As a music fan, SXSW is one of the greatest experiences imaginable – especially with a badge, some free time, and yeah, a hotel room. As a music publication, it’s also pretty good, especially since there are lots of industry people drinking in a fairly condensed area. Which is why Digital Music News will be there, and even throwing an awesome party (more details on that later). But for music companies, startups and bands? Outside of some serious high-fliers and well-known artists, SXSW has longsince jumped some overcrowded shark of uselessness. And even worse, devolved into this expensive party with mixed business results, at best. Because this is more a vacation than anything else, and for many, a horrible place to get stuff done. Or, get noticed at all.
This is a lean industry getting leaner – and that’s cool – but that makes it harder and harder to justify this level of extravagance and time-wasting. If you live in Oklahoma, that’s one thing. Otherwise, this is out-of-the-way and pricey: flights are expensive, hotels are insanely overbooked and therefore insanely expensive, and the cost of your time couldn’t be higher. If you need to close deals, maybe this works for you – otherwise, you’ll be drinking beer and bullshitting, instead of getting stuff done back at your office. I almost think Midem – yeah, that boondoggle in the South of France – is a better, more focused place to get stuff done. At least there’s a good population of important players, a smaller group, and a nice separation from office distractions to get deals done. But there’s another gigantic problem with SXSW: it’s impossible to get noticed! As we hurtle towards kickoff, I’m getting flooded with invites to parties I can’t possibly attend! I’m probably spending half-an-hour a day just shuttling them all into a ‘SXSW Invite’ folder in my email, so I can actually read my other emails. And the whole time, I’m telling myself I’ll glance over the invites later (yeah, right). Is that an effective atmosphere for you? I wonder if you wouldn’t get more done at something like SF MusicTech Summit, which is just one day, far less cluttered, far less expensive, and packed with lots of the same important people. Or by simply sitting in your office, and skipping the airports, taxi lines, baggage terminals, crammed hotels, crammed restaurants, and endless invites and people you don’t need to see. And, actually getting something done. /paul.