I held off on writing a SXSW post because everybody else is. Who wants to be a sheep, right? When March rolls around, every musician and music industry hack starts frothing at the mouth. SXSW is a big ol’ schmoozefest accompanied by bbq. All things considered, it’s right up my professional alley. I’ve attended SXSW a bunch of times in the past as a rep from whatever company I was working for.
Last year though, I arrived in Austin as the founder of my own company (D.I.-Why), and man oh man … I spent a TON of cash. I got to talk to some cool people, learned from the panels/panelists, and soaked up some Texas. But was it actually worth it? That’s the million dollar question.
I’m willing to bet, if you took a poll of the “industry professionals” attending SXSW, a strong majority of them aren’t paying to be there. Their employers are footing the bill and it’s probably a big chunk of the annual marketing budget. I used to have this “if you’re serious about being a part of the industry, then you’re at SXSW” mentality beat into me. I wanted to be the guy who was at the showcase where the band got signed right when they stepped off the stage. I wanted to be at the panel where the challenges of the industry were all magically solved. And I wanted to bump into some megastar who was checking things out all incognito.
None of those things happened. SXSW has gotten too big to be functional and vital anymore. If anything, it’s a non-stop 96 hours of beer, bbq, and bullshitting where everyone is waving their dicks around to show how amazingly important they think they are. When it’s all over, and you get back to your office, it’s pretty damn hard to justifiably monetize the event. Last year, I walked away exhilarated and exhausted, but the “big biz” didn’t happen. I also don’t remember what it was that I learned in any of the panels, and I’m fairly confident that SXSW didn’t turn D.I.-Why into some monster company tearing a new one in the musical landscape.
Coming into March this year, my company is taking on new and better clients — with bigger budgets, bigger successes, and exciting challenges. There’s too much work to do, and I simply can’t spare the time to head to Tejas. What’s interesting though, is as I watch the industry charge headlong into the SXSW ritual, is I’m looking for the critical success. I want to see the measurable return on their SXSW investment.
SXSW is a fantastic experience when you’re not paying for it. If you’re on your own dime, I’m willing to bet you think differently.