It all starts with your first SXSW showcase. For music industry veterans, you never forget it.
The year was 2007 and Amy Winehouse was creating headlines with a soulful performance at Stubb’s that ended with her in handcuffs. A tiny social media company was in town promoting a network that limited your entries to 140 characters (based around the old SMS limits, remember that!?).
And Albert Smith was putting together his first unofficial SXSW showcase at the Bayou Lounge. Seven years later, 19,000 people are following him on that “tiny” social network (Twitter, for those of you who haven’t caught on) and an additional 62,000+ like him on Facebook.
You see, Albert is the official curator of Unofficial Guide to SXSW, one of the first ever party curation lists for South by Southwest.
“Back then I was able to rent the venue for a full three days for only $500!” Albert told me as he laughed. He had been in the music industry for a few years, but 2007 was his first “unofficial” event thrown together with help from a buddy from California. The Bayou Lounge showcase was a success and caught the attention of a few guys from Boston who were working on yet another social media startup, Sponty.
The idea for this new social network was to allow users to create and discover “social activity feeds” around them. Perfect for a buzz-generating festival like SXSW. The Sponty guys were looking for a person with local music connections to help promote events just as Albert was getting into the game.
Out of Albert’s work with Sponty, the first Unofficial SXSW Guide Facebook page was born. Though hastily built, the page received over 10,000 likes in just three days. “The demand was unreal. I had no idea what to expect,” Albert said. In just the second year of running the Unofficial SXSW Guide social accounts, he was getting offers of more than $10,000 to buy the “brand.”
Early Days on Facebook
These were the early days of social media, when everyone was still trying to figure out how to monetize the concept of social networks. The first few years of Facebook were essentially a land grab. Hundreds of millions of users were looking for ways to engage and fan pages were just starting to take off.
All you needed was a good idea and a strong network of influencers to go viral, both of which Albert had. Within a few days of launching the Unofficial SXSW Guide Facebook fan page, and 10,000 likes later, Albert got his first cease and desist letter from SXSW, Inc. “The first notice was for copyright infringement. But I’ve gotten a few other cease and desists over the years. Nothing major and they have almost always been reasonable requests,” Smith recounted.
His formula is simple and altruistic. SXSW is a beast of a conference that can overwhelm even the most seasoned festival-goer. So the Unofficial SXSW Facebook page was set up to organize as many party announcements and music lineups as possible – in one place. It’s a brave attempt to organize the unorganizable.
SXSW Party Planning Today
Seven years later after the founding of Unofficial SXSW Guide, the concept of curating party lists for South by Southwest has become an industry of its own. RSVPster charges $40 to RSVP to party invites on your behalf and Sched.org does a fantastic job of organizing events in a spreadsheet-like fashion. “RSVPster can be convenient, but they are really sullying the experience of SXSW, a big part of which is discovery,” Albert mentioned.
These days, Albert’s is still the only party curation brand that puts on its own showcase. It started that way and there are no plans to change anytime soon. The last five years have involved showcases of up and coming artists as well as established bands playing at Hyde Park Grill, away from the chaos of Downtown Austin. Despite having been to the last 11 SXSW festivals and being known as one of the biggest organizers of unofficial SXSW content, Albert hates lines. So his showcase focuses on delivering great music, hassle-free.
Last year, Albert teamed up with MyFreeConcert.com to put the lineup together, and he’s thinking about setting up his own website for SXSW 2015. He is also currently working as GM for Drizly, an alcohol delivery service that launched in Austin two months ago.
Unofficial SXSW Tips
As far as advice for SXSW attendees? Albert suggests:
- RSVP and plan ahead.
- Always have back up plans
- Be willing to go with the flow
- Be ready to walk, drink a lot and listen to a year’s worth of music!
- Above all else: Don’t be an ass
@Crafty_Ed wants to know:
What has been your favorite unofficial SXSW event?