Ready for it?

Making the decision to actually attempt to play in Austin, TX during South By Southwest (SXSW) music week is a big one. Everyone wants to do so but you need to be sure you are ready and have a solid understanding of what to expect. Otherwise, you will find yourselves, broke, tired, hungry and disappointed. There are dreams and then also reality. I hope to help you along this path to ensure you do not fall into those traps.

Your band is ready. This means you have a solid throng of fans that support you at home and on social media. You get on the road at least occasionally for mini-tours within your region. You realize how hard it is to be an original artist in areas where you have little to no fanbase. You have a basic understanding of booking on the road. You have money to spend or someone who financially can back you. Wait! What?

Don’t be discouraged already. But, realistically, attending SXSW and everything around it is not cheap. You will not make money to play at official or unofficial showcases. You will be playing for free and the dreaded exposure. This we must dive into deeper.

Official & unofficial Showcases

There are 2 very different worlds during music week. There is the official world of showcases and the unaffiliated showcases. Both, will cost you money to submit with no guarantee of being selected. This is how production and venue costs are covered for the showcase hosts. The showcases in themselves are free to the public except for official showcases where attendees purchase a very expensive wrist band to attend such events affiliated with the convention/conference.The official showcases receive over 10000 submissions from all over the globe. They host “meet-n-greets” in big cities around the country year round prior to even opening the submission process. They interact within the larger scope of major labels and industry insiders. Influence and leverage go a long way with being selected. It may take you years to be on their radar without industry inside help.

Austin turns into Los Angeles, TX during music week. Most showcases are of the unaffiliated variety. It is still going to cost you money to submit but if you are good and fit the genres they are looking at you will probably be selected. But, you need to do your homework and look into each showcase closely. Check out their websites. See how long they have been involved or whether they are new to the SX scene.Oh, this reminds me, refer to SXSW as South By. That is how the veterans do so. Otherwise, everyone will know you are a newbie. Anyway, when you are checking the unaffiliated showcases out be sure they are not referring or using SXSW in their advertising. If they are, it raises a red flag. South By Southwest sends cease and desist letters to offending promoters and are very protective of their brand. So, if they are inferring they are official and they are not it shows their inexperience and brings into question their credibility. Showcases can say “during SXSW” but also must mention they are unaffiliated with the much larger festival and conference.

So you still believe you should attempt to play SX and you send in the submission fee of $40 or $50 bucks and you are selected! Congratulations! You have hit the big time. Now realize that your set on the average will be limited to 20 minutes. Your actual time slot may be in the morning or early afternoon. Some larger showcases charge an additional amount of money to move up into a “prime” time slot and/or location. So, don’t be shocked if they ask you to do so.

Listen, the main thing to understand about playing SX is that it is an investment in your career. This is why you must be sure you are ready. It is going to cost you a lot of money to travel, stay and survive there  (you know, food and all that). I’ll delve into this more in the next part of this blog series. I’ll teach you how to generate excitement within your current fanbase and win more new fans. This is why you do this crazy thing called music anyway, right? Learn to build excitement and you will succeed. In the meantime, check out our 10 year running event:

About the Author: Jeff Popka is the Co-Founder of Texas Indie Fest and has been attending SXSW since 2011. He is the Co-Founder of Tune City and the CEO of Indie on Air Records. He is a published music journalist with ION Indie Magazine

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