The SXSW Music Factory

March 23rd, 2017

For all that has changed over three decades of the South by Southwest Music Festival (SXSW), one thing remains a constant: “Band” and “Brand” is still a single letter apart. 

And branding – by marketing your band to whomever will listen – is the point at SXSW, right? Sure, the ways in which artists market themselves have evolved by leaps and bounds. But the ultimate goal is, and always will be, getting noticed.

With about 33,000 registrants (72,000 if you include the simultaneous SXSW Film and Interactive events) attending the mid-March event in Austin, Texas, SXSW remains one of the most effective channels for promoting your brand. It’s a swarm of marketers in and around a hive called SXSW, and everyone is competing to make the biggest buzz.

The most successful SXSW marketing campaigns combine several elements of branding, from social media to guerrilla tactics. Before Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, music bloggers and the IoT took over, individual artists and bands branded and marketed themselves at SXSW by renting flatbed trucks and performing while cruising up and down the 6th Street corridor, playing street corners (plugging in via car batteries) and delivering the ever-reliable show fliers hand to hand. Those methods are still around, but everything has a hashtag and Facebook event now, and with 2,200-plus bands performing during SXSW week, getting noticed is harder than ever.

Swag can help. Pasting your band’s logo and/or SXSW showcase info on trinkets like yo-yos, beach balls, rain ponchos, packets of sunscreen and the like can help. But digital is cheaper – sometimes even free, save for time – and has become the go-to for up-and-coming bands with non-existent marketing budgets.

Of course, at the end of the day, isn’t SXSW really all about the music? Marketing, advertising, creating a buzz – that’s just white noise, right? Perhaps. But if musicians fail to market their brand … um, band, then the music might not ever be heard. And that kind of stings.