This is the time of year where many artists many artists are starting to get their SXSW rejection letters. It’s also the time of year where you’ll see many contests on Sonicbids, ReverbNation, and other sites that try to have you have your fans vote your way into a slot at the festival. However, eager artists who want to break into the music industry will begin finding other ways to a part of the action and that includes unofficial SXSW showcases or other festivals taking place in Austin at the same time. Before you jump at any of these opportunities, you better educate yourself.
The 5 Things You Need to About Unofficial SXSW Showcases
- They will not give you “industry” respect: If you’re heading to SXSW to try and get some music industry credentials but don’t you’re not on the SXSW roster, make you understand that you will not be seen as a SXSW act. There are many shows happening during SXSW week but almost all of them are “pay to play” events and for better or worse, you’ll be viewed as a “buy on” act.
- Most “other” festivals will charge you $100-$1,500 for the show: Prices to play other festivals start at $100 for a 30 minute set playing and less than an adequate backline setup. The better the location or time slot, the more expensive the show. You’ll only get a quick line check and if you take a long time, it will cut into your set.
- But They’re Usually Free to the Public: Unlike SXSW shows, the nice thing about the unofficial parties is that a SXSW wristband isn’t required to get in. However, it doesn’t mean that people will walk in. You’ll still have to promote your set if you want someone to show up.
- There’s no Parking: If you’re not playing SXSW, you won’t get a temporary parking permit so you can park/unload gear. Just a heads up: parking in downtown Austin during the week of the festival is a nightmare. You’ll either have to pile into taxi’s, walk, or have someone else drop you off and park a bit away.
- Playing These Festivals Will Not Get You SXSW Access: You will not be allowed into SXSW’s shows nor the industry panels at the convention center unless you buy a badge.
I’ve written about this before in How to Book SXSW and Is It Worth It? but I think it’s important for bands to have a plan before they jump at the offers thrown at them for SXSW. Start by thinking about:
What is your goal? If it’s to build an audience in Austin, you might be better off touring there when there isn’t so much competition and it doesn’t cost you money to play there. If you want to get on the radar of people at SXSW, playing secondary festivals won’t get you there.
What is the Opportunity Cost? Could you be spending your time/money in other ways that would bring a better return on investment for your band? For example, a well-promoted tour with shows. You can still make industry connections and set up appointments while you’re on the road (and while those people are not being bombarded with meeting requests/party invites like they would at SXSW).
How Will You Benefit in the Long Run? I’ve seen many, many empty venues at SXSW (both official showcases as well as some of the concurrent festivals) and I have to wonder if it was worth it for those acts. Touring isn’t cheap and with nearly every hotel in the city charging premium rates, it is definitely the most expensive time to be in Austin.
Can You Do It Better? With the rates some of these festivals are charging, you could very well rent out your own venue and split the costs with other bands, promoting your own show. Many SXSW acts look for other parties/shows to play so you can probably get some well-known touring acts to headline the show too. You might also be able to offset costs with sponsors/promoters. Get creative!
Not all of these festivals/shows are a scam (though some genuinely are). Some of these shows are actually a lot of fun and you can make some new friends. However, don’t get your hopes up thinking that you’ll be able to buy your way to success by playing any of them.
Simon Tam is the President and Founder of Last Stop Booking, author of How to Get Sponsorships and Endorsements, and performs in dance rock band The Slants. Simon’s writing on music and marketing can be found at www.laststopbooking.com. He is on Twitter @SimonTheTam