a long time music industry observer, I can let you know that
in the nineties there was a sea change as to how a lot of
bands got signed. The advent of music industry specific trade
shows and festivals, with the festivals focusing on showcase
gigs of unsigned talent, has forever altered the landscape
for bands that are seeking a contract with a major label or
relationships with high powered and influential managers and
before these music biz shindigs, bands were forced to operate a different
way. If you were lucky enough to form a group in a town with a thriving
local club scene, you would slog it out with all the other groups.
You would all play the same bars and clubs and get good (hopefully)
at writing, arranging and playing your music in front of an audience.
Then, one of two things would happen. If you were in a town like New
York or Los Angeles, talent reps (called A&R for "artist
and repertoire") would frequent the clubs. One scenario is that
your band played a great set in a club with an A&R rep in the
audience. The band sounded great and the crowd was going nuts. The
A&R rep was impressed and came backstage afterwards and that began
your relationship with, for example, Atlantic records. The other tried-and-true
way was to shop around tapes of your music that you (or your band)
produced yourself. After pounding the pavement in search of a record
deal, finally someone calls you or your manager back. Like, say, an
A&R guy from Columbia. In the past, this was how it was done.
Now, there is another way.
are many festivals and conventions nowadays dedicated to music.
But the biggest and the best is the South by Southwest Music
Confrence. SXSW is held every spring in Austin, Texas. It
is a four-day event that encompasses trade shows, panels,
even mentor sessions and demo listening sessions, and showcase
gigs in small clubs packed with music biz professionals. For
musicians this, of course, is the reason to attend.
process of getting yourself or your band a prime showcase
gig at SXSW is the following: get yourself a "showcase
application" (one can be downloaded from the SXSW Web
site). Fill it out and submit it along with your latest tape
or CD demo and your press kit (see our previous Virtual Musician
article on the "Promo Package")
actually landing that prime showcase gig is another matter.
But any unsigned band has an equal shot. Information provided
by SXSW will shed some light on what you are up against. For
the festival that ran in March of 1999, 4100 artists applied
for just over 800 showcase spots. Of those acts, 36% were
unsigned to any label, 13% had major label deals, 51% had
indie record deals and over 15% of the acts showcasing were
from outside the US. That last statistic should be good news
for our many international members, SXSW is not just for Americans!
this model of band development and promotion, it is no longer necessary
to slog it out in small bars with everyone else. Forums such as SXSW
allow you to be honestly judged on your music. And they also allow
you to strike up deals outside of the showcase clubs. You can "schmooze"
your way to a record deal as well, even without benefit of a showcase
gig. You can also participate in the Demo Listening sessions, where
anyone can drop off a demo tape or CD and have it critiqued by music
of success are not dictated by how long youve been working on
your music. You could be a 15 year veteran or someone who just picked
up a guitar. Either way the folks at SXSW will use the same criteria
to determine if you are in or not. So, I suggest you check it out
for yourself, just go to www.sxsw.com
and sign up.
have you got to lose? Get accepted for showcase performance and play
in front of record company honchos or just go and schmooze. Either
way it will advance your cause. Wouldnt it be great to come
home with a major label deal signed, sealed and delivered ? You bet