6th Street in Austin, TX is the city’s main drag, with countless bars and quick food spots. Every single one of those bars has the ability to turn itself into a live music venue. During SXSW, a sizable portion of 6th is cut off from traffic, giving festival goers the ability to walk the streets freely. It’s wild, fun, and everything a festival goer would need to tell great stories when they get home. However, as Music Week comes to a close on Friday and Saturday, it turns into an open market for hopeful rappers, this year more than last.
About a million people descend onto Austin, TX for SXSW each year, so it’s a no-brainer for unsigned or unknown artists to gather their entourage and make themselves known to potential followers. Most of those bars on 6th Street are available for booking unofficial SXSW showcases, which many artists take advantage of.
That’s not the problem. I actually commend that type of persistence in artists.
The problem is there was a surprising amount of rappers who weren’t even booked for the unofficial shows, out on 6th, with their whole neighborhood flexing on everyone who walked by. They were either handing out free CDs, doing a little cypher, or standing around with big signs emblazoned with their stage names and pictures. What the f#*k are y’all doing? Seriously.
CDs are a dead medium, and 99.9% of people who get one handed to them throw them on the street when they get out of sight (the streets are literally covered in CDs). Not to mention, who is even carrying around a Discman anymore? If you’re handing out free CDs at an event like SX, you’re expecting drunk people from out of town to care about your music enough to bring it home with them and play it in their car. Probably not gonna happen fam. However, if you were lucky, click on this Noisey link. Maybe they reviewed one of your mixtapes.
On two occasions I walked past a crew not handing out CDs, but standing around with signs for a rapper. I was trying to read the social media handle associated with the artist they were promoting and got, “Yo whatchu starin’ at son?” Now I’m not a writer for Rolling Stone, or an A&R at Universal, but my title as the Urban Music Director at a well-known college radio station is definitely not something to shrug at. Actually, at a SX panel session about promoting music on college campuses, Frank DeCicco, Senior Director of College Marketing at Sony Music Entertainment, and Todd Goodwin, Vice President of College & Lifestyle Marketing at Universal Music Group, said that college stations are still the number 1… I’ll say it again, NUMBER 1 outlet that consumers use to find out about new artists. So the mean mugging street team literally told one of the very few people who could help them on 6th Street, not to stare at their advertisement. Sigh.
To the artists on 6th Street: All of this nonsense displays a below average hustle game. Pressing CDs in bulk is expensive. The only reason an artist should be pressing CDs is for promotional use, to be distributed to actual media outlets, and possibly selling them at your shows. Also, printing can get up to a few hundred dollars for large signs and posters that will end up being torn down by city sanitation hours after you leave. None of these promotional materials will translate into revenue for your brand.
With all that money spent, an artist could invest in hiring a real publicist, a legitimate promotion campaign, and a music badge for SXSW. Those would provide more than enough outreach to media outlets and listeners. Going to sessions alone at SX gives you a year’s worth of networking. Seriously, everyone you need to meet is there.
With all this said, rappers please put more thought into who you let represent your work, and don’t waste your time at SX; make it count. There are too many opportunities abound to be posted on the block in a city that you’re not even from. Isn’t that the life you’re trying to get away from anyway?
However I did see one exception… the dude in the above picture. He had all of 6th Street going crazy by setting up a PA system and doing a show out in the middle of the street. Good for you bruh. Then again, I couldn’t find out who he was from anyone, so there’s a lesson to be learned in that too. If anyone knows who he is, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org because he was dope.