SXSW is still worth it for up-and-coming bands, but not for the reasons you'd think
Your author, demonstrating the importance of down time (and creativity) at SXSW.
Courtesy of Wheelchair Sports Camp
Editor's note: As she has in years past, Kalyn Heffernan from Wheelchair Sports Camp will be sending us dispatches from the band's trip to Austin for SXSW.
An Austin blog asked me to, "describe SXSW in 15 seconds." I did it with only two words: shit show. But that's not the big question, the one that kicks on my door every year. "Is SXSW worth it for up-and-coming bands?"
The biggest blow of going to SXSW is that no one makes money doing it. Well, probably the city of Austin and a small handful of bonafide hustlers. For us, the goal is just to break even. Which is much easier said than done.
The plan was to come down here primarily to busk, sell merch, and come home with loot. But we only made that happen for a brief time before our showcase Friday. I linked up with world-class beat-box badass Ashley "Saywut" Moyer, who laid down a beat, and we rocked a couple covers and originals on the corner of 6th & Trinity. Thanks to all the b-boys and onlookers who stopped and gave us dough.
This is my third SXSW and I'm beginning to feel like a seasoned veteran. So many of us come down to SXSW with so much to do and majority of the time don't get a chance to do half of it. We're all exhausted, and we didn't even "turn up" as hard as we could have. To make it through SXSW you have to take time to do nothing, and I noticed a lot more people doing that this year.
The trick to SXSW is coming in with zero expectations, because not much ever goes as planned. Some people make the best of their week without doing anything official, just hitting all the day and house parties.
Still, the Colorado Music Party we played was a super blast, and our official showcase with the Strange Famous Family popped off as anticipated. There are a few advantages to playing the official showcases: getting on the SXSW website, being able to say you're an official artist, having access to all the official shows and getting the opportunity to release a video through SXSW. Most of the networking happens at other people's shows, which makes having a wristband worth the while. Being official also helps with the press train.
But the unofficial stuff can be just as fun and packed if not more than the official stuff. All of Austin is SXSW, and there are no shortage of dope shows going on everywhere.
I realized this trip how funny it is that so many of us make the huge trek down here to play super short sets that is usually cut even shorter because of set up time (shouts to my five piece band holding me down this trip. Rubedo, Mike Brown on bass and Everai). It usually takes about three times the amount of time to find parking and lugging gear than playing an actual set. Typical sets are about 30 minutes and there's no room to start or end late. Those who come down with huge bands and loads of gear that isn't on wheels end up killing themselves.
We were enjoying my wheelchair magic at St. Vincent on the VIP balcony at Stubb's, when it occurred to me that the terrible crash that killed two and injured many more happened just a block or two away. I'm still surprised nothing has happened like this in the past. There are so many wasted people down here every year. Just crossing the street is scary biz.
I expected SXSW to be bigger this year. It's always felt bigger to me every year I go. But this time, I sensed a weird vibe that SXSW is starting to plateau. Maybe it's just more spread out, but I was extremely surprised to get in to as many big shows as we did. We watched St Vincent, Little Dragon, Warpaint, Tech N9NE, and DJ Lo down Loretta Brown (Erykah Badu), all of which i thought would be impossible to see. And the crowds weren't even huge.
This year I felt really spoiled at SXSW. We found a kush place to stay at for the week (thanks Will!), we made it to most of the shows we wanted to see, paid for the trip with shows on the way down here, made great connects/ I was recognized by the super fly THEESatisfaction (holy shit), we played a great official showcase and a great day party. I spent a whole week with some of my favorite people (like B.Dolan, who i don't see enough), I ate In-n-Out two days in a row, and to top it all off... Nardwuar just sent me this shoutout from Bushwick Bill. yeah i don't think we could have done it any better.
Now is SXSW worth it? Well so far for us, it has been every year. It's even getting better. Maybe because I'm more "grown."
If you plan on coming to SXSW to make money, stay home. I still brought a suitcase of merch (just in case) and hardly needed any of it in Austin.
If you plan on coming to SXSW with a huge list of shows to see and flyers/free CDs to promote yourself, stay home. Everyone's doing that and all that promo crap, CDs and posters just end up littering the city. The trick is to spend as little as possible. As with anything, it's the face-to-face networking that makes real connections. And the whole point of SXSW is playing for an audience that you can't get at home, and linking with a lot of people in a short amount of time.
If you come to SXSW to be surrounded by fellow hipsters, and indie bands stay home. SXSW is the best because people from all walks of life are running amongst each other, going to see music from all genres and all corners of the world. It's a giant place for all types of music enthusiasts of all shapes and sizes. And I guess that's why I can't help but come back every year.
• BACKBEAT'S GREATEST HITS •
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.