There is truly an art form to going to SXSW. With about 2,000 bands officially listed for this year’s festival (and who knows how many others that are there to play house shows and do street performances), navigating the sometimes-barricaded streets and keeping track of precious gear, amongst hoards of people and in the blistering Texan sun, you better check yo self, ‘fo you wreck yo self.
Seriously, @#$% happens. But I took notes and spoke to some folks about what will help keep you and your bandmates sane during SXSW.
1. Wear earplugs. If you haven’t started protecting your hearing, now is the time. I know that some people think it affects their experience of how they hear the music while they play, but if you are in a band that uses amps or lots of percussion, you need to get used to it. There are the cheap foam ones that you can buy at your local drugstore, the midrange quality ones, or spend some cash and go see your local audiologist to get fitted for a pair of musician’s earplugs.
2. Get some business cards. Or, use a phone app that allows you to easily share your contact information. There are tons and tons of cool people at the festival (most were friendly in my experience) who are ready to talk about music! Give them something to walk away with so that when they get home and look thru their shwag, they will have the ability to follow up with you. Blog writers, photographers, producers, and talent scouts are abound at SXSW. I definitely made some connections within the music business world that are priceless.
3. Bring extra gear. Strings, drumheads, valve oil for brass, resin for violins, extension cords, batteries, mics….whatever your band needs are, you gotta think about the “what if’s”. What if you break a string? What if a battery in your pedal dies? It may even be worth your while to get to know the bands that you are playing with so if something more major goes wrong – like your amp dies – then you can ask them if you could borrow something similar.
4. Mark your gear. Do you really want to argue with someone about whose mic stand is whose? Clearly marking travel cases and instruments and any other gear makes breaking down after the show more efficient.
5. Go see some other bands. The amount of talent in Austin during SXSW is staggering and bursting at the seams. Soak up some of that and get inspired. But you need a game plan. The SXSW organizers did a decent job this year of keeping bands within a certain aesthetic to a specific club. The Berklee Showcase at Friends is a prime example of how camping out at a venue can prove to be a good choice! The show was full of bands that were so dynamic and engaging. I was happy to find some new acts such as Julia Easterlin, Eric Robertson & the Boston Boys, Art Decade, and Aloud.
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