What’s The Point Of SXSW, Music Conferences? [Ari Herstand]
Coming on the heels of another busy SXSW, Ari Herstand here explains the value of participating attending and participating in major music industry conferences and conventions, and how to most effectively capitalize on such events once you're there.
Guest post written by Ari Herstand and originally appearing on Ari's Take
I’m still about 300 emails behind from what I missed at SXSW.
I completely forgot to turn on the vacation responder when I left. Only a couple people freaked out at my delay. When I'm at a music conference it's impossible to keep up with any work not pertaining directly to the conference.
This is probably a good time to remind you that if someone doesn’t respond to your email right away it doesn’t mean they hate you. It means they couldn’t get to your email in this moment. Oh, and don't email anyone in the industry during big music conferences and festivals.
The key to this industry is polite persistence.
Follow up! I recommend waiting a week after the first email. Then 5 days. Then 3 days. Then daily. Keep it friendly and polite. Keep going until you get a response.
This was my 4th year in a row at SXSW. I was down at the festival in 2007 playing a couple shitty unofficial showcases that did absolutely nothing for my career, but that was mostly because I didn’t know how to leverage the experience and didn’t have an artist wristband or badge.
There are right ways and wrong ways to do SXSW. More on this in a minute.
The past 4 years have been different. This year, I spoke on a panel about management, interviewed VÉRITÉ at the AWAL house, performed the Boomfantasy Showcase of Dreams presented by DistroKid, did a book signing (the book store sold out of all 50 books they had on hand!) and had an Ari’s Take meet up.
SXSW is unlike every other music festival. Because it’s not really what you think of when you think music festival. It’s nothing like Cochella, Lollapalooza, Bonoroo or any of those Camp festivals. In the book I call festivals like SXSW, Street festivals. If you’ve never been, well, it’s 1 part conference and 300 parts music.
Most bands who come down play as many possible showcases as they can in a 4-5 day span. I've seen artists bang out 10 shows in 4 days. Some showcases are official (officially sanctioned by SXSW and some are unofficial – just playing in another venue not officially sanctioned).
Since everyone in the music industry is down there during this time, you should play as many shows as you can and invite everyone to every one and hope they get out to one. This festival isn't as much about winning new fans as it is about making connections for your career.
If your goal is to get an agent or a manager or a label. Well, all these people are down there. So identify the actual people (like, their names) who you want. And make sure they get out to at least one of your shows. This is the research that goes into your preparation.
The convention center is where the conference portion of the festival happens.
Every day from 10am – 6pm or so tons and tons of panels and speakers talking about the biz of music. This year I only had time to hit one session other than my own. It was an Instagram employee discussing how musicians can build and leverage their Instagram accounts.
I was a bit disappointed with the session because she was mostly highlighting how superstars are using Instagram and she seemed pretty clueless as to how artists actually grow their accounts within Instagram (like all the incredible Instagram musicians that @Pickup_ and @pickupjazz feature). I would consider myself an Instagram super user and nothing she discussed was news to me. I think she was gearing her talk towards beginning users.
She mentioned that all Business accounts now have the swipe up (link) feature in Stories. However, last I heard it was only for accounts that are verified or have at least 10,000 followers. So I asked the question during the Q&A. She assured me it was all business accounts. But my instagram isn’t verified and has just over 6,000 followers and I don’t have it. So I went up to her afterwards and asked her about it. She gave me her private Instagram account and told me to DM her when she was back in the office.
This is the best part about the sessions. There are tons of amazing people at the conference portion. The movers and shakers of the industry. Yes you can learn extremely valuable information from (some) of the panels and sessions, but whether you walk away with great info or not, always always always go up to the speakers after the sessionand get their business card or contact info. If they will take yours, give them yours.
I spoke with an artist friend of mine who went to a panel on playlisting at a different conference last year. After the session, she went up to the person who curated a few official Spotify playlists. She handed the curator a napkin with her artist name and song title listed on it and said it would fit the playlists she curated (because the curator discussed them during the panel) and the following week her song was included in the playlist with millions of followers – to date she now has 6M streams on that 1 song.All thanks to being proactive at a music conference.
This is exactly how I got my song played on NPR’s All Songs Considered to 14 million people.
But SXSW (or "SouthBy") is so much more than the conference. There is music EVERYWHERE. Every bar, restaurant, cafe, bookstore, there is live music. You can’t walk down the street without hearing bands blasting out of every crevasse.
The first day there I was able to catch one of my favorite bands out today, Lawrence. I’ve caught nearly every one of their LA performances and saw them at Bonnaroo and SXSW the past couple years. I’ve gotten to know their incredible manager BJ Olin over the past year or so. This year at Lawrence's set at the StubHub sponsored show, we were dancing, drinking and singing along. It was at a BBQ joint so there was free Brats. Major plus. A couple nights later my manager friend Andrew and I ran into him at another bar and we started talking about Lawrence’s upcoming tour. He said he just locked in an East Coast opener and I asked who he had for LA. He said he was still working on it and I told him that my new funk project would love to do it, and, of course, would pull a crowd. He told us to send him the record. So on Monday Andrew sent him the record and on Tuesday I heard that we got the opening slot! For the Teragram Ballroom – which is a 700 cap venue!
If you’re into funk/soul/R&B and in LA you’re not going to want to miss this show. And you’ll get to see my new band, Brassroots District, first show! The show will sellout and tickets are pretty cheap. Join us!
But anyway! Back to SXSW….
If you have a badge or a wristband you can get into the official venues. Some venues are “official” and some aren’t. You wouldn’t really know by walking down the street which are which. But typically the biggest shows are in the official venues and you need a wristband or badge to get in.
Yes there are huge shows there. The name acts. Drake showed up last year. The Roots have a jam most years. Keith Urban played this year. But it’s best to avoid the gigantic shows. You most likely won’t be able to get in (even if you have a badge) and if you do, it will be uncomfortably packed in there.
You’ll make deeper, longer lasting connections at the smaller shows. Or in line at a taco truck. Or at any random bar/party.
That’s the thing. So many people in the industry are in Austin during this week that nearly everyone you talk to is in the industry and is probably a good connection. Strike up conversations with EVERYONE. This is not a time to be bashful.
RSVP to EVERY party.
This is how you eat and drink for free at SXSW. And make some of the most meaningful connections. This is a good list to start with. And Google around for Twitter accounts to follow for parties.
SXSW is over. But there are many more music conferences coming up like the ASCAP Expo which I will be at. It’s a great conference that I’ve been to the previous 4 years also. This is geared much more towards songwriters and producers. This year they have some big names speaking like St. Vincent, Meghan Trainor, Jason Mraz, JoJo, Dan Wilson, Betty Who and yours truly.
There are lots of great masterclasses on songwriter, royalties, production, sync licensing, and the business overall. You can use the code ARISTAKE to get $30 off if you’re not an ASCAP member (if you are an ASCAP member you already get this discount). To clarify, you don’t need to be an ASCAP member to attend the Expo. Register here
When you’re there, come say hi.
When going to any networking event or other music conference, remember to make real connections, collect (and hand out) business cards or email addresses from everyone, always follow up the following week when the dust has settled, and remember to…wait for the cheese….have fun!
But seriously. This is why we're doing all of this crazy shit anyways ain't it?
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Ari Herstand is the author of How To Make It in the New Music Business a Los Angeles based musician and the creator of the music biz advice blog Ari's Take. Follow him on Twitter: @aristake and Instagram: @ariherstand