I have attended many music showcase events over the years, two notables being both the International Blues Challenge (IBC)and the Blues Music Awards, both held in Memphis Tn. Both of which present showcases and events geared towards the Blues market as a music genre. I have participated as both a judge and an industry professional during their networking events at the IBC. So, heading to Austin texas I thought I had a good idea of what I was expecting to see, but nothing could have prepared me for what was my first experience with the South by Southwest Music Festival!
The first thing that struck me about this event is the how big Austin’s Party zone is! As Memphis has Beale Street, which has about 4 Blocks of Music Venues, 6th Street in Austin Texas, which is about 11 Blocks Long with 3 blocks both North and South 6th street that contains almost back to back Live Music Venues! The venues themselves also struck me as unique as many of them had multiple live music stages, some with as many as 3 stages presenting Live music all at once. Each Venue has speakers blasting one of the stages out to the street with hawkers on the street promoting showcases and drink specials. The main “Drag” 6th Street is blocked off to traffic and setup with a center security lane for police to monitor and observe the crowd. All of this makes for an amazing music overload that is punctuated by the sometimes strange and ingenious happenings that are going on the streets themselves. The amazing part is this spectral is not restricted to SXSW, but this exercise is done every weekend in Austin, which solidifies this city as a “LIVE MUSIC CAPITAL”!
SXSW Music Showcases
Ok, there are “Official” music showcases and “Unofficial” music showcases. I will be honest I was not able to determine the difference between the two other than the fact that the official ones were advertised on the SXSW website. Most of the larger events were held by large corporations and required an official (and pricey) SXSW badge to get in. The crowd that attended those events seemed to be more corporate types and Tech heads. While the 6th street venues (which had both official and unofficial showcases) had the majority of young music fans and artists.
One of the major complaints by the locals and venues is the city is moving away from its artistic roots as more Tech Companies take over the prime real estate within the city and threatening its cultrue of Art, Music and non conformity.
It was on and around 6th street I found the most diverse music experiences. As I walked from venue to venue, I was exposed to Blues (yep I heard A LOT of Blues during SXSW with a large young fanbase!), Country, Americana, Grunge, Metal, Folk, Singer-songwriter, and Rock! Many of the showcases, both official and unofficial were populated with bands that paid up to $1500 to play that particular showcase. Unfortunately, what this did is create a situation where the music presented ran from the downright horrible to the discovery of some truly great acts. For the venues on 6th Street, they rent their stages to different entities that present these showcases. These stages can go as high as $5,000-$6,000 a night to the venue. Of course, if you present a show that draws well for the venue, then you have the option to negotiate better rates the next year. So, you have the venues making money, the showcase presenters making money, and the bands who pay to play the showcase, well they get exposure and the bragging rights that they played South by Southwest. This is not to say that all showcases are like this, I went to SXSW with the John Pagano Band who was invited to play several showcases, both on and off 6th Street, one of which he played at Goorin Bros where he was paid with a new Hat. The results of the showcases was interesting as there seems to be a lot of interest in the blues rooted style of the band by both fans and showcase presenters. The John Pagano Band was able to network and create relationships as well as attract new fans within the demographics that they are shooting for. It is going to be interesting to see how these bear fruit and move forward in the future.
If you are looking to attract a fanbase amoung the younger music fan, then SXSW is worth the effort to participate in. Would I recommend spending $1500 for a showcase slot, I am not sure I would. There has to be alternatives that are based on talent as opposed to pocketbook and there are. These opportunites are not exactly easy to find and you have to have someone who is in the know to get you into these showcases. I will be honest I am seriously considering presenting a 2 day “Making a Scene” showcase at one of the venues, If I can figure a way of funding, backlining and staffing it. My intitial thoughts are fund it with sponsors and have an invited roster of touring artists who are creating new original music (Sound Familiar Indie Blues Artists?).
So, definately keep an eye open for that in the future. If you know someone that would like to be part of this project as a sponsor, definately send them my way!
You can Drop me a line using the form below.