SXSW Music for the Professional

If you are a music professional but did not make it to Austin for SXSW Music this year,  Jason Spitz, a Marketing & E-commerce professional with over 8 years of experience in the media & entertainment industry, reveals why it might be worth your time and money to check it out next year and how to make the most of it if you do.

After graduating NU in 2005, Jason ran the merchandise business & online store for the Grateful Dead at Rhino Entertainment (a Warner Music Group division). He has worked at startups like Topspin Media, which provides software tools used by artists from Paul McCartney to Arcade Fire, and he’s been a consultant for all-star managers, indie bands, stand-up comedians, and other businesses & non-profits. Find him at or follow him on Twitter at @jasonspitz. 

The music industry is overflowing with conferences, professional events, showcases and hack days. Whether you’re a performer or a professional, there are plenty of networking opportunities in most major cities, especially in Los Angeles. So why should you travel to Austin, TX for SXSW Music? Because it can be the most densely-packed, productive, fun, and informative music conference in the country — for the right kind of person. As a 4-year veteran of SXSW, I can attest to its value as a networking event for professionals who work (or who aspire to work) in labels, management, publishing, marketing, or other music-business realms. Thought-leaders and power-brokers from all over the country converge in one small city, and thanks to the flattening effect of social media (especially Twitter), it’s possible for you to build a relationship with them online and leverage it to score some face-time in Austin.

If you aspire to a career in music business, take the time to foster relationships, both offline and on, and join conversations on Twitter and LinkedIn. Follow smart, well-spoken people like @jhershkowitz, @madalynsklar, @wesdavenport and @shadesofsolveig, and. When SXSW rolls around, politely ask your connections if they can spare a few minutes to chat with you in Austin. You’ll be surprised how many positive responses you get. Of course, it’s your job to diligently (but politely) track these people down and actually meet with them; SXSW attendees are notorious for changing plans on a dime or simply failing to appear at the predetermined time & place. But people go to SXSW because they want to network, and if you pound the pavement and follow up, you’ll have some very productive meetings. Just make sure you follow up with everyone after you get home. A quick email saying “thanks for taking the time to meet with me” is sufficient to keep you on their radar, and if you had any especially fruitful or engaging discussions, ask if they can meet you for coffee soon to continue the conversation.

Of course, you’ll also have the chance to see some informative panels. Access to panels requires a Badge, which can cost as much as $700, and that’s hard for some independent or unemployed folks to afford. But if you can make it work, do it. Post-panel handshakes are a great way to introduce yourself to the panelists and strike up a connection. And the Convention Center itself is always teeming with impromptu meetings and conversations. Plus, the Badge is the ultimate way to enjoy SXSW’s epic buffet of live music. It gets you front-of-the-line access at most clubs and gives you the freedom to enjoy the shows without waiting in line.

Now, I’ve boasted about the benefits of SXSW for music professionals — folks who work in labels, management, publishing, marketing, and technology. But if you are an actual *artist*, you may want to save your money and stay home. Unless your band is playing a showcase, there isn’t much reason for a musician to attend SXSW. The music industry folks there are rarely interested in taking business meetings with unsigned or independent artists. If you don’t have enough buzz to be on their radar already, they probably won’t want to spend time chatting you up in Austin. There are still some useful resources for musicians at SXSW, like panels and mentoring sessions, but artists are typically short on cash, and the investment in travel, hotels, and badges is hard to recoup. However, if you can land a spot performing at a SXSW Official Showcase, you should absolutely go — it’s an amazing experience that will make you a better performer and might even help you find a manager or land a label deal. It’s a long shot — but any creative career in music is a long shot anyway, and at least you’ll have a blast.

The newly launched NUEA blog strives to showcase alumni accomplishments while offering insight into the entertainment business. If you have topics you would like to see featured, want to “pitch” your story to be included in the blog or want to become a contributing writer please e-mail . 

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