How to plan for the 2023 music conference season

With events like SXSW, the DIY Musician Conference, Canadian Music Week, and more, you’ll need a secure plan in order to get the most out of this years round of music festivals and conferences. Here’s how to get started…

by Angela Tyler of Bandzoogle

Name a better time of year than festival season. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

If you’re anything like me, festival and conference season is one of the most chaotic and amazing times in the music industry. It’s chock full of opportunities to refuel your creativity through panels, performances, and lots of hangs with friends new and old. In short, it’s a magical time.

While you’ll have your pick of events to attend, from the major ones like SXSW or Canadian Music Week, or the mid-size ones like CD Baby, Indie Week, and Launch Music Conference and Festival, there’s a ton to do and explore.

But with all of that choice can come a little bit of anxiety in how to make it all worth your while. Don’t worry, we’ve got you on this. Here are the things to consider when planning your festival season.

A crowd with hands in the air, gathered in front of an outdoor festival stage at nighttime

Which conferences should I attend?

There are a lot of factors that go into which events to attend, and it’s very individualized to you and where you are in your career. A few things to consider as you’re looking over your options are:

What do I want to get out of the conference? Are you just going to learn from the panels? Do you want to meet certain people (ie: managers, promoters) while there? Are you trying to network with other bands so that you can have a connection for an upcoming tour? Think about what your ideal is coming out of the next few months, and then start to look at which conferences will be best for that.

We also can’t discount the role that cost and location play in everything. That said, don’t just pick the closest or cheapest because that seems easiest. A conference might be further away or more money but if you feel like you can get more out of it long term, it might be worth the investment. (Don’t forget, you can expense this trip on your taxes!) 

Just because something is local or cheaper doesn’t mean it’s going to be as valuable. Your time and energy is just as important as how much money you spend.

As you do your research you’ll notice many events now have remote options but, as you’ll read below, just because you can attend remotely doesn’t mean you should

Attend as many conferences as you can

We live in a world where we have so much at our fingertips thanks to the internet. Most of the time, that’s a beautiful thing. But when it comes to networking and opportunities, absolutely nothing beats in person. So, my first tip for making the most of festival and conference season is simple. Go to as many as you can. Some of the smaller events are pretty affordable and even hold free events outside of normal conference hours. So if grabbing a ticket isn’t in your budget, you can still be a part of the action and get your network on through free after parties and shows. 

One quick example of the power of in person. This year CD Baby’s DIY Musician Conference gave festival goers the opportunity to go in person or tune in virtually. On paper it made sense because a $50 ticket to livestream is much more affordable than spending hundreds of dollars on flight, hotel, and food for the 3-day weekend. But when you do that, something is missing. Sure, you get the panels, but you don’t get the true power of these events, which is in the networking. I’ve met so many amazing people and opportunities through hallway bump-ins, introductions through friends, and random events and dinners I ended up as part of the experience. Online is great but if possible, in person will always be the better choice for rapid career growth. 

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Once you’re there, plan your agenda

Conference season can be chaotic. But that’s part of the fun! So it helps to know what your goal is. For example if that’s to get more music fans, then going in person should include things like playing shows as well as networking at other peoples shows, starting conversations in the hallways, trading business cards, and building your network. Knowing what your plan is for the days surrounding the festival is a good start.

For instance, which panels will you go to? Which shows do you want to see? If you have to fit in anything else around the conference like work or family, how will you do that? Having a good idea of what you want to do and when will help you make sure you’re hitting those goals. 

If you’re unsure, go back to the golden question: what do you want to get out of this? Be as specific as possible. This will make planning your days and making decisions so much easier.

Make a list of who you want to meet + what you want to do

Before the event starts, know who you want to connect with and set up those meetings ahead of time. If you can’t get in touch, try to make their panel or set and then catch them after to tell them your thoughts and make a connection. Even better, if you are able to reach them before the event you can make a coffee date for when you’re both in town.

As always, knowing your goal will help you know who you want to meet. If the goal is to secure management within a year, then meeting bands who have managers (to chat with them about how they secured one) or meeting managers themselves would be part of your agenda.

Leave a little room in your schedule for magic

I know, I know, it’s a little corny, but it’s true! I remember the first year I went to SXSW I had my plans made down to the minute. I knew exactly who I was going to see and when. It was all laid out for me. But, very often those plans got completely disrupted when someone would invite me to another showcase, or a different panel would catch my eye, or I’d be introduced to a new group of people who then invited me to lunch. None of these things meshed with my original plan, but they were all part of the experience. And you know what, they also led to some great networking, not to mention, memories.

So while it’s good to go into these things with an idea of who you want to meet and all the things you want to accomplish, don’t forget to also leave a little room for magic. You never know what opportunities might pop up!

Angela Tyler is the founder of MP Co. (formerly Muddy Paw PR) a marketing, PR, and management services company for musicians. She has secured placements on Forbes, Business Insider, American Songwriter, Lead Singer Syndrome, and more, and her artists go on to sign to labels and play major festivals. She loves dessert, her rescue dog Sawyer, and new ideas.

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