Rearick, distributed under a Creative Commons CC-BY license.

Image by Luca Sartoni, distributed under the CC-BY-SA creative commons license.

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