Ōtepoti-based country-pop artist Kylie Price was simultaneously nervous and excited to find out she would perform at South By Southwest 2022. The SXSW conference and associated creative sector festivals (tech, film and music) ran over 10 days in mid-March, and Kylie sensibly took the chance to indulge in the full suite of opportunities it provides. Here she recounts some of the stand out moments from the event, and some insight into the immediate benefits it provided as she moved on to perform in the UK.
It was mid-November 2021 when I got notification that I was going to be heading to SXSW 2022 in Austin, Texas to perform. I hadn’t given myself any expectation to be successful in the first place so it came as a great surprise. After a couple of years losing shows and performances to Covid, it was also a daunting thought to play a festival. Would I still know what to do on stage? Did I still know how to communicate with an audience that wasn’t on Zoom, or live-streamed on my laptop screen? What if I had forgotten how to play guitar? (Okay, that one not so much, but it was still a minor thought amongst the others!) Overall though, I just felt an immense feeling of pride being able to represent New Zealand at SXSW.
Being invited to perform at SXSW also meant that instead of heading straight to London for my working holiday, I had the opportunity to network and connect with British professionals within the industry. I understood that perhaps this was the highest priority for me. SXSW is always a bustling metropolis for the UK industry and I was excited to connect with people that could assist my transition to the UK scene, as well as hear British music live.
Fast forward to March 2022 and with two suitcases, a guitar and loop pedal, my fiancé and I boarded the classic Air NZ aircraft and off we went. Grateful for our negative PCR tests, it was a smooth 12-hour flight all the way to LAX, where we had a stopover for the evening before heading to Austin. We were jetlagged, it was sunny and the burgers were a whole other size of absurdity.
The following day we were back on a 3-hour flight to Austin. I’d been to Texas before, in 2016 to perform, and I was excited to see another part of the state after enjoying it so much previously. After checking into our hotel we briskly travelled to the Austin Convention Center to sign in and grab our credentials. We were a couple of days ahead of the festival starting, but already there was a buzz in the air that these two Kiwis hadn’t felt before. And we felt incredibly fortunate to be experiencing it given the world was still reeling from a global pandemic.
We met the incredible Cary Caldwell, a legendary advocate of NZ music and it was beautiful seeing someone from home. Cary is a major part of SXSW running successfully and he was instrumental in my organisation and preparation for performing. I cannot thank him enough for his sharing of knowledge and energy.
The next day we spent exploring Austin, getting ourselves familiar with the multiple venues and scheduling in which sessions we wanted to see. I would massively recommend getting there a couple days earlier to really allow yourself time to acclimatise and familiarise yourself with the area. SXSW takes over the entire town and can be overwhelming trying to find your bearings, especially if you’re from a small city like Dunedin where the average commute is 10-15mins max! However the good thing about SXSW is that everything is walking distance and praise google maps for being a consistent friend to us.
Our first official day of SXSW was met with a flurry of people with the same idea as us – make the most of your time there. Whilst the music side of the festival doesn’t really kick off until the second week, the sessions crack on immediately. On our first day we found ourselves in the biggest convention room of the center listening to keynote speaker Priya Parker on ‘The Art of Gathering’, and Scott Galloway give his provocative projection for the year ahead. This was incredible, a vast line up of speakers that only such an event like SXSW could provide.
One major helping hand was the SXSW app, which shows you the entire festival schedule broken down into times, venues and whether it’s anticipated to book out. For me, this really allowed me to best utilise my time each day as well as schedule what my day would look like. It was useful having it on my phone as it also showed where the venue was located on a map and would direct you right to the door. It saved us a lot of time and I don’t think the festival would run as smoothly without it.
Though the music side of the festival didn’t kick off until the second week, I had a performance on a Second Play Stage on Thursday. These are stages erected in hotel lobbies around Austin that are associated with the festival and allow you another opportunity to play other than your official showcase performance. For any artist performing at SXSW, I would strongly recommend applying for as many Second Play Stage performances as you can. When you are playing in busy hotel lobbies, you never know who is listening and who is passing by, and playing one evening I was approached by Marshall Records UK. For me, these performances were just as important as my official showcase.
My official showcase wasn’t until the second last day of the festival – Saturday March 19 – which meant I had plenty of time to go to seminars and meet up for mentoring sessions. One of the most useful meet ups I went to was ‘Women in Music’ which was a wonderful opportunity to connect with other artists from around the world and seek advice from industry professionals.
I had a great discussion regarding distribution and how to utilise platforms like TikTok and Spotify for Artists with Andreea Gleeson from TuneCore and these one-on-one connections were incredibly valuable.
One of my most valuable panel discussions was the Spotify Masterclass in which I learnt about new Spotify products that aren’t yet released, how to expand into the Spotify market and Spotify resources to grow my opportunities for editorial curated playlisting. Again, these panel sessions are goldmines of information and made my time at SXSW all the more valuable. It applied to my situation significantly in regards to how I will approach my next single releases.
Because of Covid, there was no NZ House or Kiwi showcase this year at the festival. However there was the UK House – a small but cozy bar with a courtyard where UK professionals gathered for a mix of industry chat and drinks. We were invited to attend a professional meet up here through MMF UK (big appreciation to Teresa Patterson from MMF NZ for setting this up for me), and this remains one of my most fond and important meets of the festival.
Invites to such meet ups were incredibly valuable as I was heading to London after SXSW, so connecting with the industry was of massive importance for my next step. I met Ella Luby who is in business management with MSE UK, and I ended up working with them when I arrived. I also met Mel Brown from Impressive PR UK who ended up coming to my showcase on the Saturday evening, and I subsequently worked with her in London.
My showcase time was at midnight-12.40am on Saturday 19th. For someone who usually is in bed by 10.30pm I felt like my performance time was a mistake! However at SXSW the music never sleeps and neither do people looking for it. My showcase venue also included the wonderful Hera and it was a fabulous privilege to watch her perform and be on the same line up as a fellow New Zealander.
The showcase was at the beautiful Stephen F Bar which is an intimate, well furnished dimly lit bar where people come to listen to music and not talk over it. For a singer-songwriter, it was a breath of fresh air playing to an attentive audience, especially after not playing a gig of this nature for nearly a year due to the pandemic. I left feeling grateful and fortunate of the position I was in and immense honor to be representing NZ.
There are so many fond memories of SXSW when I look back. From watching Dolly Parton live (I cried through it and I’m not ashamed of that!) to watching the incredible Tami Neilson on her showcase, listening to Lizzo’s keynote speech and witnessing the greatness of Sara Bareilles and Renee Goldsberry. The two weeks I spent in Austin were irreplaceable and one of the most pinnacle experiences of my journey this far.
Coming from a small country like NZ and jumping into an environment like SXSW can feel overwhelming, and for the first couple of days I was riddled with self doubt. However the diversity that accompanies an event like SXSW reinforces the belief that we all have something unique to offer. It isn’t a competition – more a chance to celebrate the love of music, film and tech and connect with wider demographics than we may have had the opportunity to do before. Once I got out of my own head, I allowed an opening in my vulnerability wall, and SXSW did exactly what I thought it would, changed my life.