Tips of the Trade: Surviving SXSW

Wednesday, 17 Feb 2016

South By Southwest (SXSW) is a music festival like no other. Held annually in Austin, Texas, it brings together artists, industry, media and music fans from around the world. In 2015, more than 30,000 attendees saw performances from 2,200 acts over six nights, and in 2016, 35 Australian artists will be showcasing their talents.

It’s a massive event, and making it through the entire conference in one piece can be an endurance test for performers and industry alike. We asked SXSW veterans Falls, Andy Cassell, Emily York and Vanessa Picken to share their survival tips.


Falls (Melinda Kirwin and Simon Rudston-Brown)

Number of times at SXSW: We've been to SXSW twice now. The first time we played we were unsigned, unmanaged, un-everythinged. We returned the following year with a record deal, publishing deal, manager and US booking agent.

Top three tips for surviving SXSW:

1.
If you're playing, set up as quickly as you can so you can play a full set! Changeovers can be brutal and set-times are strict!

2. Play as many shows as you can! Give the agents/labels etc that want to see you as many opportunities as you can to do so. SXSW is hectic and people’s schedules are tight. Sometimes it's that tiny little show on the last day that can change your career.

3. Don't get sucked in by all the great free margaritas on the first day... try and hold out until your showcases are finished! 

Best SXSW memory: We played an acoustic set (just the two of us) on a makeshift deck in the courtyard of a pub, and just as we started our third song a metal band started sound-checking across the road. We tried to tune them out and keep on playing as if they weren't there - trying not to shift tempos to the sound of their drum check. After we finished a guy came over and asked if we had time for a drink and a chat. That was the show where we met our manager.


Andy Cassell
Manager at Winterman & Goldstein (The Preatures, Sures, Hot Spoke, Olympia) 

Number of times at SXSW: Four times since 2003.  

Top three tips for surviving SXSW:

1. Enjoy the chaos and go with the flow. Don't stress when your schedule doesn't turn out anything like you planned.
 
2. Go to a supermarket and buy a salad and a juice every now and then. Tex Mex and barbecue is awesome, but it's a case of diminishing returns especially when combined with booze and late nights.

3. Don't always try to sell whatever you're representing. Everyone is there to push something and it gets boring when people talk up their own agenda constantly. Don't print business cards! If you make a strong enough impression on people, they will easily find a way of contacting you.

Best SXSW memory: Youth Group at the Filter Party, 2007. The Hold Steady at Mohawk, 2009. The Preatures at Maggie Maes, 2014 (pictured).  


Emily York
International tour promoter at Penny Drop (Grimes, FKA Twigs, Joanna Newsom, Black Lips + more)

Number of times at SXSW: I was an intern at SXSW in 2001. Since then I have been maybe 10-11 times. Too much?

Top three tips for surviving SXSW:

1.
Accommodate yourself in a downtown location with an extremely comfortable bed.

2. Go here and here for health.

3. Wear sneakers. 

Best SXSW memory: Watching The-Dream at the Central Presbyterian Church in 2012 was definitely a stand out moment.  A very intimate and rare SXSW performance. He played last on a bill that included Fiona Apple, Grimes, Nicolas Jaar and Purity Ring, so that was a pretty special night of music. I also have fond memories of eating grilled cheese sandwiches & parmesan fries on the floor of my hotel room (pictured) one SXSW Saturday night, too exhausted to do anything else.


Vanessa Picken, Comes With Fries
Director, Digital agency

Number of times at SXSW: Six.

Top three tips for surviving SXSW:

1.
Be sociable. The best contacts I’ve met have been those that I’ve introduced myself to in the taco or bar line, in hotel lobbies waiting for meetings or generally in the queue waiting to watch the next band. It’s also the best time to connect with your Australian peers. The amount of industry I have met has largely been through The Aussie BBQ functions and shows. I know it’s a long way to go to meet a fellow Aussie, but it’s well worth it.
 
2. Be a lone ranger. Never roll in crowds. You will miss everything otherwise.
 
3. do512.com - the only Austin go-to guide you need. The best source for what’s on, where to go and the general cheat sheet to all things great in Austin. 

Best SXSW memory: That moment when you realise you just witnessed something special. Most of my memories are seeing bands for the first time in small rooms with like-minded, hungry music fans. At SXSW there are many of these moments, like seeing Chet Faker in the conference room doing three songs on a keyboard. Something that will never happen again. Just priceless. 


The team from Sounds Australia will be on the ground at SXSW 2016 providing showcasing and networking opportunities for Australian artists and industry. If you’re playing or doing business in Austin, make sure you have a profile on the Sounds Australia smartphone app – it’s a valuable promotional tool that can extend your SXSW experience and connect you with the right people.


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