SXSW has grown from a unique music festival in Austin, Texas featuring indie artists to a terrain of events with so much happening that being heard over the noise is increasingly difficult. Unless you're an up-and-coming act with a lot of buzz that geographically scattered members of the music/media industry have not yet had the opportunity to hear live, the likelihood that SXSW can take a band to the next level is increasingly slim. I'm not saying you shouldn't go; but rather I'm advocating that you also consider the unofficial guerilla route.
I last attended events at SXSW in 2003. By that point the Film and Interactive festivals were in place. Yet, though celebrity appearances were minimal and marketers had yet to overrun the scene, the idea of doing unofficial events and marketing felt more attractive to me than being part of the official schedule.
Those in Austin and those with friends there will have an easier time of managing logistics and spreading the word as will bands who have previously attended and know the lay of the land. That said, one's extended social network built on and offline means that one can begin publicizing unofficial activities before showing up in Austin.
In addition, a growing number of websites include news of unofficial events at SXSW including parties.
If you have something unofficial planned or want to identify an unofficial event that might let you participate, here are some resources:
- Facebook: Unofficial SXSW Guide & Unofficial SXSW 2011 Events & Parties (now revving up for 2012)
- Last year Sched.org handed out party maps with both official and unofficial venues. Don't know if they'll be doing that this year but they are working on a 2012 schedule.
- austin360.com runs a SXSW Side Parties Database including both official and unofficial parties though they don't seem to have a page up for 2012 at this point.
- The Austin Chronicle has an Unofficial Party Crawl listing.
As you'll see if you do a related search, these examples just scratch the surface. However, the fact that unofficial events are now so well established raises the possibility that you might have to take an alternate route to succeed.
Here are some possibilities for alternative unofficial events:
- Stage a guerilla action inside a venue during an official or unofficial event. Getting thrown out may be a plus for possible media coverage and word of mouth.
- Connect with networks and venues unrelated to music such as associations of retirees or events at public schools. If you're unknown but know what's up, you can get more press out of a radically different venue than out of an official setting.
- A wide variety of tech companies launch communication products at SXSW. Even if you can't establish a relationship with such companies, you may be able to use their product in a unique way that leverages their publicity efforts.
Again, these ideas simply scratch the surface of the possibilities. Remember, if you're going unofficial or taking an alternate route, you have to stop thinking in terms of the obvious and connect the dots in a way that others aren't. If you're not good at that, find someone who is. Creative thinkers love to brainstorm about such things especially if they might be manifest in the real world.
Feel free to share your insights into music marketing at SXSW Unofficial or your own plans for so doing in the comments.
Hypebot Features Writer Clyde Smith maintains his freelance writing hub at Flux Research and music industry resources at Music Biz Blogs. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.