South by Southwest
January 18, 2007 10:31 AM   Subscribe

Will it be worthwhile to attend SXSW in order to promote my album?

I'll be visiting a friend in Austin in March, and while I'm sure it'll be cool to catch the performances at the festival, the tickets are quite expensive. With any luck I'll have an album finished by then which I will be sending around to labels and press and whatnot. SXSW seems to be promoted as a music-industry-insider sort of event, so I figure I'd feel like I could justify the cost if I thought I might get some value on that end by putting my CD in some people's hands, doing some networking, etc.

Is that a reasonable thought, or am I barking up the wrong tree?
posted by ludwig_van to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I think it is not as much as an insider event as it used to be. Honestly, it is more of a big party than anything these days. If you want to meet people in the record industry at SXSW, your best bet is to buy a music badge and attend day parties thrown by labels that interest you. Other than that, it is a mass of people and long lines for shows you will probably never get into unless you get there 2 hours beforehand. Austin is an awesome and fun place but I am not sure you will see value in attending and hoping to meet the right person. But if you get a chance, go eat at Chuy's... it is fantastic.
posted by ro50 at 11:02 AM on January 18, 2007

I once saw a feature on SXSW on TV, and since then, I've always wanted to go. On that feature I learned about these guys, and I thought it was a cool band. I showed it to many friends, one of whom, my sister, is a concert promoter in Mexico (she took Yo La Tengo to Mexico and has organized several other concerts) and she fell in love with them and said she put them in her "cool-bands-to-bring-to Mexico" list. She hasn't yet, but she might in the future.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that the return might come from where you are least expecting it. I'm sure those guys have no idea there is a bunch of people in Latin America who think they are really cool and follow their site and all, but here we are, nonetheless, and one of them might just take them to play in another country.

So it might not pay off right away, but if you have the money, do it. It might bring you things you are definitely not even considering.

Also, I'd love to hear the new version of Julia. I'm really curious how you are going to top that demo you made, it already sounded perfect there. If you have a mailing list or something like that, put me in it, yeah?
posted by micayetoca at 11:20 AM on January 18, 2007

Chuy's is the mcdonalds of mexican food. Please get some good stuff. Basically, any other mexican food place in town. Taco Express, Papasitos, Maudie's, even Taco Cabana.... there are tons. (there lots good threads here on ask.mefi about austin restaraunts).

Sorry for the derail. But yeah, SXSW is a good place to pimp your stuff, but don't expect to be shaking hands with A&R guys from Subpop on the streets. Go for the fun, for the music, and the food, but definitely bring some CD's and hand your stuff out. Especially at some like-minded venues and shows, with similar artists to your own stuff.
posted by Espoo2 at 11:20 AM on January 18, 2007

Right on Espoo2 (re: Chuy's and SXSW)

Your chances of recovering your costs selling your music without even having a showcase? Very very very small. With a showcase? Very very small. Chances you discover a band or two who inspire you to continue the music writing/recording processes you enjoy? Pretty decent.

I've played SXSW a half dozen times or so. The biggest value of it to me is inspiration. It's fun hearing so much good music. Hearing and meeting so many other musicians who are into the same stuff you are is great and only happens on that scale at a fest like SXSW.

Finding like-minded venues is good advice. I've also had fun just wandering 6th street. Poke your head in and if you like what you hear/see hang out.
posted by nonmyopicdave at 11:59 AM on January 18, 2007

I performed three times at SXSW back in the 90s. Anyway, all I can say is a) it's a clusterfuck these days and b) if you haven't booked a hotel room, get moving on it.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:05 PM on January 18, 2007

My advice is to skip getting a badge or wristbands and just go to day parties -- they're all free (some here and there are invite-only) and you can see practically every band that's in town. I've been doing it for the past 2 years and have had no regrets. You'll save a bunch of money, and with the lines and crowds, I've heard you can only really hit up one or two shows per night anyways.

As far as promotion for your album goes, handing out CDs to pedestrians as they walk by is an easy option. At the day parties, you can usually spot band members in the crowds too.
posted by puritycontrol at 12:28 PM on January 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Espoo2 --- your answer is Mexican-food sacrilege ... Guero's Taco Bar is the best Mexican food in Austin.

(Bill Clinton agrees with me --- he goes there when he visits Austin and even has a menu item named after him.)
posted by jayder at 12:53 PM on January 18, 2007

Well I like Chuy's even though it isn't indie enough for some of you guys. Also, I really liked the Magnolia Cafe.

I can't speak for others such as puritycontrol but a lot of the day parties I went to would only omit people with badges. But I have never tried to get in without one so I am not sure how that goes.
posted by ro50 at 12:54 PM on January 18, 2007

In addition to day parties, look for "guerilla" and unofficial showcases and parties, both day and night.

The big takeaway of SXSW is just meeting people and making contacts. My last trip to Austin was 2004 and I'm still in touch with a lot of great people - midlevel artists, publicists, promoters, agents. Collect cards and shoot them "nice to meet you" emails when you return. And keep in casual touch; you never know when someone you bumped elbows with in Austin will move into a position to help your career someday.

As for giving away, well, everyone will be doing that. If you do this, stake out showcases by artists who are similar to your style and hand them out to their crowd. Don't just pass them out to anyone in the street. Every time I attend SXSW I return with dozens of CDs and most of them I throw away. I just don't have the time, storage space, etc. I'm sure I'm not the only one.
posted by scottandrew at 1:14 PM on January 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

For future reference, this site posts a comprehensive list of day parties once they're announced. (Here's an example of last year's parties...scroll down to 3/15.) And I think ro50 meant to say "admit." ;)

I'll save my Austin restaurant suggestions for another question...
posted by puritycontrol at 1:32 PM on January 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Look, I can't speak for SXSW but in the end it comes down to that old adage - there's no such thing as bad exposure. I've walked around a lot of industry-type events with swarming hopefuls waving their garage orchestra's latest three-song concept demo in everyone's faces, and I feel the point about statistics is very fair: chances are slim for everyone, and there's no clear-cut path to whatever definition of 'success' one might have, but from what little I know about you I'd surmise you have figured that out already. So in the end it all comes down to whether you can afford the trip and whether you think it would be worthwile for you: if you do go, it's a good opportunity to talk with some people and put something in their hands, and perhaps no more. Shoot for the stars, but expect nothing. That's all the first-hand advice I have to offer.

And on a tangent, seeing as though you're back in the States now, I would personally leave no opportunity unused to emphasize your time in England, especially if it connects to your music in some way. I'm sure you've thought about that already as well, though.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 2:01 PM on January 18, 2007

Funny, I'm thinking of doing the same thing. I don't even have a new CD to promote -- it won't be ready until later in the year. But I'm in touch with a guy who is interested in having me play at a (non-official) party during SXSW. Maybe I'll burn some "preview sampler" CDs and pass 'em out at appropriate events.

The "visiting a friend" thing is crucial. I'll be doing the same (if I go).

Does anyone have any recommendations (pro or con) on airlines that serve Austin? I'd be coming from NYC. JetBlue goes direct, and I've generally been happy with their service to Florida, but I see cheaper non-direct flights from other airlines on Orbitz.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 2:23 PM on January 18, 2007

I've been to the last two SXSW festivals. I've been turned on to some of my favorite new bands because of SXSW and I will be going again this year and many more to come.

If music is your passion, and just not something that you're just futzing around with, get yourself a real pass, have your cds ready, and go to as many shows as you can.

You will meet a lot of industry people, but they will be bombarded by the clusterfuck. So what you do is you give them your cd, you exchange cards, and you follow up a week or two later (not too much later because Coachella falls on the footsteps of SXSW).

Also, get yourself a guitar and play that thing everywhere you go. Austin during SXSW is one of the few places where music is pouring out of every nook and cranny. If you've got it, sing it from the rooftops, you have no idea who might be coming out of the tattoo parlor when you're singing your chorus.

And next year make sure that you're one of the 1,300 official performers.
posted by tsarfan at 3:27 PM on January 18, 2007

I've worked at SXSW for the past two years with the Artist Check in Desk (as a volunteer with connections, basically). In that time, I only got one free cd from a guy who checked in with us (blackloud) and living in Austin I have a much more audience based view, but let me tell you about the festival in general (so you can get a better idea if it works for you, hopefully).

For one, it has seemingly turned from a small festival that used to be about showcasing and exposure into a giant music festival that has turned into real huge bands playing. The locals tend to really hate that week, because it swamps downtown and doing things at night that are not involved with SXSW are hard to come by.

I'm not sure what the cost is this year but if you really wanted to go (and didn't want to pay so much for what might turn out to be not worth it) look into volunteering for a perk. You can get a wristband or several different badges depending on how much you volunteer for them, and as far as the worth of those things, the difference between wristband and music badge are immense. A badge will very likely get you into anything that is a sxsw event, while the wristbands are the very common item that gets put into a second line after all the badges are let in. But the offset of this (and the main reason I am not working there again) is that generally, all of the events you would probably want to go to will be during the scheduled time of your volunteering. I'd check the website on this, it may have changed and other departments might have more flexible hours or different hours. But if you wanted to hit the day showcases (which are not sxsw, their music schedules officially start at 7 each night, if I recall correctly) you would probably be working during those times.

In truth, I don't really have any good answers regarding the distribution of your stuff, but honestly, if you wanted to just get some exposure out there, it is probably not worth buying a badge, simply because (as I said) the only events those will get you into are the night shows which are mainly composed of huge bands or people who are trying to get exposure in the official way. If you wanted to, I would try and get registered as a performer for the coming years (I imagine the lineup is already closed for this year, but check the website) in order to get your music out there. I don't really know the requirements or timelines.

So basically, check the website and see if volunteering is a viable option, and in addition to that, check to view NONSXSW shows (the day shows).
posted by stresstwig at 4:07 PM on January 18, 2007

I work in the entertainment business and have been going to SXSW for years now. Honestly, I wouldn't recommend attending to promote your band (unless you're showcasing). There's way too much competition there these days. Yes, there are great stories about bands like Hanson (yes really) being discovered playing on the street corner. But that doesn't happen for most bands. Usually, anyone with real connections either won't take your CD or does and just throws it in their band never to be listened to again.

That said, if you want to see some great performances and meet interesting people (not to mention eat and drink to excess) then SXSW is perfect. But as a promotional opportunity for a small band without representation... nah... skip it.
posted by tundro at 7:04 PM on January 18, 2007

If you need an amen to what stresstwig suggested, then let me testify. Volunteers have some great access to the presenters. But you need to have a relaxed attitude about it, try not to spaz and don't try to make EVERY moment a "here let me give you this". If it seems appropriate do it, if it seems forced, don't. There is a lot of free schwag there and it could just end up in the goodies bag.

*volunteered for film and tech, but did a night shuttle bus for the music venues in 98. I would volunteer every year if I still lived there.
posted by nramsey at 8:26 AM on January 19, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the info. At this point, based on the ticket price and the fact that I'd be going solo, it sounds like I won't attend this one. Hopefully I'll be playing next year, though.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:09 AM on January 19, 2007

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