OnlineRock: Empowering Musicians  

The New Model

As 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 booking agents.

Back 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.

There 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.

The 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") to SXSW.

Now 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!

By utilizing 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 industry professionals.

The chances of success are not dictated by how long you’ve 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 and sign up.

So, what 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. Wouldn’t it be great to come home with a major label deal signed, sealed and delivered ? You bet !!

Stay Tuned,

The Virtual Musician

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