[Editors Note: This blog was written by Rich Nardo. We published this article in advance of SXSW 2017, but the valuable advice ahead will help you get ready for SXSW 2019! ]
2017 seems to be a bit of an odd year for SXSW. Between the visa controversy and the fact a good number of traditionally cornerstone participants are either scaling down their involvement or skipping the conference all together, a lot of artists who may have stretched their budget to attend may be starting to worry about whether it was the best use of their time and resources.
Well, fear not! At the end of the day any networking/showcase scenario will be exactly what you as an individual makes of it. Despite the scaled-down scope of this year’s festivities, there will still be more than enough industry professionals in attendance. From press tastemakers and music supervisors to label A&R reps and booking agents, if you play your cards right in Austin there is a very strong chance that you will return home afterwards in a better career situation than you are in today.
Here are five ways to optimize your time in Austin in between all the delicious tacos and BBQ you’ll be getting into:
1. One-On-One Meetings Will Be Your Most Important
A lot of emphasis is placed on getting the ‘right’ showcases and playing in front of the ‘right’ people. Personally, I feel that the real difference in generating lead opportunities comes when you’re not playing. Make sure your schedule is packed with one-on-one meetings when you’re not doing official showcases or attending networking events. Reach out to people you would want to work with in advance of getting to Austin to lock in a time to grab a drink or coffee. If your pre-determined list of people to meet with isn’t that extensive, improve it while you’re there. If you meet someone at an event don’t just bank on connecting after you get home. Take the time to meet with them later in the week in a more personal scenario. If you reside in different cities, this may be your last chance to talk face-to-face for a while.
2. Go to Networking Events
Unless you’ve got a string of top-billed showcases lined up and the industry is already buzzing about your band, a lot of your ‘wins’ are going to come in expanding your network offstage. If you’re a young artist that isn’t quite ‘on the inside’ of the industry yet, any networking event will give yourself the chance to make new contacts. When you’re not yet able to rely on the strong rolodex of a powerful manager, lawyer or label, it’s on you to really build your connections to create opportunities. That way next year you will have those high profile performance slots!
3. Turn Other Shows into Networking Events
We all love live music. That’s a big part of the reason why we work so hard to have a career in this business. But as a musician, it is best to keep in mind that you are working at these shows. Go see as many bands as you can and make it a point to connect with the artists you like after their sets. This may not be that fruitful if you’re trying to convince Run The Jewels to let you open their next tour, but if you find some good mid-tier bands there might be a chance to string together a few tour dates together to take advantage of each of your regional fanbases. Or if the band is a bit further along in their career than you are, maybe you can open for them when they come through your city.
Either way, it doesn’t hurt to approach them at SXSW and strike up a casual conversation. Just make sure you’re not coming across as if you were only reaching out to pitch them on your band. Let them know how much you like their set, ask them questions about their music and where they’re from. If that goes well, let them know you’d like to keep in touch and take it from there. Also, if you do somehow run into Killer Mike or El-P, the same rules apply!
4. Share Your Experience On Socials (And Optimize It)
There is nothing more important to creating opportunities than face-to-face interactions. Still, you have the digital realm at your disposal and you should do your best to optimize that. Take photos at the different events you attend and post them to your social networks. Make sure you’re using the proper hashtags when doing so to aggregate some attention from other people at the conference. Also, always tag the bands and companies that are involved in the showcase or event you’re snapping photos from and geo-tag your posts as well! After SXSW is over, this may also end up being a good way to stir up conversations with people you may not have gotten to talk to in person over the course of the week.
5. Organize Your Contacts and Follow Up!
This is perhaps the most important aspect of the conference and one that is often overlooked. Take as many business cards and other contact info as you can while you’re down there. Make sure you’re chronicling when and where you meet people (I like to keep a notebook that I update at the end of each day). That way when everyone goes back to their respective homes at the end of the week you can follow up letting them know how great it was to connect and set up a call to continue the conversation on how you can potentially work together. If there is no ‘next steps’ after Austin the trip may not have been worth your time and money afterall!
Also…the tacos. Eat all the tacos!