Tips for how to make the most out of SxSW from Annabella Coldrick, MMF Chief Exec
So this is my first year heading out to South by South West (SxSW) since I joined the MMF a bit over 2 years ago. I’ve got 3 days in town, I’m mainly going to host an event on Thursday as well as meet some international managers, our associates and see some new music. I want to make the most of it so I asked a few of managers who are seasoned South by goers for their tips which I thought I’d share in case helpful for any members who are going. I’ll write again when I get back to see how many of these I actually followed.
Jonny Dawson, partner at ATC – 7 years at SxSW
Dig in to the line-up before hand, and see as much music as you can. It’s easy enough to meet artists after performances, stick around and make connections. There are a lot of artist mixer events organised at SxSW as well, check out the official program and look out for fringe events too. I honestly feel that the best ‘hyped’ bands that come out of SxSW each year are based on killer performances and the word spreads. Timing is helpful too, going in to SxSW with some momentum is always useful.
If you’re hungry Ironworks is a must for the authentic Texas BBQ experience!
Hotel Vegas, SX South Congress and British Music Embassy always have good programming, check out Communion’s night on Rainy Street too.
Survival tip: Sunglasses and Advil – you’re all set!
Claire Southwick, Primitive Management – 10 years at SxSW although skipping town this year
Develop a skeleton plan in advance but don’t be too rigid and only expect to do about 50% of what you set out to do initially. Take every opportunity to speak to people at gigs and at the conference. I met one of the producers I later went onto manage just by chatting to people by chance. Follow your nose, some of the best connections come from serendipitous meetings. Do your research and check out the showcases – such as Fader, ohmyrockness, the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30, PRS, 6Music, Brooklyn Vegan, Filter Party – some are genre specific run by labels, radio stations, national delegations, magazines. Make sure you RSVP to as much as humanly possible in advance to get on the lists. Check out various spreadsheets which list all the free parties and the free stuff on offer at the tech ones (there can be some pretty great free stuff!), and you can eat and drink for free throughout if you try hard enough!
If you’re going with the band apply well in advance (the summer/autumn before) – if you have a US agent they can help with this and getting gigs. Sx is crazy busy, over 2000+ artists playing so constant competition, no matter what time you’re on. Try to make sure you are playing at least 5 shows, if you only do the 2 official ones you’re not maximising the opportunity to get heard, then if one gig doesn’t go well you at least have other chances to rectify it. You never know who is in the audience, don’t be overly nervous but speak to everyone as if they matter. At one of our gigs an Australian radio DJ was in the room which led to an Australian record deal and then a tour. Check out the AWAL house as it’s a good place for artist to relax and network with other artists. [NB: they’re also hosting a brunch for managers on Wednesday morning]. Consider releasing new music before you go to create a buzz and some press attention to invite people to the shows – use all your existing relationships with labels, promoters and maybe consider playing South by as part of a tour – many bands build in NY or LA dates either side. Get your visas sorted as soon as possible (make sure you check the current situation with South by to make sure you get the right one) if you’re doing that and coach your band before they go so they are fully briefed (especially before immigration which is increasingly strict) and make the most of their trip. Apply to MEGS/PRSF to see if you can cover costs, also the local trade office may be able to make a contribution.
Survival tips: Emergen C (Vitamin C sachets with electrolytes), Nux vom (homeopathic remedy for hangovers!), Milk Thistle drops (herbal drops to help liver detox)
David Manders, Liquid Management – 12 years SxSW
Make sure you prepare in advance. If you’re going with a band, we employ a promo person to make sure we’re getting the word out and staring to tell the artists US story – targeting both the national media but also the local Austin Times and Austin Chronicle. Even if you don’t get coverage it helps get the name in people’s heads. Make sure your artist gets to the venue early and that all their equipment is in place and prepped. Don’t get pissed before the show! Take loads of business cards, CDs are less relevant nowadays (some people don’t have CD players) so make sure you swap business cards which gives the opportunity to follow up when you’re back.
Lots of Brits hang out at the British Music Embassy. The best of British bands tend to have at least one show at the BME @ Latitude 30. It does get very busy at times so it can be one in one out but you can always stand outside and watch through the large windows. You’ll see what I mean when you get there. I’m sure you’ll be here for a good few shows. Always people to chat to when out there as well. Be careful at weekends on 6th street – it’s heaving.
Make sure you check out Rainey St. – the Black Heart and Container bars – and you should also do at least one show at Hotel Vegas which is a bit out of the way but worth the detour. Also the Fluffer Pit parties with a mosh pit and stage in the middle of the room. Brits go to Fados for the football early on Saturday morning. There’s also an outdoor stage south of the river in South Congress with Latin music.
Visit Flatstock in the convention centre, it has a huge collection of gig posters – the biggest in world. Also go to the conference, learn lots and network loads. The Exhibition hall also has government trade bodies from around the world who can be really helpful with export connections.
Make sure you have a BBQ and drink a margarita. Don’t over book your diary but do plan your routes between venues and allow some time to hang out.
Bands to see: Girl Ray, Superorganism, Yxng Bane and of course LIFE on Liquid Management 🙂
Sammy Andrews, Founder DeviateDigital and Manager of Gold Key
– 8 years SxSW
RSVP to all the events and parties (click here for the 2018 party list) … it’s good to have options and you’ll find yourself at far more than you plan to go to but it’s worth signing up to loads.
Join some SXSW WhatsApp groups (but beware they will be non-stop) they are though a great way of meeting new and old mates and colleagues. Just remember to mute them during the year! There is an OFFICIAL UK SXSW 2018 GRP one run by Bavesh at PRSf.
Most of the hotel lobby’s have charging spots if you need to recharge and to dip out a while from the madness.
Those on a budget – you’ll find a tonne of events with free booze and food 🙂
Drinks all the margaritas, all of them… you won’t find a bad one in this town.
For big gigs it does sometimes pay to go early if you wanna be sure of getting in.
Head to Buffalo and Billiards for some time out… I’d never played billiards before, turns out I’m awful at it but it’s fun!
If you have artists there – yes, it IS manic getting from gig to gig. Do not rely on cars and be prepared to carry gear through the streets from venue to venue …you’ll see around 500 people doing the same!
If you have shows to play or attend south of the river it is a little longer walk than it looks …three cheers for pedicabs!
Austin is a beautiful place and SXSW is pretty full on, take a break from the madness and head out a little to find quieter places for a bit of downtime, you’ll find nice cafes, shops and restaurants further up Congress. The street art in Austin is stunning, take scenic routes if you wanna see it.
Head out to Salt Lick BBQ… you will never have eaten better BBQ I swear.
You will see nearly everyone you want to see in the Lobby / Bar of the Driskall at some point should you pull up a chair and have a drink for a while.
Don’t just go to gigs from bands you know, the beauty of SXSW is discovering new music and new people. Deliberately go off piste and away from your schedule you never know who you’ll see or meet.
Check out Austin’s bats one night!! Yes, really..it’s quite a sight.
Cabs like Uber are apparently back this year 🙌🏻 so getting around should be easy but don’t be afraid to walk places or grab pedicabs.
Always have your pass on you, you’ll need it at night.
If you’re going to be in Austin next week let me know and hopefully I’ll see you at our event or at many of the others in town – drop me a line on firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Whatsapp. Also please feel free to share any more tips and advice and I’ll add these into the blog.
For more information on visas and touring the US read our MMF guide that was published this time last year in time for SxSW: “How to Send Your Artist Across the Pond”