5 Things You Need to Know About Unofficial SXSW Showcases

This is the time of year where many artists many artists are starting to get their SXSW rejection letters. It’s also the time of year where you’ll see many contests on Sonicbids, ReverbNation, and other sites that try to have you have your fans vote your way into a slot at the festival. However, eager artists who want to break into the music industry will begin finding other ways to a part of the action and that includes unofficial SXSW showcases or other festivals taking place in Austin at the same time. Before you jump at any of these opportunities, you better educate yourself.

The 5 Things You Need to About Unofficial SXSW Showcases

  1. They will not give you “industry” respect: If you’re heading to SXSW to try and get some music industry credentials but don’t you’re not on the SXSW roster, make you understand that you will not be seen as a SXSW act. There are many shows happening during SXSW week but almost all of them are “pay to play” events and for better or worse, you’ll be viewed as a “buy on” act.
  2. Most “other” festivals will charge you $100-$1,500 for the show: Prices to play other festivals start at $100 for a 30 minute set playing and less than an adequate backline setup. The better the location or time slot, the more expensive the show. You’ll only get a quick line check and if you take a long time, it will cut into your set.
  3. But They’re Usually Free to the Public: Unlike SXSW shows, the nice thing about the unofficial parties is that a SXSW wristband isn’t required to get in. However, it doesn’t mean that people will walk in. You’ll still have to promote your set if you want someone to show up.
  4. There’s no Parking: If you’re not playing SXSW, you won’t get a temporary parking permit so you can park/unload gear. Just a heads up: parking in downtown Austin during the week of the festival is a nightmare. You’ll either have to pile into taxi’s, walk, or have someone else drop you off and park a bit away.
  5. Playing These Festivals Will Not Get You SXSW Access: You will not be allowed into SXSW’s shows nor the industry panels at the convention center unless you buy a badge.

I’ve written about this before in How to Book SXSW and Is It Worth It? but I think it’s important for bands to have a plan before they jump at the offers thrown at them for SXSW. Start by thinking about:

What is your goal? If it’s to build an audience in Austin, you might be better off touring there when there isn’t so much competition and  it doesn’t cost you money to play there. If you want to get on the radar of people at SXSW, playing secondary festivals won’t get you there.

What is the Opportunity Cost? Could you be spending your time/money in other ways that would bring a better return on investment for your band? For example, a well-promoted tour with shows. You can still make industry connections and set up appointments while you’re on the road (and while those people are not being bombarded with meeting requests/party invites like they would at SXSW).

How Will You Benefit in the Long Run? I’ve seen many, many empty venues at SXSW (both official showcases as well as some of the concurrent festivals) and I have to wonder if it was worth it for those acts. Touring isn’t cheap and with nearly every hotel in the city charging premium rates, it is definitely the most expensive time to be in Austin.

Can You Do It Better? With the rates some of these festivals are charging, you could very well rent out your own venue and split the costs with other bands, promoting your own show. Many SXSW acts look for other parties/shows to play so you can probably get some well-known touring acts to headline the show too. You might also be able to offset costs with sponsors/promoters. Get creative!

Not all of these festivals/shows are a scam (though some genuinely are). Some of these shows are actually a lot of fun and you can make some new friends. However, don’t get your hopes up thinking that you’ll be able to buy your way to success by playing any of them.

22 Comments

  1. Your Mom says:

    Reading this article was easily the biggest waste of my time ever.

    • Simon Tam says:

      Good to know that you stand behind your opinion so much that you use an anonymous name and email address, lol. If your time is so valuable, why waste in in typing a comment?

  2. Michele says:

    Dude, your mom’s mean. Anyway, these are definitely questions and insights bands should consider before making their unofficial SXSW debut. Your blog is a great resource for information!

  3. Pirate Phil says:

    I don’t know who the hell you think you are but I am telling you right now you have no right to tage or include The Texas Rock Festival in this lame article. I have been attending SXSW from the very first one in 1987. My bands have show cased officially many times and have won Austin Music Awards. The Texas Rock Fest has been running for 15 years along side SXSW and is NOT a “pop up mini tent festival.” My band got a gig on NBC Late Night TV from contacts we made performing at The Texas Rock Festival in 2003. I suggest you get your facts straight and remove The Texas Rock Fest from your tags before standing on your soap box. And no jerk, I do not work them.
    Pirate Phil Nitch

    • Simon Tam says:

      Hi Pirate Phil,

      I have a right to tag whatever I’d like to think is appropriate that I want. As for Texas Rock Fest, they are an unofficial festival centered in Austin at the same time as SXSW (just like Red Guerrilla, 1080, and many others). The reality is that the majority of acts don’t get any respect, new fans, or connections from doing pay-to-play showcases…just like they don’t get any of those things for doing SXSW either unless they already have a buzz about them, are doing the right things, etc. (as mentioned in several dozen articles on here). I’m glad you had a great experience and got something from it – unfortunately, the majority of acts out there who buy onto tours, pay lots of money to play festivals like that, and try to buy their way into the industry don’t share those same successes. That’s simply reality, soap box or not.

    • Simon Tam says:

      Also, you might want to take a second look at the piece. Nothing I said in it was wrong and I did emphasize that “Not all of these festivals/shows are a scam (though some genuinely are). Some of these shows are actually a lot of fun and you can make some new friends.”

      Anyway, like I said, glad you had a great experience with them. I have nothing to complain about TXR, I’ve played it a few times myself – but acts need to go into it with a realistic expectation of what it actually is.

      • Pirate Phil says:

        Well said Simon. I just wish you would clarify that Texas Rock Fest is completely different from the others you mentioned. If you have played it then you know Adam Brewer. There is not a better, harder working or more dedicated independent promoter in the whole State of Texas. He deserves a lot more respect than he gets, especially when he has had to do battle to keep his festival going with the “official” festival agents. Anyway maybe we’ll see you this year. My band is The Jolly GaRogers. Cheers.

      • Simon Tam says:

        I have no beef with Adam, I know he works hard and it’s a hard operation. I will agree that TXR is different in that it is substantially less expensive to play than Red Guerilla or some of the other opps there.

  4. Rick says:

    More jabs at the Texas Rockfest, what a suprise. Just for your information, my band Meyvn played Rockfest 4 years in a row, never once paid to play, were treated extremely well by the organizers and as a result of our exposure got signed, released our album worldwide and in 2006 we were playing as Progpower Europe. All of this without ever getting even the slightest sniff from an official sxsw event. Kudos to Adam Brewer and Rockfest.

    • Simon Tam says:

      Again, I’m happy for those who have had a positive experience, I’ve worked with acts who have had both good and bad ones with Texas Rock Fest, Ref Guerilla, and the other festivals that come up during SXSW. One act I worked with had to pay $700 for their 30 minute slot – but since the sound guy wasn’t ready, that set got shortened to one 5 minute song. No refunds, no additional time to play. Another act I booked there in the past paid $100 for their 30 minute set but the staff didn’t open the venue so they had to play for an empty room upstairs while the downstairs/entrance was closed off to the public. Like I said, there’s good and bad but that’s how many of these things go.

  5. Pirate Phil says:

    One last question Simon – Are you actually saying that SXSW itself is NOT a pay to play festival ??? Think about the expenses a band encures (especially if they are from out of state or country) if they are “chosen” to play an official showcase.

    • Simon Tam says:

      My detailed article on “How to Book SXSW and is it worth it?” (also linked to in this article) answers that.

      SXSW isn’t “pay to play” since they do pay bands to perform there, they don’t charge you money to play a set (like most of the other festivals in the area do). You get a set guarantee, a parking pass, etc. so it’s different in that regard. SCSW does have the upper-hand in extending an official badge to get into other showcases and to enter the convention center for panels, networking, etc. However, most bands who go there have an unrealistic expectation of what it can do for a career – just like playing many of the festivals in Austin that week. Without the hard work, industry buzz, and momentum for a show, any showcase in Austin during SXSW can be an expensive one without a justifiable return on investment. That being said, any effort, especially out of town show, could be argued a “pay to play” one if going by your definition (excessive expenditures) as opposed to the traditionally held definition of paying to be able to play a set.

  6. adam brewer says:

    social justice? Put down the cosmo and read between the lines junior.
    You are treading in waters with a total lack of knowledge of your subject. There is a reason my stages are so magnificent, there is a reason I have not and will not retreat. Come and take it. Come by and interview every single band that plays on my stages this year and I will pay you $1,000 for each band that complains. i run a tight ship out of love not out of greed. waste your time on the banana boys and the thousands of others – I started the movement, the rest just smelled money. Rockfest is how I tithe, you would have to be a madman to continue to do what i do under increasingly difficult conditions, oh and still keep it free.

    • Simon Tam says:

      Adam – there’s no need to be over-sensitive here. I’ve played 6 Texas Rockfest shows over the years with various acts, including your most expensive,”magnificent” stage, and have booked 18 bands there over the past 5 years. I’ve had people give both positive and negative experiences there. I have no qualms about sending acts to the festival so long as they have a full understanding and realistic expectation of what it is.

      Again, the article doesn’t say anything about Texas Rockfest. It’s simply a critique of the general advantages and disadvantages of playing non-official SXSW showcases. What I said was true – it is about opportunity cost, requires careful planning, and a realistic assessment. If you notice, the last half of this questions playing SXSW at all without those things in place first.

      I didn’t question the requirement for charging bands to play, I simply said that playing those stages typically cost money. The the better the location or time slot, the more expensive the set, and only provide a quick line check – you don’t even deny these things. I didn’t say it was morally wrong to charge or cover expenses, I don’t even recommend against playing the festival. I simply argue that bands need to have that knowledge in advance so that they know what they’re getting into.

      • You should read your own article again, Simon. Your post is clearly geared towards warning folks from playing an unofficial showcase. Why can’t you admit that? You got a fair point. However, to connect the Texas Rockfest with the likes of the out-of-town enterprises like Red Gorilla, etc… is utter bullshit. That’s way beyond being overly sensitive. Texas Rockfest is run locally, on a personal one-on-one communication, and they actually take pride in their acts and promote them! Tagging them was really unnecessary. Also, I would like to learn more of how SXSW is paying their acts?? http://www.forbes.com/sites/zackomalleygreenburg/2013/03/18/why-most-acts-dont-get-paid-at-south-by-southwest/
        My band will be playing Texas Rockfest this year, so come and check it out! Ulrich Ellison and Tribe

      • Simon Tam says:

        Hi,

        My post was to warn people from playing unofficial showcases without knowing what they’re getting into. It has both positive and negative things to say about them, just like my criticism with official SXSW showcases as well.

        Ironic that all of this traffic is coming into an old article posted over year ago because of people upset that I tagged Texas Rock Fest, but didn’t mention it. I tagged multiple other festivals as well, including 1080 and FXFW – both of which are also Austin-based (in fact, festivals such as FXFW and TXYW are two examples of local, unofficial festivals that don’t charge bands to play). No one denied any of the information I presented at all because it’s all true, even for the best of the nonofficial shows.

        But as I mentioned multiple times, I have no qualms with any of these festivals. I’ve played all of them myself, including SXSW, and have recommended Texas Rock Fest, etc. as options for dozens of bands. I just do so after explaining both the good and the bad. The article didn’t show the truth until the update at the end – most artists have opted to not get paid (which again, I’ve explained numerous times in my posts about SXSW). However, starting in 2014, all artists get access to the convention and get paid – neither of which are things that Texas Rockfest, Red Guerilla, or any of the other nonofficial showcases can boat about.

  7. Rev Jim says:

    OK, let me start off saying I’m using a pseudonym because that’s the name I write under, not due to any desire to hide. I write part time for the on line ‘zine Rank and Revue and a website dedicated to radio issues that I helped start up a few years ago. So I’m not a musician and have no personal experiences of being booked by Texas Rockfest or any other festival. But I’ve been around the Austin music scene since 1975 and have watched SXSW develop, or devolve, since year one. And I’ve known Adam Brewer for some years now after being introduced by artists who were booked at Rockfest. And to tag him in such an article as this is just plain wrong. I heard about this story second hand a few days ago and dropped in to see just what it was about, my main takeaway is that I have no idea what the actual purpose of this bit really is. If the intent was to advise bands that they should be careful who they book shows with you could have ended after the first paragraph and the sentence ” Before you jump at any of these opportunities, you better educate yourself. “. You do have this addressed to adult professionals, right ? Everything after that sentence seems to be personal opinion about the value of non-SXSW shows and/or information that is already out there for anybody who cares to check. You’re entitled to your opinions but if you are going to publish them you need to back them up with some facts, some links to corroborating evidence.As to the existing issues such as parking, if these acts haven’t figured out the need to look into such things then I doubt they are ready for the giant,bloated schmooze fest that is SXSW. if it weren’t for the irresponsible tags at the end then this would be just another silly piece of fluff that no one pays attention to.But as the artists on this thread have all said, Adam is a hard working honest promoter who does this for the love of live music, a true rarity in an industry full of bozos.You have said in comments above that you have no particular beef with Adam and that you’ve known of acts who have both good and bad experiences. But if you have all the industry experience that you claim, and I have no reason to doubt it, then you know that happens with every promoter or booking agent, sometimes shit just happens.But that is not cause to cast doubt on Adam or his festival by adding him to a list of tags on a story warning bands of possible rip offs. I know this bit is a year old now, and the horse is out of the barn. But I think your words saying that there was no intent to slime Texas Rockfest ring hollow until you come out with a statement saying it was a mistake to include their name, and if possible remove that tag from the list. Sorry to get so wordy but hey you’re attacking a friend to me and a friend to Austin music.

    • Simon Tam says:

      Hi Rev Jim,

      It surprises me how many people are jumping on this old post over SEO tags. As I mentioned to Adam and a few other places here, that tags are simply because each of the festivals listed are non-official SXSW showcases. As such, many of the various characteristics apply. And yes, while I do write this blog to help aspiring artists, some are more experience/aware than others. I can’t tell you how many artists I’ve come across who claim to be launching a SXSW tour when they aren’t actually playing SXSW, but rather one of the many festivals in the area. Many also don’t realize the logistics of dealing with closed streets without an official parking pass, back-line issues, the costs involved, etc.

      A tag is not a an attack, it’s simply to demonstrate relevance and to group together like-articles.

  8. Rev Jim says:

    Well Simon, I don’t personally know you so its hard to judge intentions. but you say it wasn’t meant as an attack and I’m not going to question your integrity. But I think I can guess the reasons you’re getting so many responses to an old post. First, I don’t think it came to anybodies attention here until this past week, I have no idea who spotted it first, I read a mention of it on Facebook. Second, you have people coming to Adam’s defense because of the reasons stated above, he’s widely recognized as a straight shooter, someone who puts his heart into his work and above all is honest. He tries to put on good shows for all involved, for both the audience and the artists.Sure, things occasionally happen but that’s the nature of the game. And finally you may have got caught up in something you meant no part of, that being the on-going issues between the SXSW promoters and the non-affiliated shows.And that gets pretty nasty. In fact, when I first heard of this I figured the source was probably someone from the SXSW cheerleading section, the Austin Chronicle or maybe KUTX-FM. SXSW brings a gazillion dollars into Austin and that’s a good thing, But there are some folks who seem to think that Austin’s clubs, roads, airwaves and entire music scene belong to SXSW and SXSW alone during March.Their arrogance about anybody not paying homage to their agenda is pretty hard for those of us who support the scene the rest of the year to put up with. So when someone comes along and is making warnings about non-affiliated shows alarms tend to go off. All in all I appreciate your responses, hope you understand our feelings down here in the matter.

    • Simon Tam says:

      No worries, always happy to help. I don’t work for SXSW and I can understand the bad blood between the organization/various other events, especially when it comes to branding or confusion. This year, there have been many more misleading events that have ripped artists off so I’m sure that’s been making SXSW put more pressure on festivals, parties, events not officially affiliated as well.

      I figured the rise in comments, etc. stemmed from some kind of social media post, especially because they all came from a specific POV. I’m always open to difference of opinion, even if intentions or arguments get misunderstood. These things happen and all I can do is try to clarify my point/give space for others to share their experiences as well.

  9. adam brewer says:

    go fuck yourself simon – you epitomize everything wrong with new media…JOURNALISM – look it up you wannabe.

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