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How to Get Into SXSW

A while I ago, I wrote an article called “How to Book SXSW and Is It Worth It?”

Now that the application window for SXSW is open again, I think it’s time to revisit some of these concepts. First of all, if you read the previous article, you’ll know that I spend a lot of time discussing the appropriateness of your act applying for the festival. The committee that reviews applications looks at multiple factors to see if you are at an industry level worthy of the event. If not, you’ll be rejected fairly early in the process. If you are ready though, here’s what you can do to prepare:

  • Tour as much as possible: SXSW looks for acts that have a strong following in multiple regions. They look for artists that play primarily outside of their hometown and play at least 100 shows per year. In fact, two of the primary questions on the application include: number of shows played last year and number of shows played outside of your hometown.
  • Create something buzzworthy: In addition to bands who play often, they’re looking for bands who have gotten some industry buzz: press mentions, radio play, licensing, recommendations from people in the music industry, etc. How do you stand out in a sea of applicants? Understand your unique, niche market.
  • Get a team: The very first questions asked on the SXSW application include listing your management company, booking agent, publicist, and record label. While you don’t need every one of these, it does help to have more people on board. First, it shows that other people believe in your music. Second, each of these companies have the opportunity to request your act on their showcase (which in turn not only strengthens your application but also increases the odds that you’ll be put on their showcase). Other companies include music-related entities such as Sonicbids, ASCAP, BMI and sponsors such as Levis and Gibson guitars. If you don’t have a high-profile booking agency, then try creating a sponsor/partnership with people funding the event. You better believe that they have some sway.
  • Strengthen your Sonicbids profile: Sonicbids is the only way for you to directly apply. Make sure your Sonicbids EPK is complete and stands out. Learn how to get gigs on Sonicbids. Do you ever see profiles on there with a “X number of gigs booked badge” on their Sonicbids EPK? That little symbol works wonders because it tells promoters that this is a serious artists that 25, 50, or 100+ believed in enough to book. It is one more thing that sets you apart. If you don’t have a complete EPK, don’t even bother.
  • Open for headliners: Another question that SXSW wants answered is who you’ve played with. They want to know that you are actively playing with acts on the rise (or who are strong headliners themselves). Get on the radar of your local promoters to get more slots opening for heavy hitters. But don’t pay to get on the show - that’s never worth it. Here are some tips on how to get the opening slot for a major band.
  • How will you promote?: The application will ask how you will promote. This is a chance to let your marketing and creative finesse shine. Don’t just say email list and social media – that is obvious. Everyone will do that. Instead, throw out some creative ideas on how you can create some new buzz for SXSW, maybe things that they haven’t seen before. Sure, contests, email blasts, and viral videos help but explain why your idea is different and better. If you have a publicist, be sure to list them. If you don’t, you should probably get one.

This advice is from someone who has not only played SXSW (my band headlined a showcase there and played several industry parties over the years), but who has talked directly with members of the SXSW committee about the process itself.

SXSW can be great for bragging rights and industry exposure but you should understand that despite the hype, it isn’t for everyone. With over 1,500 official showcasing acts and nearly 3,000 other artists showcasing concurrently, the odds are against you if you’re hoping to walk away with a major record label deal or a new top level manager. What you will learn, however, is that the the artists who stand out and have a unique niche stand out more than anyone else. That’s true on tour, during the application process for SXSW, and especially true at the festival itself.


Simon Tam is owner of Last Stop Booking and author of How to Get Sponsorships and Endorsements. Simon’s writing on music and marketing can be found at He is on Twitter @SimonTheTam 

Reader Comments (1)

Great information! We (artists) should be thinking out of the box at all times, especially for this event that could lead to amazing exposure!

August 7 | Unregistered Commentermokkaluv

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