Pros: some cool bands despite the hype
This might fall under the category of biting the hand that feeds me, but my band has played the sxsw festival 6 times and quite frankly I do not share others enthusiasm for sxsw. This is not to say that I despise sxsw or regret playing the festival. However, outside the free badge/writstbands and bands that I have seen for free, the enthusiasm many people have for sxsw escapes me. Here is an musician's perspectives on sxsw:
Contrary to popular mythology, "music industry" people do not come to SXSW, ears open, ready to discover/sign the "next big thing". Basically, the sxsw music festival is an excuse for music industry people to write off free food, booze, and drugs as a business expense. In 10 years of dealing with sxsw- both as a wrist band purchaser and in a band playing the festival - I have never seen a single band get "signed" as a direct result of sxsw (feel free to correct me if I am mistaken). Is this a bad thing? Not
However, charging a non refundable 50 dollar entry fee for bands who naively believe that their demo will actually be given a serious listen (or even listened to at all) by the swsx panel of "experts" amounts to mail fraud. Furthermore, of the approximately 300-500 slots available for bands to play half of them are filled with already established bands. Examples include (but are not limited to): Patti Smith, Meat Puppets, Hank Williams III, Supersuckers, Bob Mould, Soul Asylum, Johnny Cash - hardly people who need the help of sxsw at this point in their career.
Of the remaining slots about 50 of them are filled by the same Austin Music Scene sacred cows (ever wonder why the same local bands play sxsw year after year....). The bottom line is this. Getting into sxsw is all a matter of who you know, not how talented your band is. In this way, sxsw is a perfect reflection of the "music industry". Who pays for all this? People paying 90 bucks (or more) for a wristband.
Additionally, short of scoring a badge, it is practically impossible to go to more than one club without having to wait in line (with no guarantee that you will get in to see who you want to see). Basically at many of the more well known venues (Emos, Austin Music Hall, La Zona Rosa) having a wrist band means going to one club and having to stay at that one club the entire night. Great way to spend 90 bucks isn't it?
Just so that this doesn't end on a completely negative note here are some sxsw recommendations. 1) Volunteer to get a free wristband. The folks at sxsw will give you a free wristband (or a badge in some cases) if you do peon grunt work for them. If possible try to volunteer for pre sxsw work so that you will not miss any of the festival doing sxsw's peon work 2) Go to as many free parties/instore appearances as you can. In many cases, you can see bands playing the festival for free at any number of cool record stores (Waterloo Records, Sound Exchange, ABCD's....) in the early afternoon. As an added bonus, most in-store appearances have free beer.
Would I recommend sxsw to a friend? If they could get a free badge...definitely. If they had to pay to go to sxsw...I doubt it.