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SXSW – A Huge Career Boost? Or a Huge Waste of Money?

February 5, 2015

This happens every year.

I get an email from an artist or band that is super excited they got into SXSW.

Maybe the official SXSW. Or maybe just an opportunity to play some shows there.

(In case you don’t know, SXSW is a huge music festival in Austin every March. It’s dubbed “spring break for the music business” and tens of thousands of people attend every year.)

Now, while I understand that there is a TREMENDOUS amount of hype around SXSW, I have to say THIS IS PROBABLY THE SINGLE WORST WAY TO SPEND MONEY AS AN ARTIST.

Don’t get me wrong.

SXSW is a lot of fun.

I went one year and spent $1500 between the last minute flight and an all access badge, food, etc. I had a free hotel to stay in courtesy of a friend so the $1500 didn’t even include hotels.

Did I have a blast?

You betcha.

Did I eat a lot of great BBQ?

You betcha.

Did I see a lot of amazing and many not so amazing bands perform?

You betcha.

Was is a huge, giant waste of money?

You betcha!

Artists and bands used to go to Austin every year to play gigs because A&R reps would be there, looking for new acts to sign….that was maybe 10 years ago.

Now SXSW is just a huge party.

I describe it as “Mardi Gras without the beads.”

It’s generally just thousands of drunk college kids stumbling around, having a great time on spring break with a smattering of industry folks.

$1500 could have bought me an amazing week in Hawaii.

Or a hell of a lot of PR and marketing for my company.

I met people, don’t get me wrong.

But not one of the industry contacts I made there lead to me making even $1.

***

Now, don’t get me wrong.

SXSW is a great place to be if you want to check out a thousand different bands and artists playing.

It showcases everyone from metal bands to country icons.

But over the past 10 years it’s just devolved into a huge branding event for companies to showcase their company to the millennial generation.

Maybe if you are a band from North Dakota and have no way to play in front of more than 3 people, SXSW makes sense.

But for the average band?

There is nothing harder than trying to get people to come to a show in your home town, right?

Well, then try getting noticed when you’re playing at the same time as Prince or Coldplay or any band or artist people have heard of, let alone at the same time as the other 100-200 bands playing at any time of the day or night at SXSW.

***

I want to hear from you!!!!

Have you ever been to SXSW?

Because if you have, I want to hear from you!

Email me and tell me about your experience! I want to hear all stories – good, bad, indifferent!

Jennifer Yeko
True Talent PR ~ True Talent Management
9663 Santa Monica Blvd. # 320
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

~Artist Management~Music Licensing~Music Publicity
http://www.truetalentmgmt.com

“Anything worthwhile in life requires time, patience, and persistence.”
–Cheryl Richardson

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5 comments

  1. I haven’t gone, because I agree with you. đŸ™‚
    Kathy Greenholdt, Chicago


  2. Couldn’t agree with you more!!!!!!

    I went for 1st time in 2013 and haven’t previously or since for the exact reasons mentioned in your post.
    Here’s why I went :

    I was being paid by an artist with an official showcase to be there and sing BGVs. Let’s call them “Artist 1”.

    I was being drive out via RV by a different band let’s say “Artist 2” to play a non-official show and was being paid a small amount for that show. (They were partially funded to be there via a tour pledge based website). I was playing keys, guitar, bass and singing bgvs.

    I ended up playing:
    1 official show w/ Artist 1
    1 non official show w/ Artist 1
    1 non official show w/ Artist 2
    1 non official show w/ me (Katie Cole)

    I also did 2 rehearsals in Austin day of show for A1 and for A2.

    Here is how it all went down. It took a full day to drive there. I didn’t sleep. Finally fell asleep around 2am in the RV …Then border patrol got us up and out to inspect the vehicle for drugs. It was the Texas border and a normal drill. The RV driver of the band Artist 2 was wearing a onezie. I guess that search extra made sense.

    We arrived and with no sleep and I did rehearsal with Artist 2 then Artist 1.

    Then played show with Artist 1. Snoop Lion was playing that night so a lot of people went out to see that.

    Artist 2 found us a house to stay in via a friend. So I finally slept and had a what-do-you-call-it… Shower.

    Got up…. Loaded the insane amount of gear for Artist 2 for our 4pm show. Loaded in and parked the RV 15 mins away off site. Reloaded truck and parked off site as getting in and out of Austin is insane. !!!

    Played show for myself… Borrowed a guitar.

    Played an unofficial show for Artist 1 at same venue.

    Walked around. Ate a sandwich.

    Walked around more.

    It got late …12am tried to find cab with Artist 2.

    1am tried to find cab.

    1.30am got in cab. Got out of cab as he picked up a call for a better fare.

    2am tried to find cab while starting to freeze.

    3am got in cab and drove back to RV.

    RV then drove me to airport as did I mention I was flying to Nashville that morning at 9am???

    Got 3 hours of RV sleep. Useless.

    Flew to Nashville. Passed out.

    The end.

    I would only ever go back if I had a hotel in town, and was being paid to be there. So my scenario was probably a best case scenario…and I went through all that to walk away with a couple hundred dollars. It sure was fun though.

    Katie xxx


  3. Thank you so much for the honest insight Jennifer! It really helps to have someone that tell you the things how they are. We always read your emails and learn a lot from them.
    So I just wanted to say THANKS FOR DOING THIS!! I bet you help a lot of independent artists trying to figure out what’s the best next move.

    Laura


  4. Hey Jen:

    I agree.

    For many years, I’ve been advising new artists against going unless they are being sponsored or just want a fun party where they can meet/network with other emerging artists.

    A few other exceptions: 1) If it can add to the artist’s resume for overseas exposure. SXSW is still a recognizable international brand festival, and can help pad a U.S. tour. But it still needs to be carefully routed & budgeted and/or subsidized in some way. 2) Also, if a band is based close enough to drive to SXSW and has a couch to sleep on, and is on a show where sponsors are promoting the show, then that would be an ok to give SXSW a spin.

    Mike Lane
    4 Entertainment


  5. Oh, man, you nailed it. After attending twice, my conclusion exactly. And this was 6-7 years ago.



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