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A neon sign of a Union Jack with 'Music is Great' written across the middle

Orchard x SXSW

I’ve been meaning to attend South By Southwest (abbreviated as ‘SXSW’ and colloquially referred to as ‘South By’) for the past 5-6 years. An annual conglomerate of film, interactive media, music festivals and conferences that take place in mid-March in Austin, Texas, it is one of the largest creative gatherings in the world. Up until now, I’ve always found a reason not to go. But not this year. As our business develops and grows with new ventures like VR, this year was the year.  

A poster showing the silhouette of a cowboy with a guitar and the text 'Live Music Capital of the Word, Austin Texas'

The minute you get off the plane at the airport terminal in Austin, it is immediately evident that music, and SXSW, is a BIG deal to the city. Music and music memorabilia is everywhere!  On average, over 30,000 industry delegates from all over the world descend on the city for the event (of which 700+ come from the UK on average) so it is easy to see how SXSW and music has fuelled the economic growth of one of the fastest growing cities in the US, bringing in the region of $350 million per annum and many billions of dollars since it started. In other words, it is BIG business.

A band perform

With over 92 countries taking part this year, there is no denying that SXSW is a mammoth event!  It’s just impossible to do everything there and stick to a schedule so you have to go with a plan – but be prepared to be flexible with that plan! The SXSW App was my life-saviour and highly recommended – with agents, promoters, labels, and artist management from all over the world all out there, the pressure to not miss an opportunity is high.

So, where do I start? There were so many highlights to choose from, but here are my top ones:

  • Attending ‘The Mixer’ (otherwise known as a drink and networking event) hosted by Focus Wales, who were leading the Welsh presence this year. This included a showcase featuring 6 Welsh acts - Rachel K Collier, Christopher Rees, Doc Daneeka, Himalayas, Stella Donelly and Dan Betteridge.
  • Attending the ‘Brunch with the Brits’ at the British Music Embassy hosted by the Department for International Trade (DTI) which showcased new and upcoming bands from across the UK. The evenings were then hosted by the BBC, with each night focussing on a different strand i.e. Radios 1,1 Extra, 2, 6 and BBC Music Introducing.
  • Meeting with the City of Austin Economic Development Department and Visit Austin to talk and learn more about Austin’s status as the Live Music Capital of the World, and what learnings we could bring back to Wales.
  • Attending the City of Austin South By drinks reception, and the Ticketmaster party.

People at SXSW

Interesting conferences that I attended included:

The Trade Show, which saw a mixture of representatives from the festivals converging industries. Definitely worth a quick look.  
How start-ups can partner with companies like Google - an interesting insight into how start-ups and smaller companies can engage with Google to help them grow.
A new leadership model for the digital age - discussing how corporate digital transformation requires a culture change - starting with a new leadership model. In today’s digital age, there is no more room for the classic command-and-control, bureaucratic and disengaged boss type. Digital is breeding a new leadership culture that values self‐motivated freethinkers who create transparency and build trust across teams’ without getting stuck in political inertia.  A great affirmation that our Prime Values are very much in line with current thinking!
Ticketmaster-Verified fan - in this era of secondary ticketing, how do we make sure real fans are the ones who actually get their hands on the tickets?

Speakers onstage in front of a SXSW branded backdrop

Finally, I cannot forget my live music highlights ….and lowlights:

  • Pussy Riot (the only lowlight but you’ve got to go see them if they’re in town right?);
  • Frank Turner, who just happened to be playing a solo set in a bar as I was passing;
  • The hotly tipped Rhys Lewis and Jade Bird who, incidentally, we had booked for forthcoming events!
  • A Scottish 3 piece band called Breakfast Muff;
  • A great Canadian band called Boniface;
  • An Australian band called Gang of Youths – excellent, like old school Bruce Springsteen!
  • And finally, not forgetting the welsh bands that were in town - my favourites being Himalayas and Dan Betteridge.

It was an incredibly rewarding and inspirational week. I had so many amazing experiences, both visually and musically, bringing home with me new ideas and learnings to help grow and develop our already very heathy music scene back in Wales. I’ve been in the music industry now for over 30 years, but I’m forever learning as the industry changes and evolves.  

So… if you are thinking of attending next year’s event – DO SO!! And now is the time to start planning your stay there. I’m told by more experienced attendees that after you’ve been there the once, you get your groove. In that case – bring on next year!

Rachel K Collier:

Christopher Rees:

Doc Daneeka:


Stella Donelly:

Dan Betteridge:

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