A widely held view by those in the mainstream and college music Industry is that SXSW is one of if not the most important yearly event for breaking new bands. A list of the bands on national PR and press radar is generated around the yearly event held in March in Austin, TX. Parties celebrating music and product run all day and night all over Austin and the hunt for these tickets or list spots begins mid February. For those with a casual interest in music though, SXSW is simply the best place to see bands from all over the nation and world. Whatever your interest, SXSW is a BIG thing. Over the course of four graphs, we will break down the the geographical and categorical makeup of SXSW to f ind out where the bands come from and what type of music you can find at SXSW.  If you’d like to check out how this information was compiled, the explicit Methodology is included at the bottom of the post. In a nutshell though, SXSW publishes all their showcase information on their website.

Musicians come from all over the world to attend SXSW but most are from our home continent of North America. Looking at Figure 1, SXSW Showcases by Continent, you can see that North America has dominated SXSW over the past 5 years, greater than all other continents combined. Total showcases are down 6% this year (not shown in this graph) and from the graph we can see that this is due solely to the reduction in the number of showcases from North America. All remaining continents experienced an increase in number of music showcases at SXSW 2009. Looking at some of the more underrepresented continents, while Oceania and Asia show significantly lower numbers than Europe and North America, they have had a consistent presence at SXSW from 2005-2009. Additionally, it seems that SXSW is making an effort to incorporate a broader musical cornucopia because showcases from South America have increased every year; in fact, in 2009 there are more artists from South American than Australia. Finally, while Africa has been poorly represented at SXSW over the surveyed time the number of showcases in 2009 has more than doubled from 2008 numbers.

If artist showcases are only down for the North America, next we should look at which cities have been affected. First, let’s look at the 10 most populous US cities to answer this question. Those well versed in the musical communities of the United States will immediately comment that this type of analysis excludes valuable music communities like Seattle, Portland, Omaha and Athens. I agree. This data will be published in Part 2. Chew on this for now.

Figure 2 shows the number of showcases for the 10 most populous US cities. As expected, the number of showcases decreased in 2009 save for Phoenix and San Diego. San Diego based artist showcases increased by 2 in 2009, for a total of 15. Phoenix based artist showcases increased by 1 in 2009, for a total of 4. Los Angeles based artist showcases decreased by the lowest percentage, posting a 9% reduction in showcases from 2008 numbers. Houston based artists experienced the greatest percentage decrease in number of showcases, a 66% decrease from 2008 showcases, from 64 to 22. By numbers, New York based showcases reduced by the most, dropping from 263 showcases to 186 in 2009. As further illustration that population is not related to size or strength of a music community, San Jose, the tenth most populous US City has not had a showcase appearance from 2005-2009.

The significant drop in New York numbers might indicate that the US economy has had an effect on artists submitting or deciding to attend SXSW. Or it could mean that SXSW reduced the total number of available showcases. Without application data though we can’t arrive at a complete answer but we can use the available data to draw some conclusions. Let’s look at cities close to Austin to see if there was an effect of distance on number of showcases. In Figure 3, SXSW Showcases by Texas City, we see that every Texas city experienced a reduction in the number of showcases from 2008 to 2009. Austin had the largest reduction in number of showcases, 193 showcases in 2009 as compared to 239 showcases in 2008. Still, Austin showcases are almost an order of magnitude greater than the number of  any other large city’s showcases in Texas. Houston again has the largest percentage reduction, 66% less showcases than 2008. Dallas’ showcase numbers are erratic for the dates surveyed and San Antonio has always had low numbers of artist showcases.

In Figure 1 we saw that SXSW has included more showcases from previously underrepresented continents, it only makes sense that there would be a visible difference in the included genres. Over the past 5 years, SXSW Music has used 40 genre categories to classify artists. SXSW has shown consistent numbers in their standard genres of Alt Country, Avant/Experimental, Bluegrass, Blues, Country, DJ, Electronic, Hip Hop / Rap, Jazz, Latin Rock, Metal, Pop, Punk, R&B, Rock, Singer-Songwriter and World. In the past two years, additional genre categories have been added which feature non-traditional or previously underrepresented genres at SXSW. In 2008 genre categories Acoustic, Alternative, Americana, Celtic, Chantuese, Classical, Electronic/Dance, Folk, Funk, Latin, and Ska were added. In 2009 genres A Capella, Adult Contemporary, Cajun, Children’s Music, Jam Band, Soul and Tejano were added. Viewing specific genre categories explains the makeup of SXSW artists. There are greater than three times as many Rock acts as the next most popular categories of Pop, Singer/Songwriter, Hip Hop / Rap, Punk, and Avant/Experimental. The decline in popularity of certain genres at SXSW can be seen by looking at the steady decline of Alt Country and Bluegrass who have 35% and 70% less showcases, respectively, from 2005 numbers.

In Part 2, more US cities will be looked at to localize the largest decreases in showcases. For now, what are your impressions of all of this data? Are there any conclusions that should be included that were missed?

Please comment…

Genre and Geography were surveyed for SXSW’s musical showcases from 2005-2009. This information was taken from the archived data at http://200x.sxsw.com and the current http://sxsw.com/music. Attempts were made to reduce errors due to redundant data, missing genre or geography. Missing information was ignored from geography or genre specific data but was included in total number of showcases or genres. The designation of “showcases” was used instead of “artists.” Applications to SXSW are made for one showcase but each showcase may include multiple individual artists, specifically in the Hip Hop genre. In most cases however, “showcase” is synonymous with “artist” and for simplification of data analysis, “showcase” was used instead of artist. Possible source of error: 1. Missing geographical or genre specific data. 2. SXSW may add new artists up to the point of the conference itself, this could shift percentages one way or another but unlikely that gross conclusions would be shifted as a result.

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