We’re nearing the end of January, and for people in the music industry that means one thing…time to finalize plans for SXSW 2011. Whether you are a band, manager, booking agent, record label, media outlet, tech start-up or just an old fashioned fan, it’s imperative that you properly prepare for your trip to SXSW. I’ve outlined a series of questions and thoughts that will help you do just that.
What are your goals?
First and foremost, make a list of what you are going to accomplish at SXSW. Getting down to Austin is an investment of both time and money, so make your spend worthwhile by calculating what the results of your actions are going to be. Putting these down on paper will help you outline the events you need to be present at, the people you need to talk to, the conversations you need to have and the materials you need to bring to get your message across and achieve success.
Who are you there to meet?
Target the individuals you need to meet the most. Figure out where they are going to be and incorporate those events into your schedule. Try your best to connect with them beforehand to introduce yourself, or better yet, to set up a meeting to grab coffee with them. Stalk them on Facebook, Linked In and Twitter, but don’t come off too eager. Join the conversations they are taking part in and let them feel like they need you as much as you need them. People you talk to will be impressed if you are able to bring up subjects that they have recently been talking about. Claim your relevance along those subject lines.
What makes you unique?
Everybody at SXSW has a million reasons why they are so awesome, so it’s an important exercise beforehand to really hone in on what makes you truly unique. You can count on there being hoards of singer/songwriters belting it out in every makeshift club around sixth street as well as dozens of location-based or group discount based tech start-ups at the interactive portion. The point is, there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals or entities for every category you can think of, so you can’t rely on the definition of what you are to set you apart. Get specific about why you are unique… mention milestones that you’ve hit, upcoming plans for something you’re going to do or focus on one specific point about your band/software/approach to management/etc. that is worth having a conversation about. These micro-bits of information are the conversation points that people will remember, along with your face and personality.
Practice your ‘performance’ skills
The best case scenario is that you get people to actually witness the work you do and how great you do it. For bands, this is obvious, but for the rest of the attendees this will most likely take the form of a conversation, which better be a great one. Be bold. Come out of your shell. Sitting back and waiting for people to come talk to you will never work because there will be hundreds of people ‘cutting the line’ in front of you to have conversations with those on your target list. Get great at approaching people and back that up by knowing all of your conversation points.
What is your leave behind?
At the base level, have business cards ready. Is there a more premium/exclusive item that you can have ready for those you really want to make an impression with? Whether it’s a free access code to software you’re working on, a recording of unreleased material in the works, or a promotional item that is actually useful, come equipped with something that you’ll reserve for specific folks that you’ve targeted. It’s all in the delivery. Let people know that this is something special you’re giving to them and that you look forward to following up with them in a few weeks to see how their experience with it was. Leave people thinking that they walked away with something that very few people have.
Keep in mind that people receive an overwhelming amount of promotional materials at SXSW, of which the majority ends up in the trash. Don’t over-invest into extensive sales kits and brand packets if your strategy is to just give them away to everybody. Create different tiers of promotional materials that will be distributed to individuals on your target list appropriately.
Schedule your visit
It would take 10 of you to participate in everything that SXSW has to offer. If you are there with a team, divide and conquer. Regroup for the events where strength in numbers will work to your benefit. Since you’ve outlined the individuals you are targeting, that will form the foundation for the events you should be at. Next, focus on events that will be a good experience for your development as a professional, whether that is seeing certain bands or listening in on select panel discussions. Also, look beyond the SXSW sanctioned events. I won’t mention any because I don’t think SXSW likes that these happen. You’ll have to do a little more digging to find these unsolicited events. For those without badges, you’ll be happy to know that they are typically free and well-attended.
Be ready to take advantage of opportunity.
For SXSW and for life, you never know what opportunities you’ll be presented with. Be nimble. Don’t be too strict with your schedule if something better comes up last minute. Follow the energy and see where it takes you.
If your plan of action proves to be successful, you are going to come home with a stack of business cards and a list of people you met. Follow up with them in a timely manner, but keep in mind that they may be getting a barrage of correspondence immediately following the festival. Remind them of what you talked about, ask questions and pose a next step that you can pursue together. Do not get discouraged if you do not hear back immediately. Find them through social media and start conversations with them there.
To find answers to additional questions, such as: What are the best ways to travel? What logistical issues should be taken into consideration? Where are the best places to stay? Is a SXSW badge necessary? etc. Check out the video below, Make the Most of SXSW: a TrueDIY panel discussion between myself, Steve Theo of Pirate Promotions and Tim Luckow of G-House management, hosted by Ben Maitland-Lewis of Indie Ambassador.
For more music-related articles, check out our Antler Music feed.