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Musician’s SXSW South by Southwest Survival Guide 

Making the Most of Music Conferences
The Musician’s Guide to Navigating SXSW and All Other Music Conferences

Six Steps to Maximize Your Conference Experience, Make More Music-Business Contacts, and Advance Your Music Career

Over my 13 years of attending SXSW I’ve seen plenty of bands who did get a coveted showcase and not only did they not get signed, but also they did not meet any key players in the business or benefit their careers in any way by showcasing.

Reasons for this included: They received awful showcase venues and times; they were busy loading and unloading gear, babysitting band members, or getting tanked at parties to make the journey worthwhile; or they opted for their measly $100 stipend instead of for the gold: the festival pass.

Here’s my musician’s South by Southwest survival guide to get your through one of the most massive and overwhelming conferences of the year. This guide is not just for SXSW; it’s also for any music conference out there!

Part of the trick is: Show up prepared. Know who will be attending and create some goals before you get there.

I believe all musicians should attend at least one music conference per year. They are expensive to get to. Think abut it this way: Music lessons were at one time expensive, and so was your equipment and those things are also vital for your career. Conferences are the best place to meet people who work in and around the music industry and are a relaxed environment to connect with vital people in.

For those of you who do not have connections in the music industry, going to a music conference is your chance. This is an annual business trip you should never miss!

Austin, Texas, a wonderful city, and its distractions are many. But, keep in mind that this is not a vacation. It’s a work-related learning experience, and with a little planning and foresight you can have a million-dollar conference.

STEP ONE: Before You Go, Get Connected!

Get involved with some online communities that are SXSW-related.

Facebook Group:

MySpace Group:

Ning Group:

When you get there: tweet!

TIP: Use all of these sites and more social media sites to connect to individuals who may be attending as well.

LOCALS TIP: If you live in one of the towns that a conference is taking place in be helpful—offer advice on where to eat a good inexpensive meal in town, where to get an instrument repaired, find a rehearsal studio, good backline or offer up your couch and floor for a band to crash on.

SXSW site:
Use the SXSW Registrant Directory

Get registered to the South by Southwest directory and go through and determine who you may want to meet before you arrive in Austin A producer? A publicist? A manager? An agent? Drop them a personal e-mail using the amazing South by Southwest interactive tools Web site and introduce yourself. If you are playing, invite people to come to your showcase. Also post messages on the blog (and if you do blog and Twitter about it before you go!)

STEP TWO: Bring Business Cards, Fizzkicks Cards & Postcards

Go armed with business cards. If you over the age of 18, you should have a business card, especially at events like this. Your business card should not just have your name and number, but should have good information about what your band sounds like, your Myspace page, your Facebook, and links to any other places people might be able to find you online. A photo of you or a band logo would also be highly recommended.

I love Fizzkicks cards because they double as a business card and a music-download card

TIP: Put one sentence about your music (your pitch) on your card and the instrument you play. A card with a name and address is totally useless and unmemorable! Put a photo of yourself on the card or your band logo to add even more branding and recognition.

TIP: I do not recommend bringing a ton of CDs. People are overwhelmed with free CDs so it’s better to get people’s business cards and mail them a CD as a follow-up after you get home.

STEP THREE: Take Risks Introduce yourself to a stranger.

I “accidentally” met Tommy from Universal Buzz at a bar because I thought he was someone else who I was supposed to meet, and we’ve been colleagues ever since. Don’t be scared to take risks and meet people. Conferences are friendly places.

STEP FOUR: Attend Panels

It’s tempting to blow them off and hit all of the parties but you should make an effort to sit in on at least one or two panels per day, on any topic that interests you, and learn. Take notes.

STEP FIVE: Sign Up for Mentoring Sessions

Most conferences have amazing mentoring sessions where you can sign up to have one-on-one face time with the industry people that are paneling (and some of the most important people in the music business will be sitting there ready to meet with you). I never, ever would have met one of the most important editors at Rolling Stone had I not signed up.

TIP: When you do go to a one-on-one mentoring panel, be prepared to meet these people, and make sure that you have done your research and have specific questions to ask them.

STEP SIX: Follow Up!

The moment you get home, make sure to send thank you notes, e-mails and follow up with every single person that you met. If appropriate, add them to your e-mail list.

Never send your pitch or talk about business in the first initial e-mail. Get people to respond to your follow up by just being friendly.

TIP: If you do not follow up your trip and hard work will have been a waste of your time. Do not rip yourself off here!

There are plenty of other great conferences that I recommend including:

CMJ, New York City, NY

Atlantis, Atlanta, GA

Winter Music Conference, Miami, FL

Folk Alliance, Memphis, TN

Americana Music Conference, Nashville, TN

Taxi Road Rally, Los Angeles, CA

Ill be there too (to scmooze & speaking on a panel March 20 2 pm Social Networks For Anti Social)

Direct message me on Twitter and lets meet!


Reader Comments (7)


Although I believe your heart is in the right place on this I have to take issue with the idea that a band can turn up at one of these festivals and get signed. In the 17 years of going to SXSW for instance I can't say I've heard of any unsigned band getting a deal. In fact as you know, SXSW is used by the labels to showcase their already signed acts. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Also, as SXSW is just around the corner, it's worth pointing out that bands with very little money needn't buy a conference pass if they can't afford it, they should attend as many of the free, public daytime parties that they can, as folks like me who are happy to shell out free advice always attend those gatherings.

March 5 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

Take it from a veteran Austin musician - this conference is a waste of your average artist's money. SXSW is a great concept in theory, but it has been literally overrun by industry playahs hosting way too many successful acts and leaving little room for anyone to be noticed or for any significant ground-up networking to occur. That doesn't stop its promoters from inviting every Tom Dick and Harry to apply for a showcase ($25 fee thank you,) which nets them a huge financial windfall months before anyone even buys a badge. Bands should stop falling for this obvious scam. While it makes a great and often free party for fans and we lucky locals who get to take it all in, a struggling artist's money would be much better spent on producing a great record or touring than on coming to Austin for SXSW.

March 6 | Unregistered CommenterPat

I'd like to generally agree with the comments here - though my thoughts are applicable to all venues/methods of networking. Basically, if you go out with the mindset of turning a conversation into a transaction, you are in for an infinitely difficult task.

When you go to these conferences, strive to create context, NOT transactions. For example, instead of trying to get a deal done at a bar at SXSW, just create the relationship. Be a genuine human being, create genuine interest (if it's not genuine, you don't want it), and let that be your context. You then have the ability to develop that relationship AFTER the event, and eventually that relationship can lead to a transaction.

You may feel in a hurry to create a transaction, or to sign a deal quickly, but deals worth having only come through developed relationships. Therefore, make conversation and context your goals for conferences. Develop them after the conference. Let them transition into deals naturally.

Well i appreciate this initiative, indeed is a good way to keep people making more comments and to seem your blog is more active!! I believe all musicians should attend at least one music conference per year. They are expensive to get to. Think abut it this way: Music lessons were at one time expensive, and so was your equipment and those things are also vital for your career.

April 15 | Unregistered Commenterdanosongs

Well i appreciate this initiative, indeed is a good way to keep people making more comments and to seem your blog is more active!! I believe all musicians should attend at least one music conference per year. They are expensive to get to. Think abut it this way: Music lessons were at one time expensive, and so was your equipment and those things are also vital for your Fashion and Vintage career.

ALL of these music conferences are scams. They collect a great deal of money from unsigned bands through the biggest online scam Sonic Bids. They then don't listen to about 90% of the submissions. Those bands that do get picked get put into showcases that net 10 people in the audience, while major label or major hyped indie acts get all the promotion and attention. Music Conferences, Songwriting Contests, Sonic Bids, Radio Promoters and Publicits who charge less 10 gs for their services are all scams! Musicians need to save their money start touring and building a fan base and the real industry movers and shakers will find you.

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