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SXSW survival guide

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Tuesday, Mar 14, 2006

For the music biz, March madness translate to the middle of the Lone Star state where the annual South By Southwest festival (SXSW) takes place.  After starting out in the mid 80’s in a hotel’s conference room, SXSW has grown into an industry monster where 100’s of bands and 1000’s of writers, A&R reps, producers and industry folk swoop down on what is probably the most music-friendly city in America.
  
Even as an admitted flunky who willingly does non-paid work for the organization, I have to admit that there’s a lot to love and hate about SXSW.  Other than looking through the official band listing, my favorite place to find out info is the Unofficial SXSW list.  Recently, there was a raging debate about badges and wristbands.  Badges go to the registrants, bands, industry people, etc. and wristbands are offered for sale to Austinites where the former gets you first priority into all shows and the ‘bands put you as the tier below that for entrance to shows.  Needless to say, there’s some resentment about that.


Popular Gripes:
- Not even wristbands (can’t overcrowd shows)
- Can’t see hottest bands (wait 6 months to see ‘em later)
- Big names play there who don’t need exposure (but it helps draw attention to smaller bands)
- Resentment of 1000’s of people invading town (legit: same with CMJ)


Tips:
- Have back-up plans for shows since things get crowded sometimes
- Wear good shoes
- Take advantage of day parties


Some final thoughts cribbed from a post I made to the Unofficial SXSW list…


For some perspective, here in New York, the closest thing we have to a citywide music festival that people from all over the country come to is CMJ.  It’s an embarrassment compared to SXSW.  The clubs are spread all over the place so you’d have to take several expensive cab rides around NYC to check out what you could see on 6th in Austin in one night.  One thing about SXSW that’s always impressed me is that the set times were pretty much kept to- that almost NEVER, ever happens in NYC, even when CMJ is in town (Irving Plaza is the only club I’ve seen here that has bands come out when they’re scheduled to).  Even in the off-seasons, hotels here in New York are insanely over-priced.  Again, just to be up-front, I usually do SXSW panels but I think it’s safe to say that SXSW again trounces CMJ in that regard- there’ll be several that I’d want to attend in Austin and maybe one (if that) that I’d wanna see at CMJ.


We used to have New Music Seminar here but that’s long gone.  We’re supposed to be the media capital of the U.S. or the world or something like that and this is the best we can come up with?  It’s sad.  Everyone here knows what a disorganized mess CMJ is but we just have to go along with it, or skip it if we’re really p.o.‘d.  Truth be known, the showcases here aren’t that much better than what usually rolls through here on a good week or month.  CMJ itself hasn’t been doing too well and barely hangs on year after year- they put out a magazine but mostly, they’re just known for the fest they put on every year.


For any Austinite who gets mad seeing all these out-of-towners invading your space, I definintely understand.  I feel the same way when CMJ comes here and I’m relieved when it’s over.


For me, SXSW means that I get to get out of town and enjoy warm weather, a boat-load of bands and good food.  I also get to see a lot of friends scattered around the U.S. that I don’t see otherwise.  I also honestly find Austinites to be much more friendly than New Yorkers.  The first year that I came to SXSW (about six years ago), I was so impressed, that I actually toyed with the idea of moving there (who knows, maybe I will someday…).


Another thing that Austin kills NY over is the music community.  I’ve never seen or heard of a city with such strong music backing.  Here in NY, we get club crack-downs over Cabaret laws that are about a century old and closings happening all the time because real estate market pushes these places out of business.  I’m actually working with a group of club owners here to start a music commission and we’re using Austin as a model.  We have a LONG way to go to catch up but we’re definitely going to try…


(Note: Some Austinites told me recently that their locale has been having some of the same problems with clubs getting harassed)

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