Turning SXSW’s Cancellation Into a Digital Opportunity (And How To Help)

March 19, 2020

[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Angela Mastrogiacomo.]

There’s no easy way to say this—the cancellation of SXSW was a necessary move, but an incredible let down. I don’t need to tell you that every year thousands of us flock to Austin for a week of pure chaos, joy, and networking-our-butts off (not to mention to indulge in the most delicious tacos the city has to offer).

Hearing that this mammoth festival was cancelled was a huge blow (to say nothing of the economic hit) but, in times like this it’s more important than ever to not only pull together, but to show this world what our industry is made of. That we aren’t afraid to pivot, to shift gears, to change the way we do things.

We are strong, and we are resilient.

We do not give up. We do not fold at the first sign of difficulty. Instead, we get creative. We innovate. We work with what we have and build on it where we can.

And what most of us have right now is a whole lot of passion and time on our hands. If you ask me, that’s a recipe for the next great wave of innovation.

So yeah, SXSW getting cancelled sucked. But there’s a way to turn this into an incredible digital opportunity, and that’s what I want you to focus on. Not what we’ve lost, but what we’re going to make as we begin to pick up the pieces.

Support your community

First and foremost, we need to pull together and support each other during this time of uncertainty. The impact of COVID-19 on each individual person varies a lot, so try to be sensitive to that. While for some it may have changed nothing, for others it’s wiped out their livelihood. We are all feeling this, and we all need to support each other.

There are a few ways to do this. For starters, be a shoulder to lean on. Listen to your friends, your colleagues, your fans. Acknowledge what they’re going through, and be there for them. Sometimes the best thing we can do is just let others know they’re not alone in their pain.

Second, this is a hard time for a lot of us in the industry, but if you can, donate. Donate your time to helping organize a fundraising event or spreading the word about one or, if you can, donate a few extra dollars.

Here are some of our favorites:

Stand with Austin was started by SXSW and C3 Presents in partnership with Entrepreneurs Foundation, and was created to assist individuals and small businesses most impacted by the cancellation of SXSW

Banding Together ATX is for venues, artists, creatives, service/hospitality, and others that rely on SXSW and were affected by the cancellation. 

ILostMyGig.com is a database and fundraiser for Austin locals who lost work due to SXSW. 

Host the (digital) bash of the year

With a lot of artists doing live streams, this is becoming an incredible opportunity to get in front of fans from all cities, states, and countries, in a completely unprecedented way. I for one have loved getting to see some of my favorite artists from the cozy comforts of their home (while staying inside mine) performing, sharing stories, and just providing that beautiful mix of community, acknowledgement of the time we’re in and yet, some normalcy that I think we’re all craving.

Why not do the same? You can even make this super simple, just doing a stripped down set in your cozy living room. Or you can go all out. Put up some lights, break out your lava lamp, and mix your set with funny anecdotes, invite the fans to come on video and share what they’re doing to keep sane during the quarantine. Run a couple giveaways throughout the evening for merch packs or tickets to your next show as soon as everything returns to normal. Make it a full fledged event that your fans will never forget.

The more you can make it an event by inviting fans to participate, giving away prizes, and just trying to have fun the more memorable it will be and the more your fans will thank you for giving them back something that they too are missing.

Since it’s not restricted by location you can attract even more fans to attend!

Bonus: You can even use a tip jar by creating a Paypal.me link for fans to donate to.

Throw a virtual festival (complete with sponsorships and collabs)

There are already some really cool virtual events happening, including this one by Austin360 (artists can submit to play here) so why not either hop on an existing one, or throw your own to support your community?

So many of us are pulling together right now that getting other artists and businesses to collaborate and even do sponsorships is something you should be jumping on. This is a great time to give back to your fans, build your relationships with others in your community and industry, and put on something that’s going to really bring joy back to your fans.

For instance, perhaps you partner with the local record store, your favorite coffee shop, and an online music store to put on a virtual festival featuring 3-7 other bands, giving away prizes throughout like: a gift card to the coffee or record store or special limited edition roast or record, or free guitar picks, drum sticks, etc from the music store. Ask fans to participate in the comments, hop on screen with you, and share what they’re thinking.

Lean into your fans

Your fans are feeling this just as much as you are, and while it may have initially felt like this would keep you from them, the truth is, it’s actually given you the opportunity to get in front of more people than ever.

Which is a powerful thing since from your fans perspectives, their ability to find refuge in one of their favorite things—the thing that keeps many of them feeling sane, and safe, and excited, was taken away. So make sure you’re there for them, and know that they’ll be there for you too.

Remember, this isn’t forever. It’s going to get better. There will be a time this all seems like a distant memory. But for now, while we’re in it, let’s use it as an opportunity to truly come together, support each other, and grow from this. We’re in this together.

Angela Mastrogiacomo is the founder and CEO of Muddy Paw PR, where her artists have seen placements on Alternative Press, Noisey, Substream, Spotify and more as well as the THRIVE Mentorship program—an online community that provides indie artists with affordable year-round mentoring from music industry experts, and much more. She loves baked goods, a good book, and hanging with her dog Sawyer.

Tags: festivals home concert quarantine SXSW