How to survive SXSW

By Ryan Sommer on March 6th, 2012

So you carved out a niche in today’s overcrowded music landscape (Dub Step, or Bass Music maybe?) and managed to score yourself a pass to this year’s SXSW in Austin. Here is a survival guide written for the pragmatist in your group – not for the artist or dreamer who will be busy perfecting his stage dive – in order to maximise the experience and learn a few things along the way.

We polled some musicians who have managed to stay in favour in this ever-changing climate on the heels of the Midem Music Conference, which recently wrapped in France, and scoured the panel listings for this year’s SXSW. What follows is our best advice for upcoming scenesters hoping to steal the stage via tech smarts and good old perseverance and chops.

Hold on to your genre
Sticking to a sound and an aesthetic can sometimes be the equivalent of musical suicide. But with today’s never-ending channels for discovery (Spotify, Internet radio, apps…) niche artists actually stand to benefit for once. So hold on to your genre! Make inroads with other musicians and use the same tools your fans are using to find out where your music can keep speaking its tone.

Giles Littleford of London-based Dark Captain, whose second album recently charted in the Top 25 “Singer/Songwriter” albums in iTunes US explains:

“Dark Captain has embraced a mellower-side listening audience to great effect since reaching the USA folk charts when our first album was released.” Littleford continues: “You never know how a show will play out though, our performance at The Hush Festival last year, where Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite was also a headliner, actually turned out to be one of our more raucous gigs.”

Hip to be Square
After redefining the mobile payment experience for merchants everywhere via a simple app, and signing up Sir Richard Branson as an investor Square continues to grow at a stellar pace.

The company recently unveiled a newiPad app, with deeper sales analytics, and it’s not just for brick and mortars!

Tip for Austin: Publish your band as a business profile to the Card Case directory so fans (or customers) can find you as they explore Austin.

Find the Next Balcony TV

What began as a way to showcase local musicians on the web from one dude’s flat in Dublin way back in, oh, 2006 has now grown into a viral media powerhouse with 20 million views of over 5,000 music performance videos in the process .

As Cofounder Stephen O’Regan told The Next Web, “It’s quite a bizarre start-up story. Me and my flatmates were sat in our apartment, and we joked that we should really use our balcony more.”

Whatever the impetus was, it is an undeniable business now for O’Regan, and one that can help get your music discovered. Another video-based music discovery platform to seek out on the ground in Austin is Vice’s Noisey.

Start Spinning on Turntable.fm
People listen to music in very different ways these days, and geeks at SXSW are at the forefront of the ambient transition. No we aren’t talking Jean Michel Jarre.

Technology has made music a background concept to most people who consume it today, and an a la carte one at that. Your hardcore fan base might be a respectable sized group of family and friends of friends. Maybe they even supported you through a Kickstarter fund to begin with? But at SXSW you are not catering to them… you are catering to a stream of information… and you need to jump in at as many vantage points as possible.

The success of Turntable.fm, by their own admission, “shows how we are entering a stage where owning music as an individual is less important than playing it together as a community.”

In any case the artists currently playing tracks (both their own or others) via virtual “rooms” in the States now include Talib Kweli, Diplo, ?uestlove, Manchester Orchestra and Ra Ra Riot.

Share and share alike via the cloud
If you truly love your craft, you will help spread the love for other musicians. If you hear something great at SXSW, that you think your audience would appreciate, and that isn’t seeing much play, get in contact with the musicians and see about uploading some of their work to get it in front of your audience.

What music connoisseurs want these days is never-ending choice and a bit of curation thrown in on top of that. Through services like SugarSync, and Dropbox, you can easily swap and share tracks with other like-minded musicians from your mobile. We hear the conference does have Wi-Fi.

Collecting fan data on the go
In order to really start marketing your music, you need fan data. If you haven’t already started building it, SXSW offers one of the world’s best opportunities to capture newsletter signups and more from fans at your gig. Start by defining some objectives for what you want to achieve marketing-wise. Who is your target audience, and where will they be?

Once you have some of these concepts in place, Indie Ambassador has a great post up right now on mobile tools to use on the ground to achieve your goals.

Oh… and the Panels
Ever get the feeling like there is something else going on behind the scenes at SXSW? Keep stumbling into people wearing glasses having intelligent conversations in between those sets from Monotonix where the dude set the drums on fire? Oh yeah… it’s panels!

Here is a list of some of the music-tech panels this year which should not be missed:

Social Media makes hit music services

Go From, I Love That Band to I Love That Brand

Participatory Culture: The Discourse of Pitchfork

Music at the App Store: Lessons From Eno and Björk

The Dark Art of Digital Music Recommendations

Smartphones: The Gadget that Ate Everything

Why Memes? Why Now?

Active Listening

Social Music Strategies: Viral & the Power of Free.