Examining the Influential Power of Music Festivals: A South by Southwest Case Study
Some tech companies are born out of a garage, and some music festivals are born out of a basement. In 1987, Roland Swenson, Louis Black, Nick Barbaro, and Louis Meyers, all local Austinites, were secretly meeting in the offices at the Austin Chronicle. At these meetings, they were fervently discussing the possible intersection between the local creative community and the future of the entertainment industry. Their result: South by Southwest (SXSW).
This world-renowned festival started with the objective of creating a platform for small musicians to gain exposure. Fitting in with Austin’s history of counterculture, SXSW wanted to stand out as a festival. It takes place every spring, usually aligning with UT Austin’s spring break. Not only was this an opportunity for musicians, but it also brought more attention to Austin’s role in the music industry as the Live Music Capital of the World. This title has contributed to Austin's reputation as a tourist destination, as well as the city's overall population growth. Austin City Limits, a locally filmed television show, gave attention to the music scene, but SXSW would facilitate interactions between people in Austin, creating more opportunities to build connections. These opportunities give Austin an edge as cities compete with one another to be seen as desirable.
At its debut, one-hundred and fifty attendees were expected, but attendance amounted to over seven hundred people. The enthusiasm has only grown. In 2019, the conference expanded to over four hundred thousand attendees. While SXSW used to only last four days, there are now ten straight days of events. It has not been solely attendance that has grown. In 1994, film and interactive became part of the festival's offerings. In the years since SXSW has offered everything from conferences on climate change to expos on wellness. Other industries have joined in on the success, from the gaming industry to medical technology companies. This has contributed to Austin’s desire to be seen as a desirable hub for tech companies. The festival has become a platform for people to share their ideas and passions with one another while becoming a recognizable and distinguished name in the industry.