Over the next four days, more than 2,000 bands will entertain some 12,000 fans at this year’s South By Southwest music conference. Many of the artists have slotted in multiple performances in between their own party-packed schedules, and seeing that it’s the 25th anniversary of what’s become a rite of passage for anyone looking to make a go at the music business, expect the unruliness to hit a fever pitch.
“In the last few years it has become more of marathon,” says Michael Goldstone, co-owner of New York-based Mom + Pop Music (Sleigh Bells, Metric) who’s attended SXSW almost as many years as it’s been in existence (the exact number, he’s not sure). “I remember a time when there were few parties or showcases during the day and you could spend time doing more meetings or wandering around antique stores and hunting down great barbeque. Historically, you couldn't see live shows for 15 hours a day. That said, what could be better than that?”
With so many bands and brands competing for your attention, not to mention a convention hall’s worth of industry pros and purveyors hawking everything from the latest social networking add-on you never knew you needed to vintage gear you can’t afford, how’s one to navigate the seemingly limitless buffet of choices? “Before arriving try to identify a handful of shows that you really want to see,” suggests Goldstone, who also signed Rage Against the Machine and The All-American Rejects as a major label A&R executive. “Then enjoy the chaos and go with the flow. Find those friends you never spend quality time with and hang with them. If you’re overly ambitious and try to hit everything, you might miss the experience, and sometimes the non-profile shows become the most memorable ones.”
As for bands -- whether established or newly signed -- that are looking to ramp up their careers? Goldstone says SXSW is still a key stop. "It allows people from all over the US and North America to see what the fuss is about," he explains. "In recent years, artists, agents and mangers have have also been resourceful in booking multiple shows, giving media types more chances to see an act. There are many more opportunities to do sessions in addition to shows. And there are a significant number of festival bookers coming in from the UK and Australia, so it can really create great visibility."
For new artists looking to get noticed among a sea of skinny jeans and guitar cases, “It can be difficult if you’re an unknown,” Goldstone acknowledges. “That said, if you can't go to SXSW and have fun playing and meeting people regardless of the business you achieve, then you might have missed the point. Artists generally get out of it what they put into it.”