From Boston to Austin: A South By Southwest Story
After playing at the SXSW (South by South West) Festival in Austin Texas, I am completely relieved, relaxed, and ready to finish my video-documentary of the festival and my bands’ experience that I’ve been working on. But not only did I organize for my band to play… I organized a professional showcase of Berklee College of Music students on Monday night at the Flamingo Cantina right after an Interactive Google Private Party! Soundkitty.com is the name of the blog I manage, edit, video record, and write for.
Through my blog, and being head of Public Relations for the Marketing Club at Berklee College of Music I was able to get this gig, along with helping another one of my acts play an official Berklee College of Music Party. But it wasn’t a piece of cake. In order to get these shows, it took an extensive stream of emails and getting shot down a lot, I guess you get used to it after a while. I would say for every 20 emails I sent out I would get about one response. One of the things that really helped was that this same venue, Flamingo Cantina, had done a Berklee College of Music showcase a couple years ago during the festival and were willing to do it again. It’s smart to look for connections that you have with venues, even if it’s just a mutual friend, it makes the venue more inclined to answer back! A few of the most vital things I learned regarded cross-country communication with the venue and instrument rental stores, cross-country promotion, and the ins and outs of sponsorship were especially how necessary it is to get sponsored at an event of this caliber. The spill over of people into our set was phenomenal. But the cheering wasn’t the most interesting part of our show, to say the least.
Along with my band: SoundKitty, four other acts played with us at the Flamingo Cantina at 515 E. 6th Street, from 9PM-2AM: SKIZZ, Deuce Bennett and The Revolutionaries, Lil’Texas (Sam Barry) & Trap Arnold (Joe Venuti), Time Warp & T Dreadz. Deuce Bennett and The Revolutionaries backed me up and afterwards played straight through their set, Soundkitty (my band where I play synthesizer, and sing) has a very Electronic-Indie feel while Deuce Bennett and The Revolutionaries consisting of Sam Barry (bass), Yusuk “Paul” Jung (drums), and the lead singer and lead guitarist Robert “Deuce” Bennett are the best of blues, rock, and funk fusion. After our sets at around 11PM I was expecting an LA based act called Metro Zu to play, who had literally begged me to play the showcase. I was calling them non-stop all day to no avail. They did not show up, you can only imagine how stressed I was. Later I found out they had ditched all their sets to fly to London, for what for, I have no clue.
Thankfully some Austin natives, Time Warp and T Dreadz had been hanging with us all night prior to the show, and filled in. Not only did they bring in a lot of their fans but they were willing to step up to the plate, something that happens often in Austin.
Deuce Bennett and The Revolutionaries rocked the crowd and had one of the highest turnouts after SoundKitty playing originals such as: “Pooty Tang Tang” and “Never Been to Heaven”. After their show, I could hear murmuring in the crowd about the similarities of Deuce Bennett’s voice to Robert Plant and his guitar playing to Jimi Hendrix’s. After SoundKitty and Deuce Bennett and The Revolutionaries went on, the night turned in to an electronic showcase full of DJs from the Boston area except of course Time Warp and T Dreadz.
David Sack, who DJs under the name SKIZZ was supposed to go on at midnight as one of the Showcase’s Headliners. Well, he had his own experience during the showcase: He had rented equipment from a small rental place in Austin called Rock and Roll Rental equipping himself with a mixer and a small CDJ. He usually spins on vinyl mostly spinning hard-hitting Drum and Bass originals with hints of Moombaton and Dubstep while occasionally sampling. The price of traveling with his equipment was trumped by the price of renting it, as in it was much cheaper to rent… So, he decided to go that route.
When he set up on stage, he realized that all he had was a power cord. They didn’t give him the RCA cables he needed, and lo and behold people started shuffling out of the venue as Lil’Texas ft. Trap Arnold, whom were supposed to be going on at 1AM had to fill in at midnight to a much smaller crowd. Lil’ Texas and Trap Arnold were the only other Boston based DJs in the room who could fill in for SKIZZ. Their set was full of classic Hip Hop tunes and beautiful original electronic lines, the two DJs killed it while keeping cool and maintaining an outstanding attitude for playing for such a smaller turnout than previously expected. My favorite part only second to the music was definitely Trap Arnold and Lil’Texas’ moves behind the decks, they had their hands in the air, shades on, and really were a phenomenal team. When they got on stage the attitude of the room completely changed, and people started getting up and dancing (including me)!
While Lil’ Texas (Sam Barry) and Trap Arnold (Joe Venuti) rocked the crowd which was small due to the fact that we took too long to set up in-between sets…SKIZZ had to scour the city for an RCA cable, when suddenly I realized that he could go straight to Wal-Mart, the 24-hour superstore, to get his cables. At this point Ernesto the sound tech at Flamingo Cantina was getting worried about the turn out and SKIZZ hadn’t arrived yet with the cables and we were about to get cut off at 1AM…! Time Warp & T Dreadz went on and brought in all of their Austin based fans and all I was thinking is, “Thank God! This show must go on!”
SKIZZ arrived with not much time to spare at around 12:45. He still got to headline, but as he started to play we realized a lot of people had left. This is when the promoter in all of us started flagging people down from the street saying things like, “Free Dubstep inside! Cheap Drinks!”
Deuce Bennett used another original method of his own that he picked up in Toledo, Ohio (his home town) during a time where he was a club promoter for a rock club. We later dubbed this promotional technique the “Soap-Box Method” which is essentially calling out to each specific passer-by as in, “Hey You, with the back-pack!” or “Purple hair!” And, telling people that they would be very, very regretful of missing this phenomenal event if they didn’t come in. I wouldn’t recommend this technique to anyone who hasn’t used it before but surprisingly, it worked, and we had at least 45-50 people in the venue at one time or another, and our sound tech commended us on our efforts as people really started to groove!
That’s mostly how the night went down, and I was extremely proud of all the work I had put in. And, like I said at the beginning of this entry finally feeling relieved, and relaxed after preparing for over 4 months!
The next step for SoundKitty, as was requested by the audience, is a music video on Youtube of our set. Using the footage I am taking of the festival, and the professional footage we had taken of our set, we are going to put together a phenomenal music video. It’s as easy as putting a mastered track over a videoed gig, interlaced with some eye candy shots taken of ourselves having fun at the festival.
This turned out to be one of the best learning experiences of my life, and not “if I could do it again”, but instead when I do it again my priorities will be a little bit different. One priority next time will be playing as many originals as possible because that’s what got me the most buzz.
If I had the chance I also would have promoted differently, and gotten sponsorship. Among available and official sponsors at SXSW 2012 were Dr.Pepper, Red Bull, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Lone Star, Doritos, Green Label Sound, VEVO, Nike, Mountain Dew, Taco Bell, Sailor Jerry’s, and so many more. With the event, raw-talent, and artistic experience that I had lined up, I could have presented it to an array of different sponsors and our promotional capabilities would have been tripled. I used all the sites at my disposal, sent out over 20 press releases, and I also had people promoting in Austin before the gig in the regular way of handing out and posting flyers. The truth about cross country promotion is that social media only works to a certain extent. As in nowadays a 50+ turn out on Face book can be as many as ten people. Twitter is good, but if your fan base or twitter following lives where you do, I don’t think that it’s beneficial when promoting outside of your hometown.
The best thing I could have done would have been to create a buzz, and make the event seem as exclusive as possible, things I could have done would have been marketing it as a party instead of as live music. Also, competitions are always fun, perhaps host a dance competition during an Electronic Showcase. It could have even been a promotional guise: something as easy as spreading a password for the party…Word of mouth in my humble opinion is the one thing that cannot be bought, or tarnished when coming from a friend, and the foremost building block when it comes to festivals like SXSW.
Thanks for the read! Look forward to more posts by SOUNDKITTY aka Marjorie Dawson, as I will be talking in the next couple of weeks about what the sponsored parties looked like, linking to my blog, and releasing my Official Video Documentary of the Festival which includes footage of EXCLUSIVE parties, meeting artists, and much much more!
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