Right now as I type this, thousands of indie bands, solo artists, and songwriters are gearing up for a trip to SXSW 2016. Also gearing up for this trip, though with slightly different goals and agendas, are tons of music industry professionals – from label folks and publicists to booking agents and managers.
While these excited artists may have their sights set on playing as many shows as possible and getting their name in front of as many new music fans as possible, a major part of SXSW throughout the years has been the ability to network and make connections. We’re talking career advancement, here, people! But when you’re soaked in sweat (and maybe beer), running from venue to venue with drums and guitars in-hand, some artists may feel these ‘opportune times to meet’ escape them with each passing minute.
I chatted with longtime Austin resident and music industry vet Amy Lombardi, who was hired by TuneCore as Manager of Entertainment Relations, about navigating SXSW as an artist. She’s managed artists like Neko Case and Kelly Hogan and spent time in the music PR game, founding companies in each category herself.
In other words, she’s got some cred.
“Making connections at SXSW happens when you’re off stage, too,” Lombardi says. “Meeting industry professionals and fellow artists, and developing relationships happens all over Austin, even in line for tacos.”
But what about those artists who are truly just starting out – unsigned, lacking huge internet buzz – it’s understandable to be a little nervous when approaching a publicist or A&R pro, right? Of course. But as Amy points out, if you link up with folks in advance via email, it’s a lot easier set something up knowing you’ll both be in town. But don’t be discouraged if plans change or get cancelled, she says, as that simply gives you a chance to live in the moment and meet someone else.
“Be a human being first! Most times the conversation will come around to, ‘What are you working on down here?‘ Then have info on your showcases, and maybe share something of note about your band,” explains Amy. “Be professional, and leave out the hard sell. SXSW is high-volume and citywide, but networking is organic.”
You might be wondering, though, who should you be trying to interact with? A lot of artists will be keeping their eyes on connecting with managers and music supervisors. Amy’s advice is to connect with people outside of the traditional ‘decision maker’ roles, too.
“Becoming successful in the music industry takes a village,” she says, “And depending on the stage your career is at, a variety of people can help build your brand and better your operation, such as publicists, promoters, journalists, tour managers, sound engineers, etc.”
If you’re picking up any one thing from what Amy is laying out here, it should be that opportunities to meet people can pop up at any moment at an event like SXSW. Without trying to be too ‘schmoozy’, there’s some key conversation points you (and maybe your bandmates) will want to have in mind for these very moments.
Amy recommends that artists be ready to discuss, “a description of their sound, talking points that might include healthy streams or sales or tour dates (and tour partners) or sync placements. Also if there’s a guy in the band who stands stage left throughout your shows holding a sword or something, I guess that would be worth mentioning.”
What about having stuff on-hand to give out?
“I may be in the minority here, but I like the idea of calling cards (business card-size) or small flyers with links to your website and/or SoundCloud or YouTube and showcase info.” Lombardi goes on, “Also, keep a Sharpie on hand. Personally, I would borrow it to write myself a note on your flyer reminding me where we met and what we talked about.”
Seems easy enough right? Just don’t party too hard and use that Sharpie to write your name all over town. No one’s cool with that. And speaking of things not to do when trying to connect with industry folks, it goes without saying that not everyone was born with sophisticated social skills. That’s fine! Just try to keep some of this stuff in mind when chatting with a new connection:
“During SXSW, I have a few minutes to talk with you about your music, especially if I’ve not yet heard it. Please don’t be offended, it’s a busy time and maybe not always an opportune time to get into discussions about release strategies and marketing plans. Think of SXSW like conversation at a cocktail party, not a camping trip. Mingle!”
Now it’s all over, and you’re on your way home from Austin, maybe you’re doing tour stops. You begin to look back on all the awesome people you met – musicians, fans, and industry pros – and you hope they remember meeting you.
Don’t treat these genuine connections you made like a first date with someone you liked, scared you’ll be coming on too strong if you contact them too soon.
“Having been a publicist,” says Amy, “I consider follow-up to be key and luckily, it’s generally important for success in most areas of one’s life. Don’t be offended if it takes time to get a response. If you don’t hear back after a few tries, maybe that one’s not going to happen, and it’s OK because something else will.”
But be sure to think about what you’re dropping in that email before hitting the ‘send’ button:
“I also think it’s important to consider what your ‘ask’ is. For example, I may not be able to reply with an overall assessment if you ask, ‘What do I do next in my career?‘ but I can review and edit your bio or press release, or suggest markets and routings for a regional tour.”
So there you have it, folks. Some very practical advice from TuneCore’s own Amy Lombardi when it comes to navigating the behemoth that is SXSW. Take notes and enjoy your time in Austin!