5 Life Lessons My First SXSW Taught Me

The following post is the latest product of our ongoing content collaboration with Muddy Paw PR.

The one consistent piece of advice I received when researching what to expect from my first SXSW was to go with the flow, and plan for the unexpected. You will not make every showcase you plan to see, but you will end up seeing some pretty phenomenal shows by accident, etc. As it turned out, they were right. My experiences in Austin allowed me to come back reenergized and ready to take on the world. Part of that was the experiences themselves, but the other part was applying some key SXSW advice to my daily life, and to the always teetering work-life balance. So what SXSW lessons can you apply to your daily life? Well….

Flexibility is the key to happiness

As a small business owner, flexibility is one of the most important, yet difficult hurdles I’ve had to face. Being at SXSW challenged the neurotic planner that lives within me, and forced me to be ok with doing things on the fly, and not having a set schedule. The world didn’t end if I missed a showcase, and I didn’t allow myself to dwell on the “what ifs.” Instead, I chose to go with the flow and tackle what was in front of me, and what felt right. If a friend mentioned an event a few streets over and it coincided with a panel I planned to see, I quickly weighed the pros and cons of each, before going with the one that made the most sense in that moment. I didn’t spend hours or days agonizing over decisions like I might at home.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a benefit to taking your time with decisions and being responsible—we can’t always do what feels good, or we’re going to sink our careers pretty quickly and end up watching Netflix full time. But there’s something to be said about kyboshing all the back and forth agonizing over smaller tasks and just sticking to your gut. The time you save wondering if every decision you made was the right one will allow you a lot more time to focus on growth.

Make time to have a little fun

For all the years I’ve longed to go to SXSW, I’ve envisioned it as a giant networking opportunity. A chance to meet others in the business, pull in new clients, and network like there was no tomorrow. And don’t get me wrong, it’s all those things—but what I didn’t expect was that the real networking would come into play when I was having fun, hanging out with friends, and getting introduced to others under their wing. Not to mention, the more time I took to just relax and enjoy the company of the people I was with, the more positive I was, and the more I felt I was attracting the right kind of networking opportunities. Back in the “real world”, it can be easy to get sucked into a constant loop of work, with no real end in sight. By remembering to take the time you need to step away, get out of the house or office, and spend some true quality time with friends, not only will your mental health thank you, but so will your creativity.

Have an agenda—but don’t be afraid to deviate

I touched on this above, but although I believe that flexibility in your SXSW planning is key to a great experience, I also believe that you should have a strong agenda going in—otherwise it’s going to be a really expensive vacation. Is your goal to network? Great. What does that mean exactly? What’s the purpose of your networking? To book more gigs across the country? To find an investor for your business? To find new clients? Find your purpose for going and outline the steps you plan to take to make that happen. If it means setting up business meetings ahead of time, do it—and don’t wait until the day before you leave. Make a plan, and do your best to stick to it, but don’t be afraid to deviate from the plan if you feel like something else might be a better fit.

This idea of having an agenda yet not being afraid to deviate is one of the most powerful lessons I took home. In the back of your mind, you should always know your purpose—as an artist, business owner, professional, etc. Everything you do should be getting you closer to your goal, and that goal should always be kept in the back of your mind. Yet, if something you hadn’t planned or thought of comes across your path that you feel makes more sense, or will accelerate your career, don’t be afraid to explore that option.

Appreciate the little things

So many of the experiences I had at SXSW were grand in nature. Focused panel topics, well-laid out brunches, and meticulously planned showcases dotted my schedule. While all of those things were incredible, some of the most memorable moments I had happened while I was indulging in the little things, like eating breakfast tacos with friends the day before leaving, or grabbing free merch from a friend’s showcase. It was all the tiny little moments that no one talks about and most people never remember that made my experience as remarkable as it was.  Taking that philosophy home, I’m learning to take small moments and step back so that I can appreciate all the tiny little moments that make life worth living. Things like the taste of a really good scoop of ice cream. The way the spring air feels on my skin. My dog wagging his tail when he knows it’s time to go for a walk. These are the things that make life beautiful. No one ever died saying “I wish I’d worked a little harder and spent less time hanging out with loved ones.”

Get inspired

One of the most magical things about SXSW was how inspired it left me. Seeing so many friends, attending so many showcases filled to the brim with talented musicians, and seeing so many people chasing, achieving, and living their passions left me wanting to fight 10X harder for mine. It’s a simple thing: the more you surround yourself with inspired people, the more inspired you’re apt to be. After all, we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.

Coming home from Austin, I was tired, but I was also filled with hope. I was exhausted, but I was renewed with energy, passion, vision, and drive. I felt determined to continue to surround myself with as many driven and inspired people as possible, eliminating anyone who drained my energy or brought me into any mindset other than a successful one. Take this time to think hard about those you surround yourself with. Are they making you a better person? A better artist? A better business owner? Find those people that are—your people and don’t let them go.

Imagine all the things you can do when you learn to relax, have fun, and surround yourself with other inspired, passionate people. Imagine all the goals you’ll check off, and the impact you can make. It’s easy to get bogged down with the day-to-day cycles of work, but you got into this industry because you loved it, and because you felt it was your calling, right? So remember to have some fun along the way and enjoy the successes you’re given. Otherwise, what’s the point?


Angela Mastrogiacomo is the founder and CEO of Muddy Paw PR, a Boston based public relations firm specializing in personalized campaign initiatives for independent artists, as well as music blog Infectious Magazine. She is also the curator of several chapters of the music community Balanced Breakfast, which currently operates in 12 cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, Nashville, Toronto, Portland, and many other music cities. She loves hanging out with her dog, eating ice cream, and a good book. Read more at https://angelamastrogiacomo.wordpress.com/

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.