From the TuneCore Community: Lessons & Advice on SXSW!

March 12, 2015

If you’ve ever been, you know firsthand that SXSW is a chaotic conference where instead of a few massive stages in a confined setting, you’re navigating venues and bars, and the festival grounds is downtown Austin itself. With 1/3 of artists performing at SXSW having distributed through TuneCore, we reached out to a group of Austin-bound indies to get their take on what lessons they’ve learned from performing years past and what advice they’d offer to those making their debut trip.

We’ve broken these lessons and tips into groups: TuneCore Artists who are making their second trip to SXSW, those who have played three or four times already, and those who are seasoned vets, having been to SXSW five or more times. Take note, TuneCore Artists!

Second Timers

Humming House (Americana)
Lessons: “We spent some time talking to our stage manager and the sound crew at our official SXSW showcase last year and learned a bit about what goes on behind the scenes. Become friends with the people working at your showcase and take into consideration what that week looks like for them. It’ll make everyone’s lives easier.”
Advice: “Go see some acts that you haven’t heard of or that you haven’t seen before. Be kind to the SXSW crew and treat Austin like it’s your home town; thousands of people descend on that city for three weeks straight and the transformation is absolutely wild. So live it up, but be considerate of the Austin denizens and the people around you!”

Sean C. Johnson (Hip Hop/Soul)
Lessons: “Plan, plan, plan! Look over the schedule for the week and highlight the shows and events you want to attend. Then plan your week around those. Last year I missed out on a lot of cool stuff because I didn’t know when and where it was happening.”
Advice: “Sleep when you get back home. Take this week to soak up as much of SXSW as possible and network with as many people as you can.”

Lyric Michelle (Hip Hop)
Lessons: “Always be prepared and have a plan for everything! What no one ever told me is that you might get separated from your group and that’s ok. You need to have a plan to what you are trying to accomplish and how.”
Advice: “This is the time to meet all the important people. Meeting Jay-Z would be incredible, but the person that booked Jay-Z, now that would be even better.”

LAB Records (Rock/Pop Label)
Lessons: “Be organized. Plans can change last minute and not everyone will have their mobile phone attached to them as on a normal working week. Be as flexible as possible with others but as punctual as possible with plans you have made.”
Advice: “Meet everyone you can – split into a couple of teams if it helps. Sometimes the most productive meetings can come from the most unlikely of sources!”

OptivioN (Alternative)
Lessons: “Have your housing arrangements ready.”
Advice: “Meet as many people possible. Don’t sleep.”

Joe Herter and the Rainbow Seekers (Folk/Rock)
Lessons: “Be prepared for lines at shows. Also, it really pays off to book a place to stay early in advance. If a better deal comes up, you can always sell your room to another band (there are websites that will help you with this).”
Advice: “SXSW can be really overwhelming. Don’t let the partying get the best of you. If you’re playing SX, then you’ve likely worked hard to get there, so make sure that you’re focused on playing your best. This also includes being healthy. Take care of your bodies! Also, SX presents an awesome opportunity to connect with other people. Attend other shows and try to make some friends. I always seem to find myself favoring a particular venue (one that hopefully provides free drinks for artists) that I spend most of my time at. When you party with a similar group of people over a few days, you’re bound to make some lasting friendships.”

Third & Fourth Timers

The Racer (Alternative)
Lessons: “Mass un-targeted flyering on the street is a waste of time and a significant source of litter. Renting a big house seems worth the extra money, but if it’s all cozy and comfy it’ll keep you away from all the action! Austin is a party, so have fun, but avoid the urge to treat this as a vacation. If this is going to be your career then this is a business trip.”
Advice: “Network! It can be a grind, but MAKE and KEEP plans to meet up with as many people/groups/companies as you can. They won’t all be worth it but you never know who you’ll run into. Also, travel light.”

Ben Aqua (Electronic)
Lessons: “Pace yourself! Spread your energy out over multiple days and rest and relax as much as possible so you don’t burn out/get sick/throw up everywhere.”
Advice: “Be friendly, kind, and loving to everybody you meet.”

Andrew Duhon (Folk/Blues)
Lessons: “I think I learned that its more about listening than performing. There’s a ton going on, and its coming from all over the map. There’s plenty to be inspired by. That, and I learned I need to call my Austin buddy sooner than later to reserve a spot on his couch before the other 5 friends with bands do.”
Advice: “Make a schedule for the morning panels you want to check out, but don’t bother doing so with the night music showcases. There’s so much music that going with the flow at night is as likely to put you in the right place as anything else. “

Vandaveer (Folk/Pop)
Lessons: “Take your own pillow and sunscreen. Eat lots of Torchy’s.”
Advice: “Assume you will achieve nothing at SXSW, then feel good about your experience matching your expectations. In the event things go exceedingly well, bask in your good fortune.”

PaperWhite (Pop)
Lessons: “SXSW is a crazy scene. Imagine the downtown area of a major city with the streets filled to the brim with people! I think it’s really easy for a band to get lost in the whole thing. Something I’ve noticed in the past that worked for me, was trying to have a specific focus on who I wanted to come to our shows, and to try to make meaningful connections with a few people rather than just trying to meet and play for as many people as humanly possible.”
Advice: “Have fun! Go see as many bands as you can. Be inspired, keep an open mind, and let it be something that fuels your creative energy!”

Dead Leaf Echo (Alternative/Pop)
Lessons: “Stay away from 6th St if possible. Give yourself enough time to get by the cops even if you have a parking permit most of the time they won’t let you by. Don’t trust a lot of the free food.”
Advice: “Go crazy but not on consecutive nights. Stay away from the big shows unless your playing them.”

Dre Prince (Hip Hop)
Lessons: “If you can make it then go. Even if you’re not playing or scheduled to play you might run into people who put on showcases for next year or they might ask you to fill in then.”
Advice: “Don’t be afraid to get out there and network & make things happen for yourself. You never know who you’ll run into.”

5+ Trippers

Nightmare Air (Rock/Alternative)
Lessons: “Networking is everything! Drink water. Texas can get cold at night in March so bring a long sleeve if you’ll be out all night…I’ve been freezing in a T shirt miles away from my hotel one too many SXSW nights.”
Advice: “Get out there, talk to people. Take cards, remember names, get contacts and follow up in the weeks after SXSW.”

The Octopus Project (Pop/Experimental)
Lessons: “Don’t kill yourself by trying to play a million shows! Pick a handful of good ones & stick with those. You won’t be completely exhausted & that will give you time to meet people & check out all the other fantastic folks playing! “
Advice: “Make as many friends as you can! There are literally thousands of people all converging in the same place that have your same interests & are in the exact same boat as you. Make buddies! Don’t try to get “discovered.” Just have fun!”

Bill Baird (Rock/Folk)
Lessons: “Don’t get distracted by the mayhem. There is a lot of corporate bullshit but just keep walking by it if it’s not your thing. Use the festival as an opportunity to introduce yourself to bands you like (go to their shows and say hi afterwards) and, most important, try to meet up with other like-minded folks from around the country, folks who you might not ordinarily get to see. The most valuable things are relationships you cultivate.”
Advice: “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you never really know what’s happening until after it’s finished.   That unassuming dude you met might actually be an amazing songwriter, an inspiring artist, a label owner, or might be friends with somebody like that.”


Tags: advice featuring first time sxsw independent music indie SXSW