How to Book SXSW and Is It Worth It?

3 Nov

This week, I’ve been flooded with questions about SXSW. It’s probably because the deadline for submitting is this week. So it is worth playing one of the most talked about industry festivals in the world? How do you get your band in? Let’s go over some tips in the most artist friendly way: straight up without all of the bull.

Should My Band Play SXSW?

The answer really depends on what you’re going there for and if it makes sense for the overall strategy of the band. No matter what, you’ll need a plan and have realistic expectations for the event (this goes for anything that you do). If you are going to play a showcase in hopes of landing a record deal, working with a manager or booking agency, or getting some press then you’ll need to pre-plan appointments (and also do a lot of promoting for your show). You can’t expect the president of Sony Music to just “wander” into your showcase. Plan to utitlize the conference center and panels to network whenever you are not playing to make the most of it.

If you are going because you want to make more fans, then this probably isn’t the best investment of your time and money. Let’s face it, there are over 2,000 other artists performing in a few days at ever venue in the city. You’d be better off touring and playing when there is less competition.

I Want to Work! So How Do I Book My Band at SXSW?!

SXSW will accept your band’s submission through Sonicbids. It costs some money. Many apply but few are selected. You can increase your odds of being selected if you’re working with an organization that has a showcase approved there (label, booking agency, distribution, sponsor, etc.) but that’s no guarantee. The more people that put your name on their showcase application, the better your odds.

What they’re looking for: The SXSW committee is going to be looking for up and coming national acts that stand out from the crowd. Not only do you need to have some decent music, but they’re looking for people who are busy (artists that are performing at least 100+ shows per year and who have a full touring calender up on the website). You should also have a target audience that you are tapping into, preferably one that is a-typical. You should be getting plenty of press (remember how I recommended you get a publicist? That helps a lot). It helps if you have a solid press kit with plenty to brag about, great press photos, a music video getting plenty of hits, and something that will make the event special (as opposed to just being another standard music festival).

Here’s another thought about it: the earlier you submit, the better. Early candidates for a job get their resume reviewed more carefully and compared against future applicants. It’s the same here, submitting earlier helps you stand out more (it also costs less). Something to think about next year when they open it up again.

Final Thoughts

Applying for SXSW is like doing anything else with your music: it should align with your goals, budget, and strategy. If you are applying for a major festival, slot on a record label’s roster, or to get licensing, it should be done strategically with the target audience in mind. Be as specific as possible and cater to their point of view.

Do you like being blasted with random services on the internet that make big promises but you know won’t deliver? Examples that come to mind: “We’ll guarantee to add 10,000 friends on Myspace”; “we promise to get your record in front of 500 A & R bigwigs,” “enter this Battle of the Bands!” Of course not. You know its the same generic sales pitch they send to everyone.

Learn your lesson from them. When you pitch your act to SXSW or to anyone else, take a careful, decisive approach. Think about their customer base and how you fill their needs. Don’t use the same approach on everyone. It’s better to take the extra time and make a focused approached to a few than a half-hearted effort to many.

Finally, remember that there are countless parties and other festivals taking place in Austin that weekend. If you’re going, make the most of it by networking and meeting other bands/industry people/etc. If you don’t get in SXSW this year, you can always play one of the other events in the area and still set up appointments with key people!

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26 Responses to “How to Book SXSW and Is It Worth It?”

  1. Jenni Price November 3, 2010 at 5:18 pm #

    this was very helpful not sure we would apply this year as we dont have a publicist any ideas on that one?? :) thanks for your advice I really appreciate it!

    • laststopbooking November 3, 2010 at 10:44 pm #

      Having a publicist doesn’t guarantee a spot but certainly helps, as they’re looking for acts that have a great buzz about them (and that’s largely due to the efforts of a publicist). As part of the application, they ask who your record label, manager, and booking agency are as well. All of these things help to get in…but more than anything else, help you to have a good functioning team that will move your career ahead.

      • ryanrockzzz May 1, 2013 at 5:15 am #

        Great article! here’s some tips I have about SXSW
        1.) First, play as many independent SXSW showcases as you can also, such as the Texas Rockfest. They are often better, and easier to get into.
        2.) Know your genre. A lot of the bands they want are indie/acoustic. Not as many hard rock or metal bands.
        3.) Tour on the way back to maximize the trip. Also, don’t tour on the way down. If something goes wrong, you can’t make the event, you just wasted a bunch of money.
        4.0) Bring at least 2-3,000 little download cards. Spend all the time your not playing handing them out. We did that and ended up having 3 industry people come to a show we were doing, along with getting a bunch more fans from that area.

  2. antonio July 31, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

    hmmm… say everyone you show your sounds to really digs the product and praises it’s uniqueness. i would imagine this would be the case most of the time and that having a publicist and promoter is just some added bonus to being in a group, but shouldn’t an aspiring artist feel comfortable enough just relying on the quality of the jams?

    • Simon Tam July 31, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

      It’s a different world out there. When you have 15,000 acts applying for approx. 300 slots, promoters can’t just leave it to quality songs…most of the people they reject have great music but they need something more industry worthy: an act that has momentum, is buzz worthy, and can rock the business end of things.

  3. Renzo January 15, 2013 at 4:47 am #

    You can’t get into the conference center unless you have a badge right? Should bands get a $700 badge to do proper networking?

    • Simon Tam January 15, 2013 at 7:03 am #

      That’s correct, you need a badge. Personally, I do’t think it’s worth $500 (the discounted price) or $700 to go to a mixer full of thousands of musicians and a few panelists in hopes of networking. The money could be better spent elsewhere – and there are better networking opportunities.

  4. Hermine April 22, 2014 at 3:54 pm #

    Do you have any video of that? I’d love to find out some additional information.

    • Simon Tam April 22, 2014 at 8:33 pm #

      A video of which part of this article?

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