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South by So What: San Antonio Artists Ponder Whether the Benefits of Playing South by Southwest Outweigh the Hassles 

click to enlarge FACEBOOK / GARRETT T. CAPPS
  • Facebook / Garrett T. Capps
Der Kindestod is looking forward to a much less stressful South by Southwest this year.

For years, the avant-garde producer and underground rave DJ has been throwing his own unofficial shows during Austin’s much-hyped music conference. That meant doing everything, including booking the venue, lugging equipment, bringing in talent and playing the show.

This year, though, the San Antonio-based DJ landed an official showcase, and he’s stoked just to show up and spin instead of worrying about logistics.

“I was spending a lot of my time, money and energy throwing my own events, because I wasn’t satisfied with what was going on at [official] SXSW [events],” said Der Kindestod, born Henry Rodriguez. “At least being official, it’s nice to just get booked, show up and do my thing.”

Every spring, the 32-year-old South by Southwest festival brings a clusterfucked two weeks of performances, presentations and panel discussions to Austin, leaving a whirlwind of wristbands in its wake. Musicians, filmmakers, techies and creatives from around the globe converge, using it as an opportunity to network and mingle.

And, every year, a dozen or so San Antonio musical acts end up in the mix, looking to reach a broader audience, gain industry insight and maybe even land a record deal. But an official showcase isn’t a shortcut to glitz and glam, they point out.

Garrett T. Capps, a purveyor of honky-tonk country, will be playing his third official SXSW showcase this year. From his time in the trenches, he’s learned that the many unofficial shows that sprout around festival time can have better lineups and bigger turnouts.

“If you’re up there in the madness, it doesn’t hurt to play an official showcase,” Capps said. “But without someone curating the lineup and management placing you in the right official showcase, it doesn’t seem like [SXSW] gives you much more of a benefit than playing a really bad-ass unofficial showcase.”

Blame It on the Algorithms

Another benefit that comes with being an official SXSW artist is getting a song or two thrown onto an official Spotify playlist. Country singer Capps’ song “Born in San Antone” ended up on the official SXSW playlist back in 2017, the year he landed his first showcase.

Call it luck or blame it on the algorithms, the song came to the attention of Brian Koppelman, co-creator of the Showtime drama Billions. And, long story short, “Born in San Antone” appeared on the season premiere of the show last year.

The odds are stacked against those kind of success stories. Still, Capps encourages San Antonio artists to play in the festival. After all, it’s a short drive.

“I do my best not to turn down any opportunity to play in Austin, because it’s one of the only dense scenes for the kind of music I play,” he said. “It’s s a dense scene for everything. SXSW is one of the only music conventions of its kind in the whole world, and if you’re living in San Antonio, you should take every opportunity you can to be a part of it — you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Will Play for Wristbands

Of course, not everyone feels SXSW gigs, official or not, are worth the hassle.

Artists accepted into the festival typically receive less than $300 in payment — unlikely to cover gas, lodging or other travel expenses for bands traveling from outside the state. Their other option is forgoing the payment to receive a wristband that allows admission into SXSW events.

Not to mention, applying to play the festival is no guarantee you’ll get a showcase. And the $35-to-$55 entry fee is nonrefundable.

Beyond the paltry pay, official showcases can be crammed into off-the-beaten-path venues or scheduled at 1 a.m. on a weekday, meaning a paltry turnout. If your band drove down from Washington to play for six people, that’s got to sting.

Ceschi Ramos, whose Connecticut-based Fake Four label has issued releases for underground acts like Open Mike Eagle and Astronuatalis, said his last few label showcases have primarily brought people already familiar with his roster, not new audiences or industry folk.

“I just started noticing our fans would come out to our shows,” Ramos said. “It wasn’t like a bunch of South by badgeholders at our show. We weren’t the buzz. We just had our own niche, and we’d still fill a show, but it would be our people. It wasn’t like all reviewers.”

Joining the Congregation

Even so, Maria Ferrero, whose New Jersey-based music PR company handles metal heavyweights like Cradle of Filth, Lamb of God and DevilDriver, says up-and-coming bands need the kind of shoulder-rubbing opportunities SXSW can provide.

“It’s a congregation of a lot of people in the music business that want to be out and see what’s going on,” Ferrero said. “It’s a great place to network with people. With bands, labels, publicists, radio, managers, just all kinds of people. I think it’s important and valuable, but it’s up to the artists who go and participate to determine what they get out of it.”

While Der Kindestod is excited about not having to organize every aspect of his upcoming show, even more exciting is being able to focus on having a solid performance. And that’s what he plans to focus on, more than what he can hope to gain from an official showcase.

“I’ve done South by and have had really cool people show up before, but I just really want to play good music and devastate people – whoever is there,” he said. “I just want everyone to feel something, and that’s my ideal show.”

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