As a musician myself, back when I was performing and touring with my band Soundacity, I continually thought of SXSW as the go-to festival for music business heaven, where all our (booking) dreams would come true. After getting some mixed reviews, we ended up not going. However, years later the opportunity came again and we decided to attend for a few days, see what it was really like for a small company to go there and get immersed in one of the most popular and prolific festivals ever to exist. Little did we know it was going to be such an amazing experience and moreover, that we would participate in the third edition of the SXSW Music Hackathon. Here’s what we learned.
1. If this is your first, take your time, learn, and don’t rush.
SXSW can be overwhelming, especially if attending for the first time. There are over 1,733 sessions (among Music, Interactive and Film), 2,226 music showcases, an average of 28,128 attendees per category and in terms of the money it moves, SXSW injects about $317 million into the Austin economy. Aside of the great food joints on the streets of Austin, you might also have a short rest and do some people-watching. Besides, they are the ones who ‘keep Austin weird’. As first-time goers, we took the time to carefully review the calendar and agenda for panels since we wanted to get at least a glimpse of everything (which we later found out it was almost impossible). But, at least we knew it was Music week, so we decided to filter out any Interactive or Film related panels even though some of them overlapped.
We didn’t have a badge, as many other attendees didn’t either. There are many free events to go to where you can learn, network and have a free drink or two. On the first day, we entered the Music Hackathon. We’ve been at other hackathons (like Spotify’s at New York’s HQ) but never a 24hr long one. I’ll be talking about this in a little while.
Fortunately, we had free passes for the second day we were there, so we focused on getting as much as possible out of these panels. Michele Obama was the keynote speaker on this day talking about girl and women empowerment through education, which made the entire schedule move back an hour and a half. When this happens, just kick back and go with the flow, you might be surprised by the unplanned events that occasionally happen.
2. Tech and everything else. Use it to your advantage!
You might see multiple kiosks of college kids giving out free startup swag, or stop by at the fully equipped, tech-inspiring houses of IBM’s Cognitive Studio, Pandora Discovery Den and the Samsung Studio. Anyhow, SXSW is a festival that breathes and sleeps technology. Even if you are focused on the Music or Film categories, technology is the underlying factor for every event, app, party and brand activation. So don’t neglect it, use it and embrace it.
We were very fortunate to have been accepted to the SXSW Music Hackathon. Even though SXSW started as a music festival back in 1986 it slowly evolved into a multimedia and technology driven festival. More than 150 developers and music industry professionals came to the 24-hour hackathon including Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Ryan Leslie and Kiran Gandhi.
The great thing about the SXSW Music Hackathon, aside of the prizes and networking opportunities, is that you get a first hand look at unreleased API’s and technologies where you can plug your music ideas into. For us, it became the perfect opportunity to nail down our design and user experience based on our initial assumptions of Stereotheque, especially when integrating third party API’s.
3. Keep an open mind and enjoy the music.
Now, Austin and SXSW are moments in your life you just have to embrace. And one of the best ways to do this is by going to as many concerts and showcases as physically possible. Why? Because you’ll never experience that level of diversity in music anywhere else. It’s arguably the best music scene out there. There’s a reason it’s called the Live Music Capital!
People go to Austin and SXSW to have a great time, enjoy themselves and learn as much as possible. But take your time and take a close look at the schedules of every showcase and bar. Some of them require entrance covers and others may be private or open during specific periods of time. Our favorite music place was the Pandora Discovery Den, among other small bars and venues. A really awesome atmosphere with acts including MSTRKRFT and Bloc Party.
All in all, we had a blast. It was a wonderful experience from the people we met, the progress we did during the hackathon, and all the artists and startups we got to see. We’ll surely be there next year, hopefully with Stereotheque being the talk of town! Did you attend SXSW? Please let us know your thoughts or anything you might have learned!