My first year was in 2009 after moving to Texas from Boston. I knew about four bands on the roster and felt lost for five days, so I quickly understood that the following year would take some planning. The next year, I started up Operation Every Band, mainly as a personal project with a journal of the experience of listening to 2,000+ artists and things snowballed from there. I haven’t missed a year since, so this will be my eighth.
I have always been drawn to new music and discovery and especially just taking in live music. If you plan your day out right, you can catch a dozen artists per day that you truly want to see, with a few surprises here and there. I tend to catch full sets too, which are anywhere from 20-40 minutes. I love the short sets — a great taste and then on to the next artist. If something is incredible, I can catch a set on their next tour to hear more and just support the artists in general.
For bigger artists, they get instant promotion since a majority of journalists are in one place at one time. That’s the least important thing happening at SXSW, however, since it is definitely a festival focused on discovery, not just “shows.” For smaller artists, SXSW can be an excellent catalyst. It used to be getting signed would be the big win, but now labels are more a means to an end, but the onus falls on the artist now more than ever. There’s an element of hard work too, a level of caring that the artists are putting into their sets at SXSW that can really make an artist stand out. Play music, get press, share with the masses and see where it goes.
For the industry, that’s a greyer line. The music industry is so organic in this age that many are like me, tastemakers that have full-time jobs elsewhere and are sharing a passion, instead of the traditional model that people may think when they hear “industry.” I’ve met more tastemakers than “employees” at SXSW, and honestly they seem to be up earlier, in front of stages and passionately reporting more than the people that are being paid to be there. This division is clear as day down in SXSW and should be a big red flag for those in the traditional industry.
The power is back with the artists and listeners, but now we just got to fix the model on how artists are compensated and the industry change will be where it needs to be. It’s telling every year to read reactions and complaints from different camps of how things are not “like they used to be” at SXSW, and I think that’s for the better. If you can’t keep up, get out of the race.
For fans, it is heaven when done right. If you put the work in beforehand, every hour can be filled with inventive new music. What’s better than that?
For the future, keep on keeping on. SXSW provides a stage, and as long as that continues to be the case, they’ll be successful. I wouldn’t change their model a bit.
In terms of the music landscape, I see SXSW as the start of the music season, one that repeats every year and continues to grow. To play it out, an artist can record in the fall/winter, then set a release date for new music around SXSW. January and February you throw out a few early singles and build some buzz heading into the conference. Book a ton of shows, play all new material and get some immediate buzz from press, tastemakers and fans. Maybe connect with a band or two and set up some plans for the future. Spring brings a tour supporting the record, heading right into festival season all summer. In the fall, head back to the studio, tour a bit more and then the process repeats. SXSW is a key cog in that wheel and this pattern has become more and more regular for emerging artists.
Honestly, with 2,000+ bands, I think they have every genre covered and more. There seems to be even more emphasis on emerging artists and discovery this year, so that’s always refreshing. I do like the big artists since it makes the lines elsewhere shorter though!