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Thursday, March 25, 2010

SXSW WHY?



***UPDATE***
Thriller Energy Drinks is now suing us because of this article. You can view the court document here. Please join the facebook support group here. Please send Thriller angry emails here:
thrillpill@thrillerenergy.com




HEY EVERYONE checking out this post after being refered here from metafilter, pitchfork, punknews, facebook tumbler, stumbleupon, secretsociety.typepad.com, or twitter:

CHECK OUT THIS CRAZY LINK RIGHT NOW

Also this one.

Hey this will be my last post about sxsw. But it's super long so enjoy:

We put on our own showcase to try and highlight the importance of actual bands and musicians at sxsw. Like every other part of the music industry, it's musicians and artists that are the oil in the machines of this festival. But all too often artists are treated exactly like that - as a simple combustible energy source to keep something much larger afloat. Like any other industry, there are producers and owners. The reality of music can be the same on as any factory floor, and there are the same economic units that get spread around - if you are in a band, you have a miniscule amount of power, and if you are an owner (a record label, a corporation, the sxsw company), then you have a lot more power. Bands often try to deny that they are part of any economic system - and in some cases that's true. But if your band has anything to do with sxsw, has released a record on any sort of record label, plays in any sort of club, then you are an economic unit just like any Walmart employee or Chase Executive, and at least a part of your energy as an artist should be spent trying to get more power.

For most people, and most bands, sxsw is a lot of fun. Even though we play 2 or 3 shows a day during the festival, and only get a few hours of sleep a night, our general attitude towards going is that it's like a holiday from our usual touring life. It's sunny, lots of our friends are there, we sometimes get free jeans and sunglasses, and generally it's one of the most chill(wave) times of the year. If your band has the right attitude, sxsw is a lot of fun.

It's also a great way to move forward with your artistic career, because it puts a lot of people together in one intense burst of activity over a few days. You might go down there a no one and come back signed to Mexican Summer Records. For a lot of bands, it can be the opposite. 2010 was our third time playing the festival, but the first time it didn't cost us $3000 of our own money to do. The expense is high, and is rightly seen by most bands as a sensible gamble, weighed either against a week of good times, or at a chance at moving forward with the business of being a band - money well spent to meet managers, agents or record labels. But it's still an expense, and while bands from all over the world are spending thousands of dollars to get to Austin, there are a lot of companies already there and with massive economic power (a whole bunch of those units I was talking about earlier) who are using these bands to varying degrees to get even more powerful.

Here are a few relatively innocuous examples. The first time we did sxsw there were these little packs of gum everywhere by this company called 5 (actually owned by Wrigley). I had never seen this gum before, or heard of this company. They didn't put on a showcase, they had just left thousands of packs of gum everywhere for people to grab, and I guess also chew. That year we travelled around the country and started seeing the gum everywhere. This is called passive advertising. There weren't any 5 gum billboards anywhere at sxsw that year, just all these packs of gum by this company that seemed to have come out of nowhere. Lots of cool people came down to Austin, got some free packs of gum, and then presumably went back to Williamsburg and started buying packs of 5 gum. Now you see the stuff in every super market. Same thing Sweet Leaf Tea. I had never heard of this stuff before we played FYF in LA last year. It was all over the place at sxsw this year, and now you can find it at Whole Foods. Same thing with Incase. I'm not saying that any of these companies are evil in any way, but I also don't remember any of them helping to pay for the gas we had to buy to get all the way down to Austin and back (actually it was jetfuel).

Another example is Thriller Energy Drinks. When we first started going to sxsw in 2007, this was just one sad looking guy handing these tiny cans to people out of a garbage can full of ice at the corner of Red River and 7th. I guess he was at one of our shows that year and wrote some ridiculous shit about us on his website. Since then Thriller has grown into a relatively successful energy drink brand, and his mostly gross ads were spread all over sxsw this year. He got in touch with us this year about co-promoting a few shows and asked us to play a few of the shows he was presenting. We think energy drinks are some of the most vile stuff you can put in your body and didn't really want to have anything to do with him as a person or his company. He was persistent in bugging us for the first half of 2010 so we finally let him shell some of his gross drinks at our official showcase. We were a bit stretched for cash and came into some problems really close to the date of our event, so we took some money from him, which we immediatly felt bad about. Really just a gross company, and even though we did help him promote our show, we wouldn't do it again. While all the companies we've mentioned in this article up to this point have been ones we've worked with on multiple occations, and hope to do in the future, and admire, we can say with force that Thriller Energy Drinks is a bullshit company and we won't be working with them ever again.

Same goes for sxsw as an organization (except that we do want to keep working with them). A festival pass can cost almost $800 a person. A band gets either wristbands or $250, which is enough to buy enough gas to get your van maybe 15 hours away from Austin, one way. Most bands are from outside that radius, and are well within the range of losing a shit ton of money by coming. In exchange, sxsw gets access to the best bands in the world, every club in Austin, and sponsorship money from all the coolest companies on earth. One of the more creatively heinous examples of branding I learned about this year was the Green Label Sound record label, which is a branding exercise of Mountain Dew soda. When my friend was offered to do a record with Green Label Sound for many thousands of dollars, I was happy to concede that it was a great deal for his specific band. Then I saw the giant 4 panel billboard for Green Label Sound right next to Stubbs on Red River St. Great for Chromeo, Neon Indian and the two other bands on the advert I forget ("great" in the sincere and non-facetious sense) and realized how maybe it was a bit more of a serious issue than I'd thought. Think of all the bands that had to blow their wallets apart to get to their one sxsw showcase, and all the partiers who had to pay to fly or hitchhike from Greenpoint or Plymouth to get to Austin in order to create the cultural critical mass that allowed Mountain Dew to greenlight a giant billboard in the epicenter of American indie rock. Think of why there is so much free beer and cigarettes and energy drinks at sxsw, and why every year there is even more, and why every year there are a dozen more huge shows presented by even bigger companies than last year. It's because you paid your money to go there and see these ads.

This is important for a lot of reasons, all of which have to do with you as an economic actor. Something that should be forefront in the minds of every band and every record label is how this is the most visual example of music money leaching away from the people most connected to music. You may have heard that the music industry is sort of falling apart. It isn't really a matter of there being less money in the pool - just that the money people have to spend on entertainment (which will always be somewhat of a constant) is just being diverted away from where it historically has gone (record labels and managers). The music industry is by definition an operation invented to divert money spent on music away from actual musicians - the problems that the music industry is currently facing have specifically to do with the fact that the money that would usually flow directly to the bigger economic actors is now going somewhere else.

Sxsw should be an example of where some of that money is going. While labels are trying to figure out how they can get their piece back, the question sxsw should leave for bands is how to get theirs, or to at least not throw it directly at hospitality and energy conglomerates in order to get to Austin and see your fans money go straight down the throats of Mountain Dew incorporated instead of into your pocket. And again, just to re-iterate - it's not like these companies are inherently evil or vicious. I kind of like Mountain Dew. It's just that they are way better than you at figuring out how to get peoples money, and while your job as an artists should mostly be about making great art, it should also be a little bit about how to be smart at if not making money, then at least not throwing an undue amount away just so someone else can make money at your expense. This is the crux of the matter - there is a big pool of money out there that everyone is trying to get - the music industry is panicking because a lot of the money that used to go from music consumers right to them, is now going to companies that are posted just on the periphery of music, letting bands and labels spend money making music, and then swooping in with music related marketing strategies aimed at getting some of that relatively free money.

Sxsw then can be seen as an economic battle ground. Our first time down there in 2007, the biggest buzz was about how sxsw was shutting down unofficial venues left and right, presumably because the money and the buzz created by those shows was flowing away from the festival, rather than towards it. The shows were mostly free, which made them irresistible to music consumers tired of needing to buy expensive passes from sxsw to check out cool bands. This is a pretty good analogy for what then started to happen to the entire industry - it became possible for fans who had spent most of their lives buying CD's (that they knew cost 50 cents to produce but cost $17.99 to buy) to download them on the internet for free, and record labels, who started seeing CD sales plummet, immediately starting trying to shut these sites down. While sxsw quickly learned to lay off the free parties and start using them to their advantage, the record industry has yet to figure out how to profit from "illegal" downloading. This year the focus of the festival was free parties only tangentially related to sxsw. Sxsw knows that it's never going to shut down every free party, so it makes more sense just to let them happen, and use the initiatives of the bands and labels and companies throwing these parties make sxsw as a whole more appealing.

So you might be asking at this point why we decided to put on our show as an officially sanctioned sxsw show. For a few reasons. First - we believe that sxsw provides an invaluable service to many bands. It is one of the genuine places where a band can become a success overnight. Just ask Freelance Whales or Wavves. For a few select bands every year, the ability to go from a small buzz band to a band with a record contract and an advance is very real. Second - it's really fun. We love going to sxsw and will probably continue to do so, even though we are locked into a record contract for the next 50 years and us going down there really serves no direct purpose. Third - had we just thrown an unofficial party it wouldn't have helped us make the point we wanted to make. As was discussed earlier, bands need to recognize that they are economic actors, and start acting like it. In 2007 we didn't know anything, and our official showcase was a mile away from any other show, no one came, and Damian was so disheartened that he spin kicked a stop sign after the show (I am not kidding). In 2010 we know a lot more and have spent the last 3 years learning about how to get as much money out of the music industry as possible without resorting to advertising and other lame shit (we even sued Rolling Stone for using us in an ad without our permission, remember? Ps we lost). This year our show was right in the center of town, we programmed five other amazing bands, lots of people came, I got in a fight with a the official sxsw doorman (which is pretty much the reason I'm writing this article), we got to help publicize a good cause (shirts for a cure), got good reviews on choice websites, and we made money, all because we set out to make decisions that would help us as a band, rather than help out sxsw or any other company. The point of doing a show within the sxsw framework was to show that it doesn't take a record label or a company to put on a concert at sxsw - you are the band, you should be the one calling the shots.

(Altamont [a shoe and clothing company] gave us $1000 to help out with our show, which we used to rent $1000 worth of back line for all the bands to use. As I mentioned, it's not about completely disavowing participation from outside agents, it's about using them to your advantage. If Altamont sells a few pairs of shoes because of our show, we're fine with that - we feel like we got what we needed out of our relationship with the company.)

For bands it should be about making conscious decisions. The first one is obvious - should you come to sxsw? The trip back can be a lonely one. Your assigned showcase was east of the highway, or west of Congress, and no one came. Every morning I walked from my hotel to the grocery store for breakfast, and along the way I passed a dozen clubs that had bands playing to no one at 11am. It's this overkill of content that sxsw is able to thrive on. Every year the festival expands because every band that's ever been written up on a blog feels like there is a signed record contract waiting for them on the off ramp of the I-35. Bands making bad decisions is part of why big companies are able to prey on the festival as a whole. Every company on earth could program a show at sxsw, because every band thinks the best way to get exposure is to play five shows a day for a week. The Black Lips were written up in The New York Times in 2007 because they played 12 shows at sxsw, because in 2007 no one had done that many shows, and it was a remarkable idea. At this point every band in America is trying to play as many shows as possible, and it's no longer interesting. Playing that many shows is just going to exhaust you, make your performances less interesting and vital because you are so tired, and just compound your disillusionment when your feat of strength isn't celebrated by every blog on the internet. It's about being creative and smart.

What's important to remember is that even if you are a small band with no label, or even just a fan of music, every decision you make at the festival has a ripple effect on the music industry, which you are a part of. If you are a band, and are offered to play the Dewars Pampers Ultra Soft stage, it may be a legitimately good decision to take part in, if you can get a good slot and play for a few hundred people, and maybe even walk away from the show with a cheque. But is it worth playing in the middle of nowhere to no people if the only meaningful economic relationship created by the show is between a few companies that won't pay you, and a few hundred people that are still asleep while you are playing? If you are a label, is it worth taking a few thousand dollars from a beer company to help pay your bands that day if they are just going to turn around and use those bands in a print ad without paying you? It all comes around in the end.

Thanks for reading, and apologies to 3rd year economics students who read this as pretty much a straight re-telling of Capital.

1029 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

interesting essay. as someone who has been going to sxsw since 2007 I agree on a lot of different points. Although, I feel that most of these bands perpetuating the "machine" are bands that don't necessarily deserve to be noticed.

1:53 AM  
Anonymous dan said...

god Mike, you are so depressing....

7:13 AM  
Blogger brock said...

Though I've never been to a sxsw I've always had a little love/hate relationship with the idea of it and the commercialization of it. Great to read something like this from the economic actors mouth.

10:38 AM  
Blogger crazycarl said...

interesting, poignant, and well written.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous sarahspy said...

great post. was my 3rd sxsw too & i def have, over time, come to notice a lot of the things you pointed out. it really is such an interestingly organized "give and take" week every year

11:38 AM  
Blogger Gabe said...

Really smart and utilitarian reading of the situation. Great piece.

11:38 AM  
Anonymous marla said...

This is great - I really respect not only how much thought you guys have put into this, but also that you took the time to share it. I also think your point about why you made your SXSW showcase official is critical. I would guess there are many artists stuck in an "Us v. Them" mentality about the music industry and these artists can miss an opportunity to use these actors to their own benefit.

I have one other key point, from a fan's perspective, about the potential economic power of SXSW. This is my third year attending (I am not in the music industry) and each year the crowd of people asking when I come back "Who did you hear that you really liked?" has grown larger and larger. With social media like Facebook, getting that message out is easier than ever. I can give them a full list of artists that they can then seek out (either a show or a recording) to discover for themselves. These are the peripheral music fans who don't read blogs every day to find new music. (Because of my age (late-30s), they are also the ones paying for music rather than stealing it). SXSW is a great way to spark that kind of word-of-mouth activity.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Sweet Leaf Tea said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:00 PM  
Blogger CRITCHIE said...

i liked this a lot Mike. Honestly.

1:11 PM  
Blogger CRITCHIE said...

oh and Altamont doesn't make shoes but thanks for the shout out! If we do make shoes one day I will definitely wear them!

1:14 PM  
Blogger HiddenWorld said...

The Sweat Leaf Tea person thinks we are Holy Fuck.

1:30 PM  
Blogger LSD said...

I thought you were Fuck Buttons.

2:11 PM  
Anonymous Gordon said...

The PR wonk from the tea company getting your band name wrong is the funniest thing I'll see today. Thanks for writing this insightful essay which allowed that to happen.

And the band is awesome, too.

2:41 PM  
Anonymous The Fun Police said...

Mike --

Thanks for the honest and upfront discussion. I feel that you made some great points that apply not only to sxsw, but just to general operations as a band.

Decisions are key to our existence, survival, and success as artists. We make decisions on the music we play, where we play, and how we present ourselves. Being creative and making decisions based on that creativity comes very natuarally to many artists, but sometimes the business side can elude them.

We have only been together as a band a little over a year, have had great success touring regionally through word of mouth, and are lucky enough to have an MBA and CPA from Shock Treatment Management (@shocktrtmntmgmt) loaning time to us pro bono to assist in organization and business logic. From our experience, their main contributution has been to facilitate discussion and keep us on track towards making our business decisions.

Though we did not come to sxsw this year, we have already made the decision to attend next year. Our preparations begin well in advance, and we are already thinking outside the box for what we can do next year to stand out against the crowd which is practicing the same tired gimmicks.

One other point, sxsw represents an amazing arts & cultural phenomenom which reaches a wide range of people from all over the world. Everyone has a cost associated with travel, playing their music, leaving merchandise, setting up shows, or getting the publicity that they are trying so desperately to receive. Though the gum company may not have put in anything to sxsw this year, founders rarely forget their roots in my observances, and who knows, maybe there will be a 5 gum showcase next year in the heart of Austin.

If you made it this far, why not download our free EP, or check out our music videos on YouTube.

--The Fun Police

2:47 PM  
Blogger Sweet Leaf Tea said...

My bad, I'm sorry!!!!!

2:48 PM  
Blogger HiddenWorld said...

Thats ok! I still love Sweat Loaf Tea.

2:49 PM  
Blogger Sweet Leaf Tea said...

Ahhhhh Sweat Loaf. GREAT Song!
Thanks for the love man. I feel like a mo-ron.

And for the record, to @Gordon, thankfully I'm not the PR person-just the Consumer Services Manager/Social Media chick. (that admits jacking up when it happens & still loved the diatribe!)

3:27 PM  
Blogger Tender Branson said...

Excellent piece, I never knew what some of the inner workings of these large festivals are (having never had the chance to attend one) but your post allows us to see that as well as what type of things need to be taken into account when deciding to play. I hope that this can help a small band in the future who thinks that sxsw is there ticket into something better.

6:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article! Thanks for giving us an insight into the front line. I'm in an unsigned band in TO and have always wondered how to empower ourselves to redirect the capital action that floats around us in a way that is smart and creative.

And a question: Do you feel that nxne is similar to sxsw with respect to the co-opting of bands?

9:42 PM  
Blogger Jason Pang said...

I love this so much

10:15 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Thank god that punk rock has moved into something as nuanced and measured as this post rather than just debating in the HeartattaCk letters column whether Jawbreaker sold out because they have UPCs on their records (even before they signed to DGC!).
Good work Fucked Up. You are my favourite band still playing, even if I'm a thirty year old man and find it embarassing to go to most HC shows.

12:05 AM  
OpenID chrismillerjazz said...

As someone who played an official showcase show this year I asked myself a lot of the same questions.

Thanks for putting this out there.

1:45 AM  
Blogger Frugalicious said...

Good job pointing out what most of us in the Austin area already knew. I think most Austinites are glad to see it is finally getting noticed.

SXSW the machine knows there will always be hungry bands out there willing to pay to play. I saw their tactics to shutdown the free venues by way of "permits". They are failing and I think that is awesome.

My husband was once a SXSW stage manager. He found it interesting most bands didn't understand the "Austin Way" - you play for an hour: set up quickly, play, tear down quickly, repeat with the next band.

His payment for all of this work was a badge which he barely used because he was sleeping while the badge could be used and working at night. They didn't even cover his parking. This is not a complaint just an example that these people helping the bands are not SXSW employees, they are volunteers getting paid really nothing. My husband was excellent (of course) but that was definitely his last year despite being begged to come back as his venue was the only one that year without problems. What does SXSW care? They have boat loads of hungry college kids at UT who would love to get a badge to SXSW over their spring break.

My hairdresser told me a story about being asked to do the hair of a playmate for playboy so she looked presentable at one of their parties. My hairdresser packed up her equipment when to the hotel room of the playmate and did her hair. The salon submitted an invoice to playboy only to never be paid. What is the salon going to do about it? Sue playboy? I think playboy knew this little salon in Austin didn't have the resourced to go after them. Who else did they do this to? How many other large machines at SXSW are doing this to the little guys in Austin supporting the system with their services?

SXSW has its purpose. To those that go: I say try to venture out from the machine if you can and you will find some true gems in Austin.

10:22 AM  
Blogger proton mule said...

Sweet Leaf Tea has been in Austin for years. It's an Austin-originated business and either sponsors or has a booth at nearly every major event. Just sayin'. Otherwise, great post.

10:25 AM  
Anonymous James said...

Smart post. I've been going to SXSW for 10 years and am glad you guys are savvy enough to have figured this out. So many bands don't.

I saw you guys at Red 7 this year and was delighted by both your performance and by your regular-guy personalities. For the record, I'm a 45-year-old guy who didn't feel he had enough tattoos to enter the venue. I'm glad I did, though, since as soon as you started playing, I felt I belonged.

I'm also in Toronto, and noticed that Damian is introducing 1991: The Year That Punk Broke at Hot Docs. How could I get in touch with him/you for an interview for my film blog?

11:43 AM  
Blogger Hans said...

This was my sixth year attending SXSW. I think that you overestimate the competition for each attendee's money. Several years ago Monster gave me a free energy drink outside of Stubb's and I became a fan of their drink. Last year I saw Hyperpotamus perform on the day stage and I became a fan of his music.

I still buy Monster on occasion and if Hyperpotamus' tour were to stop here I would go see him and I have bought some of his music. I think that most people think of purchases for things like gum or drinks separately from purchases for entertainment items like music or concerts.

The bottom line is that no matter what you do SXSW is a good way to get the word out about your product be it music, gum or your job skills.

A bit of a side note that hasn't been mentioned yet... Attendance for SXSW Music shrunk a bit this year where SXSW Film grew some and SXSW Interactive grew tremendously.

Interactive also has a lot more parties than the other portions of SXSW. This year we saw some bleed over of name bands playing Interactive parties and I would be willing to guess that will be a growing trend with bands competing more and more to play during the other sections of SXSW.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Martin said...

Everything you say about sxsw also applies to the city of Nashville all year around. tons of energy from people flocking there trying to make it, tons of economic actors exploiting that energy, jacking up rents and real estate prices and no money goes to the people on the ground. New Orleans where I live has similar issues.

Great article thank you!

11:53 AM  
Blogger trailerspace said...

As a 10 year Austinite, Im impressed with your grasp of the situation. You are totally right as far as the advertising and content overload goes. As a Texan, the only thing you left out is the way that people from all over the world come to my city for a week and act like total scum. I've never been on a trip to california and acted as poorly as some festival attendees I met this year.

But that's neither here nor there. I really do enjoy this festival because as you said, "if your band has the right attitude, it can be alot of fun".I just love all the free shit. For instance, I wanted to see your rock combo, Got to see you on the beerland patio. PERFECT.

12:09 PM  
OpenID andrewhime said...

Attendance for SXSW Music declined?! I find that hard to believe.

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Joey R. said...

Maybe if you weren't so fucking whiny and a better writer, I'd agree with you.

Until then, drink the beer. It's free. You want to make money? Don't make music.

Welcome to the new status quo. It's almost 2005, get with it.

12:33 PM  
Blogger Morgan said...

"bands need to recognize that they are economic actors, and start acting like it"

This.

1:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been to every SXSW since 1995. Attendance definitely seemed lighter this year, which doesn't surprise me given the economy. But it's still bigger today than it was was in the late 1990s.

You make a lot of good points. I especially like the one about learning the ropes. I've sometimes suggested to bands that it might be worthwhile for one member of the band to come down just to hangout, even if the band itself can't get down there as a whole to play. You can learn so much by just wandering around, meeting people, and seeing how it works.

Also interesting thoughts on the day parties and playing 12 shows. I think the Bloodshot Records folks were some of the first people to do the free, everyone is invited, day party thing at SXSW. They started in around 1996 I think. It really was just a little party with 50 people, a keg of brew, and some bands playing behind Yard Dog. Now it's packed every year and they have a beer sponsorship.

It's that open to anyone who cares, non-exclusive aspect that I like best about SXSW. If you love music enough to be there, then you can find away to plug in and be a part of it.

I like your ultimate point too: Bands should consciously work to use the festival, rather than being used by it. This means taking some time before you get there to plan your strategy. The people who get the best results typically have laid a lot of groundwork before they arrive. Most bands that get discovered at SXSW aren't random occurrences. There was a lot of groundwork before that. SXSW is just where somebody with coin confirmed that they want to sign off on the band in question.

That being said, I still think that trying to play a bunch of times is worth the effort (even if it is no longer interesting), particularly if the show opportunities/venues are credible (see comment above about knowing the ropes/geography of Austin). You never know who might wander into one of these shows.

I know of a band that got on the NPR all songs considered podcast because somebody from NPR wandered into a free day show they were playing (one that seemed like the least significant show they were playing). Even if you have contacted people before hand to let them know about your SXSW shows, it can still be hard to see a band down there. People are very busy at SXSW trying to see everything they want to see. There are tons of conflicts. Playing more shows improves the odds that people can see you play (especially if you have worked before hand to encourage people to come).

1:14 PM  
Anonymous Jack said...

Check out Anjuno.com, they're trying to fix the whole "the music industry is by definition an operation invented to divert money spent on music away from actual musicians" problem. Free to join, you set the price, no royalties.
http://anjuno.com

1:40 PM  
Blogger Sterling Lynch said...

Thoughtful post. Thank you.

I think the way you're thinking about these issues is useful to anyone trying to make a living in any of the performing arts.

Who benefits from the notion that artists shouldn't be concerned about business? The business people who profit off artists' ignorance and apathy.

And business minded people aren't always necessarily evil because they earn a living in this fashion.

If artists aren't willing to take responsibility for the business side of our craft, those who do will profit off of it. And they should.

And so should we, if we are prepared to take on that responsibility.

1:41 PM  
Blogger Jud said...

We were one of the first bands ever to play SXSW in the eighties. cracksinthesidewalk.com

We had a blast!

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Old Tiger said...

Great article. As a musician in a band hoping to play SXSW at some point in the future, it made me think about a few things I didn't know...thanks.

- Old Tiger

3:04 PM  
Blogger lauree said...

thanks for sharing. my first sxsw was in 1995, and it was much different than today. I think a wristband cost $35 and there were only shows at night. MAYBE an in-store during the day. I avoided going again mainly due to costs, but finally went again in 2008 and am now addicted. Have been going ever since!

I'm mostly a fan, but do help promote bands, and work for a community tv station, so I can technically be working while there. Personally, I focus on smaller bands/labels, the shows that don't have lines. The bands who aren't going to get tour support in the US or throughout the US, because I feel it's more important. Yes, I'll go see a favorite, larger more established act, but usually once I've got that out of the way, I'm good.

3:33 PM  
Blogger bowers said...

Sweet Leaf Tea was bought by Nestle last year. It was an Austin small business. It is no more. I would call it capitalism, but the Texas Board of Education has outlawed that in text books for the next decade. It's called Free Market now (seriously).

I couldn't have put it any better re: SXSW. Your comments are spot on. My first sxsw was 1995. Best moment: Matador Record night. No wrist band; No badge...just $5 and I got a free shirt! But I think it was under $40 for a wrist band anyway.

3:36 PM  
Blogger Michael Epstein said...

Thanks for posting. It's hard for bands to resist the draw of those four letters.

3:39 PM  
Blogger pylon said...

Auto-therapeutic rationalization.

11:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you are gay and your band sucks

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Hugh said...

So, SXSW is a money sucking dream eating vampire that will exploit young creative people so that some old rich white guys can have a a few bucks for new tires on their Maserati? I can go to work and and use my youthful creativeness to benefit the rich white owners of my company with relatively little compensation after twenty minute drive every weekday. Why would I travel 2000 miles for it?

Regardless of how fun and cool the whole trip sounds, I don't believe it's something that legitimate artists or aspiring legitimate artists should contribute to. It's just one of the biggest cons out there of millions of cons preying on small bands who will do almost anything to have their dream realized. I guess every company in america is profiting from exploiting dreams and aspiritions, but one of the reasons that musicians and music lovers are so passionate about the music itself is that if often feels like an escape from this daily suckfest.

I'd hope that the bands participating in this vomit inducing exhibition of money guzzling power will soon realize that out of the two bands you heard about last year that got on two blogs and were paid a $5000 advance to record an EP, there are 2000 other bands there that lost $60 in the application fee and another $500 in gas money.

Come on, Mike. You admit that you were that young band only three years ago but you still feel like you need to contribute to this bloated leech that's only diverting the resources and energy of young bands from actually playing for interested music loving people. Why not throw a show in Butt Fuck Iowa where I'm sure a few hundred awesome kids will come out and have a great time and actually listen to the bands without being concerned about spin magazine, free energy drinks, or meeting Solange Knowles.

This blog post does not show that you're an "educated consumer" because you realize the power relationships at play in the festival. It only shows that because of your realization, you're a knowing participant in SXSW's growing quest to exploit young bands.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Kate McKenna said...

Fascinating. Thanks for this.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, this is so insightful. But I'm still not sure i'll ever be going to sxsw. I might even think twice about volunteering for nxne this year.

6:01 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

This was my 14th SXSW. Your comments are pretty spot on, though I think people overestimate the giant wealth the SXSW organization generates. Just stopping to think about all the expenses of the thing for a moment starts to make the mind reel, even if every single person is a volunteer. Plus you don't see the organizers living in mansions.

These things are always easier to think about by assuming there's some big pot of money someone's getting and other people aren't, but my experience on all sides of the equation through the years - band, label, sponsor and party thrower - has lead me to believe no one's really making much.

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Blogger amanda said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to put your thoughts down. I enjoyed reading this so so much. Thank you!

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OpenID flightorchestra said...

excellent, excellent candid article. but why do we rely on these extreme economics to fund ART. and why is art's relevance in the United States connected to only what it can ADVERTISE. these are huge questions...

5:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jesus, can't you just go and have fun?

6:31 PM  
Blogger Danny said...

You made some good points, but I don't see how smaller bands can "make things work to their advantage" when they are essentially (and necessarily, for the festival) powerless. How might your band have done better three years ago? Did Fucked Up have enough clout back then to ask a shoe company to give them a thousand bucks? I doubt it. Your band is now big enough to organize something like a SXSW showcase (not to mention the Fucked Up Weekend in Toronto), but most blog buzz bands or no-blog-buzz bands simply don't have that option. I think maybe you have forgotten what it's like to be a nobody sleeping on floors instead of in beds in hotel rooms.
I wholeheartedly agree with the bands-playing-multiple-shows criticism. DD/MM/YYYY played 20 shows this year at SXSW and I can't imagine how all, or even most of them could have been fun to watch/hear.

11:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as many have said, excellent entry and [some] good comments too.
while no one could argue that SXSW isn't a successful profit seeking capitalist entity, i'd like to say a few things on their behalf. first it was started by music fans who wanted to promote [and hear] music in their city. second their overhead is substantial i don't kno what it costs to rent the convention center but it has to be a bit. sound equipment to augment what's in 200+ venues? food for employees and volunteers? etc, etc; third, while SXSW would not be possible w/o thousands of hours contributed by hundreds of volunteers, the great majority of those volunteers do not feel coerced, in fact they have a good time. SXSW does try to employ &/or compensate as many people as possible [last year i met 2 musicians who were flow in by the festival]. FTEs of SXSW receive health insurance.
Lastly SXSW has lived w/ and worked w/ the day parties from their beginnings, however begrudgingly. the year they went after them it was to get some of the bigger corps who were piggybacking on the festival [particularly Jose Cuervo & Levi].
flightorchestra's point is well taken. Capitalism sucks. Communism didn't work, at least not the first time around. the problem is the stinking human beings. let's not give up tho!

11:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And Altamont produces its pants ( I own a pair ) in China, so that shows how far away American entertainment is from global reality. American indie music right now is inconsequential garbage. It's no wonder bands/bloggers/thinkers are trying to make a grander statement about SXSW, because the music doesn't speak for itself anymore. Too bourg, too bad.

11:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a long time touring musician I appreciate this insight from a band that has enough press and support not to worry any more about it. It seems most bands forget to continue this conversation - even though they'll most likely be at the other end of the curve at some point in the future.

I too have set up showcases with CMJ and SxSW specific to the group of bands we chose and curated. Though I highly recommend this as an experience and as a business practice ... it isn't for everyone. You still need press, promo and technical support. You need to be on the 'good' side of the festival. To add on to this - even if you go through this process with the support of the festival (any festival). You still are competing with all of the other shows. It's the same extension of the 'machine'. You might feel empowered, but you're still turning the cogs.

I'd like to see musicians open a deeper dialogue about unions, health care and other far more important issues. As festivals grow, they add on fees and use services like sonic bids. They still offer the same amount of money they did to bands 10 years ago but the ticket and wrist band prices raise. None of this is going to change, the entire music industry is based around making money from distribution, licensing and advertising. It's not based around making artists or musicians making more money.

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This stance is easy to take from a band that has already gained the attention of the cynical blogs, cool media and aging label heads. Though I applaud your statements, it doesn't mean very much. Bands that no one knows about can't take this path.

You need to do more than just not play. Why not use your press support to boycott festivals and start your own? Stop talking, start doing.

1:47 PM  
Blogger squeak said...

that was a great essay, and i agree with most all points - sxsw is not a cake-walk, and a band needs to put some thought and planning into their strategy if they are looking for anything other than to play some fun shows in austin.
however, it seems a lot of posters are forgetting that one of the ways to get known, and thus have the "clout" to put together a showcase is to play and play and play and play, whether it's larry's backyard stage or a tour with 5 of your best friends in a minivan or getting some stage time at a local festival or even getting into sxsw.
and it isn't evil to be successful.
sxsw isn't holding a gun to anyone's head to play the festival.
there are many many bands who have never played sxsw, much less austin, who are extremely successful by other means.
for music fans, sxsw is a great way to see a whole boatload of music (and film!) in a week they wouldn't otherwise ever get to see or hear.
for the bands, it's an opportunity to play in front of crowds who would otherwise never see or hear them.
for the industry, it's a great way to potentially turn the excitement between the first two into some form of success.
and hey, some free parties, free beer, free gum and t-shirts, whatever... who doesn't like free? if the company wants to throw money/sponsorships at the people to get them to see their name, more power to them. you are free to not take the free stuff, avert your eyes from the ads, not go to those showcases... there's a ton of other stuff to hear and do.
i fully admit i am annoyed by what happens to my town: the traffic on streets, the rude, self-important douchebags in my bars, the garbage all over downtown, the people who do not seem to understand that while they think they have the right of way, cars are bigger than they are and maybe they should look before stepping out into traffic... all of those things are insignificant compared to the massive amount of pure fun and new stuff that comes into town those 10 days.
if you think sxsw is evil, by all means, stay away. that gets me one spot ahead in line to see a new band or a film premier, and one less whiner afterwards.

11:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's hard to know what's really SXSW and what's not since so many bands and sponsors come to town and set up their own thing. Bands should be careful about who they get involved with. I've heard about rip-off artists with no connection to SXSW charging bands money to play "showcases", and then when the band shows up they find out there's nothing there for them.

4:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're not thinking through the consequences of sponsorship. For instance, Mountain Dew is absolutely inherently evil. It's responsible for an epidemic of childhood tooth decay and obesity throughout the Ozarks and beyond. There's even a term for the havoc it's wreaked on kids teeth: "Mountain Dew Mouth." (Check it: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=6863173&page=1)
Did you check out the business practices of Altamont shoes? Do they use sweatshop or non-union labor? Are they chronic polluters? Do they contribute to causes or candidates you find objectionable? Do you even care about what you're promoting, or do you just want free backline?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting essay. I feel sorry for bands that pay to play. SXSW can go fuck itself, honestly.

- Ernest

5:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post and great insights into SXSW.

I'm a local Austinite that has been a volunteer stage manager for SXSW for many years and a patron of the festivals's films/bands for years before that. SXSW is definitely a machine that you can chew you up; whether you are a patron, a volunteer, a band, or whatever. But, it also presents amazing opportunities to see and do things you would rarely get the chance to experience. I concur that it takes forethought and planning to make the most out of it for yourself.

This year, I found it particularly remarkable to see the amount of pure "money" that was in the air from all the sponsorship, marketing, day parties, etc. It started early in the fest with the Interactive side and
carried through Music. There was even someone on a street corner frying bacon on a mobile grill and giving it away as part of a marketing campaign.

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It's cool that now I have a link I can give people when they ask, perplexed, "How come you don't go to SXSW??!?!?!"

2:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel your group is more over exploited then some of the companies you slander here. Really, did fucked up have to play that many shows at sxsw?

Honestly, you should work with any sponsors if this is case and its also them to blame for sponsoring a bands performance with profanity in the title.. I am honestly amazed.

2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

excuse me, I meant you should not work with any sponsors.

_btw, just my opinion, have a good one.

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If people think this is real, they're fucking retarded. The Thriller Energy Drink website was created TWO DAYS AGO. Try calling one of the phone or fax numbers listed for the "law firm."

Way to check your shit, NME, Exclaim, etc etc etc

I hate the world.

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Be ethical. Don't alienate your base.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

well said,great guys and band.
--tony erba

6:41 PM  
Blogger Shobhna said...

" brock said...
Though I've never been to a sxsw I've always had a little love/hate relationship with the idea of it and the commercialization of it. Great to read something like this from the economic actors mouth.
"

Absolutely agree with the commentor above, and especially with you. Fantastic post. I hope it makes a difference.

11:44 AM  
Blogger The Professor said...

I can understand your perspective as a creator of music. I myself am a student of music industry, so I see both sides of the puzzle. Businesses advertise to sell product, and they align their product with music to capture the positive energy the music provides to the audience, it's that simple. Why does verizon, ameritrade, wamu sponsor music, it provides them a benefit.

Life is full of choices, sacrifices and the like. Playing SXSW is a choice that bands do to be exposed to labels and managers to further there careers. Nobody forces a band to go, but there really is no choice if you want to get ahead. Nobody forces someone to go to college, but people get through it to achieve their goals.

Great blog entry, but try thinking a little more like a business man, it'll probably help you market your band.

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Blogger Tim said...

well said. i go down there to have a great time and hear new bands from all over the world. it inspires me. the corporate stuff is easy for me to ignore, probably because i'm primarily a folk musician and my music is not flavor of the week stuff. also, i make paintings and sell them at Yard Dog on South Congress and this pays for my SXSW trip.
everybody that is in this for the wrong reasons likes to bitch about sxsw. it's art and commerce and it's alwasy going to be better than unloading trucks. if you love making art and music then you will always be satisfied. the commerce will take care of itself. if you are young and celebrating rock and roll, fuckin' go for it and have a good time.

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