Earlier this week I received a press release announcing the third wave of talent that will be appearing in Austin, Texas during the week of SXSW 2016. It was a great list that teased many potentially game-changing performances, but more importantly it reminded me just how close we are to the start of the world’s largest music festival. If you’re any better at planning than I you should have already booked a hotel, solidified showtimes, and began ordering whatever promotional items you’ll hand out up and down Sixth street, but I am willing to bet that is not the case for many young performers. So, with that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of questions every musician should ask themselves before making the trek to SXSW:
1. Do you know your travel plans and budget for the week?
Budgeting and planning a trip can be a headache, which is why many people choose to procrastinate nailing down the details of any journey until the last possible moment. If you want to make this SXSW the most successful is can possibly be you need to know your plan of attack as soon as possible. Book a flight (while you still can), lock in your lodging, and discuss amongst everyone coming with what your daily budget will be. Many events offer free food and drink, but those seeking water or actual meals will need cash in order to satiate their cravings.
Beyond budgeting financially, you will also want to begin discussing how you plan to use your time in the city of Austin. Create a calendar and fill in every event you absolutely need to attend. Once that is complete, work together with your band members and anyone else going to Austin and devise ways to promote you music and any performances you may have during the week. Assign each other tasks and brainstorm various approaches you can take to gain the public’s attention.
2. Speaking of promotion, how are you going to get the word out about your music?
There are over 1500 bands performing in Austin during the week of SXSW, and more than 90% will walk away without seeing much, if any change in their careers. We could go back and forth about the reason for this, but more often than not it boils down to how much attention the individual act is able to bring to themselves during the course of the week. If your plan for promotion is social media updates and handbills, you probably will not see a very big impact on the trajectory of your career following the festival. If, however, you begin researching innovative marketing techniques for 2014 and apply them to your efforts in Austin the sky is the limit. Creativity is key to success, and when you’re surrounded by literally thousands of creative people it takes something extra special to stand out from the herd. Do not let your art become part of the majority.
3. Are you focusing on your efforts on quality or quantity?
There are bands who believe the key to being noticed at SXSW is to play as many shows as humanly possible, but the real way to take your career to the next level is actually far simpler: Connect with the audience. Whether you play one show or ten, it only takes one person with the right connections noticing your music for your career to change overnight. Do not stress over the amount of gigs you have or the time allotted, but instead focus on delivering the highest caliber performance possible when the time comes. Remember: It only takes one person to change your world.
4. What are you doing right now to promote your time in SXSW?
The entire list of artists showcasing at official SXSW events was recently released, which means everyone with a publicist on their team is already at least one email into their promotional efforts for Austin. As an independent artist with few festival appearances under your belt, it would be a good idea to begin promoting and otherwise advertising your presence at SXSW as soon as possible. Reach out to bloggers, share your latest music and let them know if they’re coming to SXSW you would love to meet up. You don’t need to sell them right away, but you should at least make them aware of your plans. It won’t be long until publications begin compiling the ‘must-see’ bands of SXSW and with a little luck your group could make the cut. Click here for some additional tips on contacting members of the press.
5. What goals do you have for SXSW?
The worst thing you could possibly do before heading to SXSW is convince yourself that one trip to Austin will change your life forever. We’re not saying such things will not happen because they most definitely could, but the odds are incredibly stacked against you. Set achievable goals that will help you further your efforts in the long run instead of focusing on short-term success. If you want to play to 50 people, then do whatever you can to bring 50 people to your show. If you want to find a manager, order business cards and make plans to network whenever time allows.
SXSW works for those who know how to work it, and the first step to doing that is understanding you get out of your efforts what you put in. Those who do the work necessary to play at their absolute best and go out of their way to be creative with marketing are going to get further than the band with great hooks and zero following. It’s that simple.
James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also a professional entertainment critic, covering both film and music, as well as the co-founder of Antique Records. Feel free to tell him you love or hate the article above by connecting with him on Twitter. Bonus points if you introduce yourself by sharing your favorite Simpsons character.