SXSW 2015

by Russel Hlongwane

sxsw2015Once a year in the month of March thousands of musicians, filmmakers and interactive app designers make their way to the proportioned city of Austin, Texas. For what you may ask? They make this important trip for a week of lectures, music product launches, music showcases and panel discussions by the highest standing industry shapers. It is the world’s biggest conference of its kind, boasting an overwhelming number of activities in the small town of Austin.  

One of our team members had the privilege of attending the 2015 SXSW event and took some notes and here are his distilled thoughts;



South by South West (SXSW) is a heavily commercialized event with the best speakers in the world sharing their wisdom and emerging business models in the industry. Attending the conference provides an informed view of the world’s appetite towards music, film and apps and how these products are consumed. Some interesting tips and tricks are shared during general conversations with other delegates.

sxswThis is a story about numbers - during a discussion with another delegate, an interesting metric emerged. At most times, it is a given that most black artists in the U.S are consumed by the non-white market at first. And because black population makes up a small demographic in the U.S, once an artist sells more than that number (of the black population), it becomes absolutely clear that he or she is speaking beyond the black (or otherwise known as a ‘’minority) market. This market breakthrough would also hint that the artist’s music is ready to go global since its been consumed beyond a particular ‘’segment’’. This highlighted that some phenomena is exclusive to particular contexts and can’t be applied to other markets, and if they are, they become blunt instruments.  

Sometimes to standout, you need to stand-down – once all the lectures, panel discussions and sessions are done at the SXSW Conference, music venues open their doors to welcome thousands of music fans who line up to see their favourite bands with the hope of checking out some new bands. On any given night, there are about 350 concerts in this small town of Austin, creating a very competisxsw2tive environment. How do you as an artist get louder than the other 299 gigs, what will you do to make people talk about your venue above all the others?

You may even ask the question, is it even worth it to be louder than the other 299 venues. Should you decide to compete against the 299 gigs then there is a good chance that your noise will be deafening – not many fans want that.

The music showcase segment of the SXSW is so competitive that some high profiled artists perform to crowds of 30 whilst emerging bands attract an audience of 300 and some of this may boil down to pure luck. Another interesting case is how ‘’regional artists’’ – those who are famous only in their home country but not worldwide, are considered emerging artists when they arrive in Austin. The trap of a ‘’local celebrity’’ is the ‘’global unknown’’.

Here is my conclusion, at a level of so much competition it is better not to compete. To compete is too costly and the win is not worth the effort. In such an intense competition, you put in too much to take away too little at the end of the day. As a musician, you should know when to play and when not to play, no matter how attractive the deal appears. Sometimes its good to go against the crowd.  

sxsw3Don’t look ‘’there’’, look elsewhere, ‘’otherwhere’’: My topic of interest lately is the appeal of South African music to the Asian market. Many local artists only focus on the local market when they can make more revenue through international markets such as Japan, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand and the Scandanavian markets. These markets have been historically insular but its youth is outward looking for new sounds. At one of the sessions, a distributor mentioned the huge opportunities available for music producers in the gaming industry. He mentioned a trend of hockey stadiums that get packed out by game developers and music producers that lasts for a full weekend. At these events thousands of game developers and music producers sit across and amongst each other to trade products, music producers hand over their production to gamers who need soundtracks/ jingles for their games. If a game hits the big time, the producers stands to benefit a healthy stack of money. So as a musician, are you seeking new avenues of revenue generation?

My conclusion here- don’t look where everyone is else is looking. Cast your sights at the cracks and the overlooked areas this is where you will find new opportunities. The main road is crowded (there’s traffic), the road less travelled has new opportunity, seek attentively.



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