It’s that time of year again. When the days grow longer, birdsong fills the air, and I prepare for my upcoming trip to Austin, TX for the South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival (SXSW), March 12-16. This will be the eighth consecutive SXSW I’ve attended, and I’ve learned over the years that planning ahead can make the trip not only more productive, but also more enjoyable. There’s ample opportunity for mixing business with pleasure and to enjoy some good BBQ as well.
The planning actually starts in September when I purchase my badge and book my downtown hotel room by the convention center. This way I save money on the show registration, and ensure that everywhere I go - conferences, clubs, parties, etc. - will be within convenient walking distance. As long as I bring my favorite walking shoes I don’t even need a cab.
As far as the exhibition and trade show goes, I study the floor plan in advance to see who’s going to be where, and make a list of the companies to whom I plan to introduce myself. To that end, I bring a small mountain of business cards with me to Austin - that mountain becomes a molehill fast! For the panels and conference sessions, after making time for the keynote speaker (this year it's Lou Reed), I decide on which to attend in part on whether the topic interests me, but also partly on the speakers themselves. Sometimes it’s interesting to see leading figures or notable characters of the music industry speak on broader topics just to see and hear them in person. Over the years I’ve found the panel discussions are fine - if somewhat generic - but have really enjoyed the one-to-one interviews.
The real fun, of course, starts when I leave the convention center for Sixth Street and Austin’s bustling rows of clubs and bars. This is where pre-planning really comes in handy. In fact, I constantly add bands my “wish-list” throughout the year, and, when SXSW schedule’s unveiled, I cross check it against my list. This year there are nearly 1600 bands performing, twenty percent more than a year ago and that doesn’t include the day shows not sanctioned by SXSW. Click here for the official schedule.
To be safe, I select three bands that I’d like to see for each time slot. That way, if one show is too remote to get to or too packed when I arrive, I can quickly maneuver to another show of interest. Among my highest priorities is seeing bands that don’t often make it to the San Francisco Bay Area where I’m based. For that reason, I’m including Pleasant Grove, South and The Weakerthans on my agenda for this year plus about 80 other bands.