5 Tips & Taboos to Remember at SXSW

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Jhoni Jackson, a music journalist and Puerto Rico-based venue owner.]

 

Planning is key to a successful SXSW experience, but there’s more to prepping than booking shows and finding a place to stay. Understanding what you could potentially get out of your time at the fest is equally important as accepting what’s very unlikely to happen; whether you’re a first-timer or returning band hoping for better results this year, this guide can help lay the foundation for your plans.

1. Tip: Set realistic networking goals

Getting noticed by important industry folk at SXSW would be a career-boosting dream, of course. But for most bands and artists, even if they’re on full display at an official showcase, enamoring a label rep or booking agent to a point that they sweep in and offer a massive deal that changes their lives forever—that’s simply not reality.

While the ultimate winning scenario isn’t impossible, your time at the festival is much better spent focusing on realistic networking goals. Instead of hoping for the ultimate opportunity, seek out connections with all types of people regardless of presumed influence. The founder of a tiny label you hadn’t heard of before, the blogger who’s there as official press but is covering events on their own accord, that person in the crowd who took a video of your set—any of these people could potentially help you in some way, big or small. Networking as a independent musician isn’t just about moving up the ranks, it’s about finding your people within that community, cultivating those connections and collaborating together to elevate each other’s work.

Taboo: Being obnoxious

Don’t let your eagerness to talk with someone in the industry obliterate common sense. Interrupting a conversation, grabbing at a passing person to get their attention, forcing a chat to keep going despite sensing the other party is trying to move on—all of these things are as unacceptable in industry networking as they are in any social setting. Being excited to meet someone and super-hyped by the possiblity of working together is not an excuse for being annoying or making other people uncomfortable.

2. Tip: SXSW is not just about networking

Don’t forget so wrapped up in making connections that you forget the festival is a stellar opportunity for growing your fanbase. If you’ve landed an official showcase, congratulations—but don’t ignore the unofficial parties. If there’s no stipulation in your contract against playing outside the official fest, then definitely, absolutely look into official shows.

Music passes cost between $800 and $1,000; not everyone wants to or has the option to spend that much for access to legit SXSW events. Naturally, the overflow of unofficial parties is immense. Those crowds are real opportunities to grow your fanbase. If you’re not already playing an unofficial event, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to hop on an existing bill at this point. Still, you can search for shows featuring likeminded bands—go check them out, meet people, watch other bands perform, and talk about your band and pass out CDs or cards with download codes when you can.

Taboo: Forgetting the unofficial shows

Seriously, it’s where the action is. As an independent artist, putting too much importance on official showcases and dismissing unofficial shows altogether is basically sacrilege. If you weren’t contracted for an official showcase, you can still play these unofficial shows and have a productive experience.

3. Tip: Prepare thoroughly

If you’ve got a lot of shows lined up, your time at SXSW will inevitably be chaotic. You already know it will be incredibly crowded, and schedules are incredibly compact, packed to the gills with back-to-back sets. The more prepared you are, the less likely you are to crumble under the festival’s inherently stressful pressure.

Map out your schedule, taking care to allow for time spent traveling from set to set. Whenever possible, include extra time for the possibility of fighting through a mass of immovable party people. Grabbing a bite seems relatively easy in theory, but the crowds can cause serious delays so you’ll want to figure in some time to eat, too.

Carry a snack on you, just in case. Bring along a refillable water bottle, too. Lastly, keep a portable phone charger handy, bring back-ups like strings and cables and, unless you want to feel miserable for the bulk of your trip, consistently use sunscreen during daylight hours.

Taboo: Freaking out when your schedule goes awry

No matter how meticulously you plan, it’s very possible that some outside factor will negatively affect your schedule. Do your best to adapt to whatever changes you encounter. After all, if a situation is out of your control, the best you can do is minimize additional damage: try to be constructive, but above all else, stay calm.

4. Tip: Use SXSW as a chance to try something new

Is there an idea you’ve been holding onto for fear of it not working in your local scene? Sometimes the habits you develop working your city’s circuit—even the positive ones—hold you back from trying new things. You’ve established a certain rapport with your crowd; suddenly switching things up could put off existing fans.

Handing out flyers with your social media info and album download codes in your own city might feel like overdoing it if you’re under the impression that anyone who wanted to check your band out already knows you exist. Austin during SXSW, totally jam-packed with people who’ve never heard of you, is an ideal opportunity to employ that promo strategy.

That’s only one example—you could incorporate new ideas almost anywhere, from your live setup, to how you deliver a particular song or the kind or cost of merch you sell.

Taboo: Not being yourself

Trying out something new is generally a positive thing, but you shouldn’t go so far as to present a version of yourself that isn’t genuine. It’s a fine line between entertaining a possible change and forcing one. Trust your instincts—you know when something feels insincere or contrived.

5. Tip: Enjoy yourself!

As stressful as SXSW can be, you should still be able to have a good time. Following the aforementioned tips will help you avoid major let-downs and stay chill in times of trouble. You’ll make the most out of the fest if you employ all of them—and you can still do that while having a good time.

If you don’t pile up so many expectations about networking, you’ll find it more enjoyable to connect with people. You can make new connections while hanging out and watching bands at an unofficial show—and that should be fun, duh! And that water bottle you’ve been lugging around will prove especially useful in moderating the effects of booze consumption.

Taboo: Having too good of a time, i.e. getting totally sloshed

It should go without saying that if you hit the booze (or whatever else) too hard, you’ll weaken your chances of making SXSW a productive experience. In a too-wasted state, you could screw up a set, miss an opportunity to talk with industry rep or give a music writer a really terrible first impression. Know your limits, and stick to them. The fest is good reason to party, sure—but don’t forget why you’re really there.

The Downsides of Releasing Music Often vs. Rarely

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Hugh McIntyre and is the second installment in a two-part series about how the timeliness and/or frequency of your release schedule can impact your career.]

 

Recently, I looked at the upsides that can come with releasing music either fairly often or rarely. There are plenty of good reasons to consider either one of those options, but what I didn’t discuss in detail in my piece was what could be wrong with these choices. What are the downsides to dropping albums and singles constantly, or only every so often?

Often

Ask any artist that releases a new album every year and you’ll probably hear them all say the same thing: they’re tired. Operating as a musician that shares that much material that often is exhausting in almost every way, and while it might sound terribly romantic to be so committed to your art that you’re willing to wear yourself thin to make it and put it out into the world, it’s incredibly difficult to keep up.

Between writing, recording, finishing everything else that comes with an album, and then properly promoting that new project—which means filming music videos, doing media outreach, and composing entire marketing campaigns—and that’s to say nothing of touring, it isn’t actually too difficult to imagine that refusing to take breaks in between album cycles is the sort of thing that can run anybody down, even the most ambitious and talented of artists.

If you’re constantly creating and releasing music without taking time to refresh and relax (at least for a little while), it may not take long for your art to suffer. Time is one of the necessary components to creating great music, and if you’re always working, you will see the quality of your work decrease…and everybody else will eventually notice as well. Sure, you may be selling more albums than you would if you only dropped a full length every few years, but can you keep up the pace for long? Are you really willing to all but kill yourself to get to a place where you’re worn out and creating music that may be beneath the best you can?

Also, just because you’re not taking time in between albums, that doesn’t mean that creating singles and albums (and everything else connected to these products) can be finished faster. It’s likely that putting together a 10-track record will take you essentially the same amount of time no matter how you’re doing it…so don’t you want your art to be appreciated? Putting new things out into the world constantly doesn’t let fans and the media give each piece the right amount of time and attention. If there’s always something else to hear, everybody will move on, and that can cheapen your art!

Rarely

It’s quite simple: if you don’t release a lot of music, you’ll have fewer things to sell. Even your biggest and most ardent fans are only going to buy every album you release once (or perhaps twice, depending on how you market different formats). Releasing an album every few years may help in some departments, and it may be the absolute best art you can possibly create, but you can still only sell it so many times. Sharing new tunes less frequently means you’ll need to focus on selling more copies to different people, which means more time spent promoting your limited output in the hopes of attracting new fans. Adding to your fan base sounds great (and of course it is), but it’s far easier to sell something, anything, to a fan you already have than to turn a stranger into a paying customer.

On top of having fewer opportunities to sell music, releasing music only occasionally only gives you so many chances to promote yourself, at least via traditional methods. Few blogs will want to interview an up-and-coming artist with nothing new to push, and larger publications that may only be potentially interested in you during the beginning of a cycle may miss you once, and then you’ll need to wait a long time before having a good reason to pitch them again. Even if you spend the money to hire a publicist, they’ll likely tell you that your best chances of getting press come when there is something new and exciting coming.

The same can be said for touring. Much like selling music, only the biggest and most adoring fans will come see you more than once if you have nothing new to play them. Tickets always sell better when you’re in full promotional mode, which comes with a new “era.” Plus, does it sound like fun to you as an artist to continually travel across the country playing nothing but the same few tracks?

One of the least talked-about issues facing artists that take lengthy breaks in between album cycles (or whatever we want to call it in today’s post-album economy) is that of lost momentum. Sometimes when a new or lesser-known artist starts to see their single become well known, be it on the charts or via a streaming platform like Spotify, they have already released an album or an EP that had been in the works. While some tracks become overnight sensations, it still takes a lot of acts months to see their songs go viral. Once that happens, musicians need to do everything they can to capitalize on their newfound, growing popularity. To disappear for a few years shortly after a potential fan base becomes interested is a huge wasted opportunity.

While it may be tiring, the smart thing is to try to get something out in time for those people that just arrived to the party to snap up more material, thus cementing them as fans. If you step away for a time and return years later, it might be too late for many of them, and you’ll have lost some could-have-been fans.

Wednesday Video Diversion: March 1, 2017

On this extra special middle day of the week, we’re finding a few reasons to be happy. For example, it’s the first day of March! Also, we get to wish a three-way musical Happy Birthday to Harry Belafonte, Roger Daltrey and Justin Bieber! There’s a party we wouldn’t miss. ANYHOW – find your own excuse to tune out of your daily duties and enjoy these fine TuneCore Artist music videos:

 

Nada Surf, “Where Is My Mind?”

Marshmello, “Summer (feat. Lele Pons)”

WillThaRapper, “Pull Up Hop Out”

MoStack, “Murder (feat. Moelogo)”

Rench, “Mugshot”

Tow’rs, “Porcelain”

Taelor Gray, “Famous”

Chris Bourne, “She Drives Me Crazy”

FOXY MOJO, “Say Goodbye”

February Industry Wrap-Up

The cold weather is slowly on its way out and SXSW is on the horizon – must be the end of February! That’s why we’re here to wind down the month in music industry happenings. Just because it was a short month doesn’t mean there was no action – read on to catch the latest on Facebook’s upcoming video ventures, collaboration among the YouTube and Google Play Music teams, and Spotify’s ‘sunny’ new parter.

 

Facebook to Introduce Longer-Form ‘Premium’ Music Video Content


As online videos become an even more integral part of marketing and promotion for artists – from major label mainstays to indie up-and-comers – competition to serve hungry fans continues to heat up among all the big name platforms. If you’ve been reading around, you know that Facebook is a key contender in its attempts to offer users exciting ways to consume video content, including it’s rolling out of Facebook Live which paid some big name creators to help promote the service in its early stages.

Recently, Facebook’s VP of Partnerships Dan Rose expressed their desire to begin offering ‘premium videos’, with content shifting into the 5-10 minute length. According to reports, Facebook will offer indie artists and labels the opportunity to test and create episodic content while being paid directly by Facebook in the early stages; Rose says the model will shift to a rev-share after that. With almost two billion users, Facebook remains a major platform for promoting and marketing musical content.

Like anything else surrounding the world of copyright and video content, Facebook is facing concerns from members of the music industry surrounding licensing. When you’re hoping to take a slice of YouTube’s market share, at the very least, a platform should have systems in place that protect copyright holders and ensure that they can be paid properly for the use of their works. Like YouTube’s Content ID system that allows TuneCore to help artists collect their sound recording revenue when their music is used in videos across the platform, sources say that Facebook is in the process of building a parallel copyright ID program. This will be crucial in the potential success of Facebook’s upcoming premium video plans, and it goes to show the importance being placed on protecting copyrighted work – good news for artists of all stripes!

 

Google Merges Play Music & YouTube Music Teams


This past month it was revealed to media outlets that the product teams in charge of directing YouTube Music and Google Play Music will be combined into a single unit. Confirmed by Google, a spokesperson said: “Music is very important to Google and we’re evaluating how to bring together our music offerings to deliver the best possible product for our users, music partners and artists. Nothing will change for users today and we’ll provide plenty of notice before any changes are made.”

What does this mean for artists? Well, we already know that independent music makers can make their music available on YouTube and Google Play via TuneCore, but with the platforms technically being under the same umbrella, this appears to be a play towards creating a better overall user experience for music consumers. As streaming services acquire new subscribers every day, access to independent music grows and artists are able to make themselves available to fans who use all different ‘preferred platforms’ for discovering new tunes.

There’s an array of possible reasons for this internal shift at one of the biggest media companies in the world – perhaps as a move to simplify in-app listening, and more interestingly, a way for Google to negotiate deals with artists and labels. Either way, users of both apps will be able to continue using them as normal for now, and it’s highly possible that artists can look forward to a simpler way to reach YouTube- and Google Play-loyal fans in the near future.

 

Spotify’s Latest Partner is … a Weather Company?


We all know that weather impacts our moods. We all also know that music can play a similar role. But how do listeners build playlists that capture any given climate?

Ever the forward-thinking streaming platform, Spotify announced in February that is partnering with weather reporting website AccuWeather to develop and launch a site called Climatune, offering playlists for various cities based on varying weather conditions. This comes after partnerships with modern apps and companies like Uber, Tinder and Headspace, and shows that Spotify has no intention of slowing down its pace of clever collaboration with those looking to bring music into the fold.

So instead of just throwing on Banarama on those sunny days or curling up to some Morrisey during a morning rainstorm, Climatune offers playlists to music fans based on the hours and hours of research in major cities pointing to habits of listeners based on the skies. For example, did you know that residents of Chicago get excited when it rains, causing a huge lift in happier music? Houston Spotify subscribers, on the other hand, boost their acoustic listening by 121% on rainy days.

While it remains to be seen just how many subscribers will utilize this cool new service, we here at TuneCore see it as just another interesting avenue for music discovery via the popularity of playlists.

“Ahh, It’ll Be Fine!”

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written by Gabe Anderson, a TuneCore Artist and blogger. Check out his thoughts and perspective on music and the industry over at his site, Gabe The Bass Player!]

 

When you show up and the stage is a weird size or shape: Here’s what most likely happened…

…A few hours earlier when the people were done setting it up, they had a back and forth conversation with each other about whether or not they should make the stage less weird, because they kinda had a feeling it was a little off. But that conversation that ultimately ended with, “…ahh, it’ll be fine.”

But now you’re the one who has to deal with the consequences of “It’ll be fine.”

When the venue decides to use other green room for extra beer storage and cleaning supplies…can’t you just hear that conversation?! Also a conversation that ended with “…ahh, it’ll be fine.”

And now all 3 bands and crews, roughly a bazillion people, have to mash into a room designed for 8.

When the designated merch area is located far far away from the main entrance/exit of the venue…”…the people who want merch will still find the march table…it’ll be fine,” said the person who had to make the decision but was not well informed enough to make a good one.

But you and I both know the location of merchandise at the venue swings merch sales by a million percent.

“It’ll be fine” in so many cases usually means, “This decision works for me right now. I don’t want to work harder to figure out a better solution and I won’t have to personally deal with the consequences, so for me it really will be fine.”

Musicians and artists find themselves on the receiving end of “it’ll be fine” conversations and consequences all the time, especially on the road. And the truth is these little wrinkles in the day can literally make the whole thing crumble in an instant. I know you’ve been there, the rock in your shoe that keeps on stinging.

So per the situations above: after someone has left you with one of these “ahh, it’ll be fine” situations…you’re still the one left with a weird stage, a crammed green room and poorly located merch.

What are you suppose to do with this blatant injustice?

Well the first thing is just that…ARE you going to do anything at all?

Hold on…first things first…take a few minutes and get it out. Vent it. Because you’re right…what on God’s green earth were they thinking doing it that way? You’re right, you could have done a better job and you don’t even run a venue for a living. You’re right, the shouldn’t get to screw up while the consequences get placed upon your shoulders.

Let it out baby, I understand, it’s warranted.

Now then…If all you’re going to DO is complain, take your two minutes of rage and then shut up about it. If you’re not going to DO anything, let it go, make the most of it, move the conversation and your brain onto something else.

If you decide you are going to try and improve the situation, be realistic about the possible outcomes. You know how venue managers are notorious for being a ball of laughs and extremely helpful to artists.

But just to emphasize the idea of being realistic with improving the situations…let’s keep going with the examples from above:

  • You’re probably not going to get them to re-do the stage, it’ll just piss them off if you ask because to them it’s way too much work to pull off in a short amount of time. But you might ask to make more room on stage by putting the amps off stage, or putting the drum kit a little to the left so the keys player can squeeze in back there too as oppose to being up front.
  • You’re probably not going to get them to clear out the beer and cleaning supplies from the other green room. Don’t ask. They just did the awful work of getting all that crap in there. But you could make a deal with the other acts that each band gets the green room to themselves the 30mins before their set time.
  • You can probably move the merch wherever you want as long as YOU are willing to move it and it doesn’t violate fire code or access to the bar.

So I’ll leave you with two things to close:

When you find yourself about to utter the words “Ahh, it’ll be fine…”, remember how much it can put others in a pinch.

When you have to shoulder the consequences of “Ahh, it’ll be fine…”, as quickly as possible, decide whether or not you’re going to DO anything about it. If not, move on. If so, fight to employ a realistic approach on your part.

p.s. This could be fun: In what ways have you been on the receiving end of the “Ahh, it’ll be fine” mentality? Let us know in the comments!

Wednesday Video Diversion: February 22, 2017

DID YOU KNOW that 50 long years ago this week Pink Floyd was working on their debut, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, at Abbey Road Studios during the same time that the Beatles were wrapping up recording Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band in the same studio? Pretty sweet, if we say so ourselves. But we’re not here just to hook you up with weird random music history. We’re here to hook you up with sweet TuneCore Artist music videos! What else have you got going on during a Wednesday afternoon in February?

 

John 5 and the Creatures, “Now Fear This”

Julie Frost, “Rhythm & Blues”

Anchorlot, “Phoenix”

Ki:Theory, “Stand By Me”

Poppy, “I’m Poppy”

Jor’dan Armstrong, “So Much Luv/Count It”

JMSN, “Power”

JoJo Siwa, “Boomerang”

Rebel SoulJahz, “Ms Beautiful”

Hopsin, “All Your Fault”