Every year in mid March, thousands of people descend upon Austin, TX for the South by Southwest Music Conference & Festival. The festival, which began in 1987 with 700 Music registrants, has grown over the years to include both film & interactive segments and now has over 12,000 music and 11,000 film and interactive participants. While the music portion has traditionally been a stomping ground for unsigned and up-and-coming indie acts, mainstream acts are now using the festival to reunite or create buzz about new projects. Last year, Metallica stopped by Stubbs in Austin to promote Guitar Hero: Metallica. Kanye West has also stopped by to promote his new artist Kid Cudi, and Tinted Windows (a supergroup featuring members of the Smashing Pumpkins, Fountains of Wayne, Cheap Trick, and Hanson) also made their debut at SXSW. This year was no exception, as Courtney Love showcased her latest incarnation of Hole, Stone Temple Pilots reunited, and Muse played a not-so-secret show at Stubb’s.
Attending SXSW is not just about seeing the nostalgic band reunions or even experiencing surprise shows by arena level acts, but it is also about learning what the latest industry standards are while having a chance to see the hottest acts to book for your venue. I had the opportunity to see about 45 performances over the course of four days. I met with industry members ranging from agents to top talent buyers like Lisa White from Washington DC’s 9:30 Club, and Dawn Holliday from San Francisco’s Slim’s. I ran into multiple artists the likes of The Kin, Daphne Willis, Anya Marina, Greg Laswell, and others who were receiving significant buzz at the festival.
While many of the panels are geared toward artists, there are many that discuss the latest promotion and marketing tactics. It was at last year’s South By Southwest that Twitter made its debut. The conversation this year was about how many venues and promoters have taken a serious step back from traditional and print marketing. Instead they are saving money by focusing on non-traditional social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. While there are still some who are holding on to print ads to target audiences that may not be plugged in to social media, most venues and promoters have seen great returns from their social networking sites.
Another notable conversation among panelists and attendees was the LiveNation/Ticketmaster merger. While the merger is still in its infancy and most agreed that less competition is not a good policy, many of the smaller venues have already transitioned from Ticketmaster to other ticketing software. Dawn from Slim’s in San Francisco said she is not longer limited in her ticketing options as was the case ten years ago. There are many different companies that offer ticketing software and allow for greater control than ever before.
Somehow, SXSW grows in size and scope every year. In addition to the official showcases there are now hundreds of unofficial showcases that run concurrent to South-by that don’t require wristbands or conference badges for entrance. I highly recommend anyone with the time and the means to get to Austin to make the trip. You never know if you’ll discover the next big thing in a tent in a parking lot somewhere on 6th Street.
By Shawn Wolfgang
Shawn Wolfgang is an Event Manager/Talent Buyer for The Red Room @ Cafe 939 in Boston.