The annual SXSW music festival is currently underway in Austin, Texas with literally thousands of musicians, industry members and music fans threading their way throughout the city. An overwhelming event for anyone attending, SXSW has long been upheld as a mecca for music discovery.
If you’ve been sitting back, watching the action unfold online, and wondering if it’s for you in 2020, Beehive PR has you covered! Johnny Rock and Sose Fuamoli – both seasoned SXSW goers – give us some tips on how to tackle Austin like a pro. If you’re looking at taking your band over to perform, or experience SXSW as a punter, music publicist or journalist, the below will help you promote your band and survive in one piece!
How To Find Free Stuff
So, Americans are into Twitter. It’s not all Kardashians either. This may be surprising for some Aussies.
But fear not my kangaroo riding brethren, for Twitter is nothing to be feared. And if used right, you can get a free meal or two. Which while running around on the Aussie peso, is nothing to be sneered at. Follow the official SXSW accounts and some fun ones and keep an eye for some free goodness. My tip is find a country who’s food you like and find out when that country is holding a gig.
Spain had paella and your very own Aussie showcase have as close to a Bunnings BBQ as we can legally get away with. Canadians don’t skimp on the freeness either. Go forth and eat! I ran into Fran Healy from 90’s Scottish band Travis and he invited me to a screening they were doing. How will you find out about a cool band doing something cool?
Get it all on Twitter mate.
Here’s a couple you can follow who will gladly share tips for everything. And hey did you think of maybe using these hashtags to promote your own gigs? Playing the Aussie BBQ? That’s free food baby.
Tell everyone about it and pack your showcase out with hungry punters!
Don’t forget some events you will need to RSVP or register. Just do it. Don’t get all precious about being spammed later. Free now, unsubscribe later.
Don’t Be Humble
You’re at SXSW to promote your own band or to promote a band you work for. There’s no room to be shy. People have limited time and you want to nail that elevator pitch.
You know how when you play a show and you walk off stage and someone comes up to you that you don’t know and goes, “Oh man, that was great! Loved that song in the middle about shopping at IGA. So cool.” And then you say something like “Oh no, the sound was really weird on stage, and we fucked up a bit in the IGA song, I’ve been really sick too I don’t think I’m singing really great…”
Yeah, don’t do that at SXSW.
No one outside of Australia gets the whole humble, apologetic thing. It sounds weird. You will get weird looks. Don’t do it.
I once met the publicist for Muse who in her own words said she “broke them” around the world with their first few albums. She heard us play from across the road and then came to see us (we were pretty loud). When she told me in a thick norven lundun accent, “Miami Beach! I loved your set, so good. Here’s my card baby, call me when you come to the UK.” (Note: she called me Miami Beach cause I was wearing a Miami Beach T-shirt). I didn’t say, “Oh no, I couldn’t hear myself and stuffed up all my solos.” I said, “When we get there, make sure Matt Bellamy has his Gold Amex cause the three of us are gonna max it out at the bar.”
See the difference?
Find a Cool Venue and Stay There
SXSW is pretty big. Let me throw some numbers at you.
2000+ officially artist chosen. That’s just the official ones. That’s minimum 2000 gigs. Then there’s unofficial gigs going on during the day, locally called “day parties”. Then there’s all the unofficial performers and secret gigs going on.
So to say there’s a lot going on is an understatement. First year we went, we walked into 100 venues and saw two songs of every band then walked to the next one. It was exhausting. But you get to see a million bands. But how many do you really see? Do I remember any of them?
The next time we went, we found a venue we liked and stayed there. Now not all the bands that played were 100% our liking, but at least we got to see whole sets and when we didn’t care who was playing we could sink some Lone Star beers and chat to people. So both methods work to a certain degree. Just don’t kick yourself for missing out on a secret Salt N Pepa show ’cause you were in line for some other band you heard about. It will happen all week. Just try your best.
Have a few key gigs or bands you want to see and then work your schedule around them. You want to be free enough to take advantage of some free/exciting shit going on last minute and also planned enough so you don’t sit in your hotel sleeping and miss everything.
The biggest mistake I made during my first year at SXSW, was getting sucked in by my first open-bar party on my second night. There are some big, key parties that are dotted throughout SXSW, but normally, not many match the SXSW Interactive Closing Party. Held at the iconic Stubb’s BBQ outdoor amphitheatre venue, the music is cranking (Girl Talk, Method Man, London Grammar and more have performed in the past), the free food is plentiful and the bar is open until 4am.
Now, while the opportunity to party on unlimited food and alcohol until the early hours in a different country is enticing, when you’ve still got another five days of walking, late night music showcases, meetings, panels and general dealing with people ahead of you, you’re gonna need as many wits about you as possible. Take it easy and conserve your energy. Save your blowout night for the final night, then you can drop in a heap and recover afterward. Or do what I normally do, spend the flight back slightly comatose.
SXSW is like BIGSOUND but on steroids, wearing a stetson hat.
Don’t try and beat it. It’s impossible.
Visit the Smaller Venues
You’d be surprised at how many gems you can come across when you’re not waiting in line for 3+ hours at the Fader Fort or Spotify hubs! Go rogue at SXSW and check out the smaller venues in Austin.
They’re usually playing host to bands from countries you’d never normally think of and even if they’re bands who aren’t going to be on your radar back home in six months, they’re entertaining and showcase great potential. Venues like Barracuda and Emo’s have come up in recent years, but you can always find little hole in the wall venues that may have popped up just for the festival, which are real treats to get around.
Late night haunts that are favoured by many include Cheer Up Charlie’s and the former Blackheart bar on Rainey Street, but you still might need to get to those districts earlier rather than later to secure a good spot.
Don’t Be Afraid To Chat!
When you think about it, you’re shelling out hundreds of dollars on your festival badge, right? You may as well make the absolute best use of it when you’re at SXSW (or any of these international festivals for that matter, keep an eye out for our Great Escape feature, coming soon!). This is a festival built on making connections – whether or not you’re going to be going into business with everyone you meet once the festival is finished, this is the best way to extend your networks internationally.
Australia is so small as a market, compared to North America and Europe, and particularly with the Americans, they love us. They also love Australian music. Use this to your advantage.
Go visit the Canadian Blast BBQ and check out some Canadian bands. Visit the British Embassy and see who will be the next big thing. But also get to talking to other people there – high chance you’ll make great festival buddies to link up with, or potentially lock down new clients or connections in other places, so when the next international opportunity comes up, you’ll have a base to call on.
Book Your Tickets!
The important thing to remember about festivals like SXSW is that while you might not get into the flashy showcases, or the secret pop up shows where the celebrities hang, it’s the thrill of discovering new music that gets out there each year. Take the rest as a bonus. For bands and artists heading over to promote their music, managing expectations is key. You might not fill each room, but the people you do get to your show could very well be your next booking agent or international publisher. They could even be from a band you’ll next share a tour with.
For music publicists, SXSW is a feast for your tingly music senses. With such a diverse range of artists performing throughout, you’ll have primo opportunities to see how artists from all around the world move. The festival is also a great meeting place for publicists to connect and form steadfast connections when it comes to international clientele and branching out into other publicity markets down the line. A perfect example of the fluidity of the music industry, deals can be brokered over burgers, conversations started in line to the next Q&A session. The rhythm music publicists can get into at SXSW is a hectic one, but one that strengthens resolve in your job and your drive to get things done!
SXSW is a playground for networking, bringing new music back home and if you’re lucky, experiencing some of the best BBQ food you’ll ever have. It is a great promotional platform, but it can also provide a great perspective on your local music scene and influence you as a creative, returning home.