Posts tagged South by Southwest
In follow up to my Quid Pro Quo article, and my unyielding commitment to put out print-worthy advice on the internet, I’d like to talk to you about South By Southwest. As you all know, SXSW is a big music industry dealio in Austin, Texas. Every band, that isn’t big enough to not care, desperately wants to perform in front of the scores of industry spooks who wield the mystical powers needed to fling careers into the glorious limelight.
Some artists are so convinced that the elusive official showcase, or hip slot at an industry party, will abracadabra them to such fame that they will do anything to play- including bothering me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are examples of artists who showcased at SXSW and caught the eye and ears of someone with connections and went on to be hugely famous. It’s happened. However, one showcase making it or breaking it for an artist isn’t realistic. It just doesn’t work that way. But that isn’t why I don’t want you to e-mail me asking for a show at SXSW.
Every year, without fail, the emails start coming in as March approaches. I get e-mails and calls from all sorts of people looking for shows at SXSW. Wayward requests from friends, people I’ve never heard of, clients I decided to stop working with, even clients who decided to leave our roster. It’s nothing personal I’m sure. I’m guessing the folks that reach out to me for shows are also reaching out to everyone else in their Rolodex who they think might be able to help them. This is a huge mistake for almost all of them. (Now, don’t get me wrong, there are artists who have done me a favor by playing our annual SXSW showcase. They don’t necessarily need to do it for their careers, but they’re willing to help us out. Then there are the calls from my current clients, who currently pay me. They certainly have a right to ask what we can do for them down in Austin too. Additionally, I don’t hold it against those who know me who come to me for help and advice- that would be silly.)
There’s etiquette involved with asking for favors. You know how you don’t ask someone you just met to help you move? Just like you don’t ask someone you’ve just done business with for the first time to lend you a hundred bucks, right? If you’re thinking “No, I don’t know that…” then we’ve struck upon a much larger issue that will wildly impact your life in a profoundly negative way… Well, similarly, it’s inappropriate to ask a professional who’s services you haven’t retained for a free favor that, realistically his paying clients are also asking for. In fact, it’s inappropriate to ask for any favor that isn’t realistic in nature- you won’t get it, and it won’t make you look good.
When I’ve brought up such examples of poor etiquette to my classes and there are always students who question why I don’t do favors for artists simply on the merit of their music and their future potential. That’s a good question. It certainly isn’t because I’m mean-spirited, or unkind, or unethical; it’s quite the opposite. I have an obligation to my current clients. I have an obligation to do what’s best for my company as well (It currently feeds my family, to whom I also have obligations…) How would they feel if I offered a spot to someone I don’t work with, who doesn’t have an existing pull to help our showcase out? They’d be rightly upset. The other artists performing would also be upset as they’re hoping for the best showcase possible. And, last, and certainly not least, South By Southwest wouldn’t be happy – in fact they might simply refuse to let the band perform an official event. At the end of the day, all performers need to be approved by SXSW, and they, of course, are also hoping for the best showcase possible with the most buzz worthy performers at allevents.
But, that’s not all- I now know some things about the person who’s asking for the favor. I know that they don’t fully understand the game. The SXSW game, the music industry game, the communication game…you name it. I also know they could careless about me and my company. They’re not contacting us for a general business inquiry, they’re asking for a one-off specific favor that only benefits them. These are not the qualities I look for in business partners- they’re the red flags I try hard to avoid.
Now, there’s an old saying, “Ask for nothing – get nothing.” I love that saying; I believe it’s true. You usually need to be ambitious and tenacious to get what you want. You can’t sit on the sidelines and hope your wildest dream lands in your lap. It won’t. But you don’t want to start asking everyone for everything. You need to take the time and truly understand how things work before you ask anything of anyone. I have done a lot of favors in my life, and I expect I’ll happily do many more. But the favor has to make sense and the person asking has to make sense too.
Psychics, stolen cars, lying receptionists, and Gold Bond- This is my account of 2012′s SXSW. If you’re in a band, work in the music industry, live near Austin, or watch the news a lot, you’ve probably heard of South By Southwest. If not, here’s a brief summery… every bar that has live music in the live musical capital of the world has live music all day and night for five days while every other imaginable space in town is turned into a temporary live music venue. Then hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians, and other weirdos descend on Austin to feast on the insanity that ensues. So, naturally, I show up as well. This is what I remember.
I had the distinct pleasure of riding down in a van with Savannah Smith and a new band called Enemy Planes. I’ll tell you more about them in another post… But, any intense event should begin with an equally intense journey. A two hour plane ride is not enough to transport you into the alternate universe that Austin becomes in March- a Twenty hour van ride on the other hand? With one lay over for a Radiohead concert? Perfect.
We arrived in the Lone Star State late Monday night and then first had to drop a few stragglers off at a ritzy subdivision of a swamp of some sort. We took a wrong turn down a gravel road, and didn’t know if we’d be able to back out or turn around with the trailer in tow. The headlights of the vehicle did a poor job of lighting the dark and foggy terrain that sloped unevenly down and out of site in front of us. We all sat motionless in the van while trying to decide what to do. Naturally, sleep deprived and delirious, I presumed this was the end and we were going to die here, so I volunteered to leave the safety of the van and scout ahead on foot. There are alligators in these parts of Texas, vicious nocturnal hunters that are hard to see during the day, let alone at night! …I mean, I presumed there were alligators anyway. It made sense at the time. There was a lake for sure, and where there’s lakes, there are alligators. Long story short- I didn’t get eaten. But I did find a spot for the van to turn around. …I guess this part of the story isn’t exciting at all… but pretend you think there were alligators too- then it sort of is. Anyway, I would soon find out that many more dangers awaited me in the heart of the city.
Tuesday morning we all rode into downtown Austin early. The city comes alive around noon with day parties, some sanctioned by SXSW, many more sanctioned by no one in particular, but all luring pedestrians in off the street with free food and drinks. My primary goal in going to SXSW is always to network. My secondary goal is to see how much free crap I can get- weather I need it or not. My first official stop of the day as at a Mexican restaurant called Casa Chapala where Savannah was playing. After eating some free things and watching Savannah play, I went to catch up with the rest of my troupe including Craig (if you’ve been following the last several years of posts you know him) at Club Deville. I like this place a lot only because it’s built like a fort into the side of a hill with steep rock faced walls surrounding it’s patio.
It was while I was photo bombing a group of individuals by this very wall that I met Mimi. After the snap of the flash her friends all scattered, but Mimi stayed, transfixed with the dashing and mysterious stranger who had just jumped into the photo and into her life. At first she seemed like an ordinary drunk who was likely unstable to start with. She stated that she also liked the wall, and that she could climb to the top, twenty feet up, with ease. Given her current unbalanced state, naturally I encouraged her to try. She got a foot off the ground before she realized this was a mistake. But, upon turning from the wall she looked at me as though seeing me for the first time, and grabbed my hand. Trembling she told me that she was a ‘Ren-rat’ and had special powers. Ren-rat is a slang term to describe the hordes or goths, larpers, and other unfortunates who participate in the Resistance Festival on an annual basis. She described growing up at the Renfest in Shakopee- which is a suburb of Minneapolis, because her parents were also dorks. She had gained acute psychic abilities while she grew up- more than likely in a vain effort to wish herself somewhere else.
It didn’t all add up to me- after all, she was dressed like a normal person- but she was intensely concerned for my safety, and I was intensely amused, so I heard her out. She proceeded to tell me that I had great powers myself. Perhaps this was why I was able to foresee I couldn’t climb a sheer rock cliff without trying. She grasped my hand and gazed at my palm and bit her trembling lower lip. I was in danger. I helped people, but I may soon help them so much that I hurt myself. My fortune line also didn’t follow my life line. She said that I would earn lots of money, but for other people, not myself… Stupid clients! I thought. Soon I grew bored with Mimi and made my departure. It was only a few hours later when we would meet again.
Bar close released mass of zombies on to the streets of Austin. Our van arrived out front and I got the call that it was now, or never if I wanted a ride to the hotel. As I exited the club some explainable force made me look to my right down the street. There was Mimi… sort of crawl-walking around. I went over to assist her. She was on the phone with someone.
“Hey Mimi, need some help?” Mimi just looked back at my with that all-knowing drunk stair. ”It’s David, the guy with super powers, remember?” I asked. Recognition crept into her eyes.
“Oh yeah, here, talk to him,” she said as she thrust her cell phone at me.
“Hello?” I asked.
“Damn it, is she loaded again? Is she just totally bombed?” a gentleman asked on the other line. I glanced at Mimi.
“Yes,” I answered, “she’s gone.”
After a few more expletives he asked if I could get her into a cab. Asking someone to get a cab at bar close in Austin during SXSW is sort of like asking someone to go find the Ark of the Covenant real quick for you. But, it appears I have special powers- so I actually did find one quickly. But my powers were no match for Mimi’s. The Cabby refused to drive her anywhere in here inebriated state. I took her back to our van to freak out the boys. We offered to give Mimi a ride to where ever it was she comes from, but she wisely refused a ride from five weird looking dudes in a large nondescript white van. I left her peacefully curled up on the sidewalk, and I have no notion of what may have become of her. God speed Mimi, God speed!
With knowledge of the future and what Austin had in store for me looming ominously in the back of my powerful mind, I headed back to the hotel room for much needed rest. Soon the morningafternoonish time would be here, and we’d need to wake up and head back into the belly of the beast.
To Be Continued…
Day one free items collected: Taco platter, four shots of tequila, psychic encounter, two dozen vitamin waters, and two boxes of cereal.