How to Book SXSW and Is It Worth It?

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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