Behind the Scenes: BMI’s Sam Cox on Breaking Through at SXSW

BMI exec on the ins & outs of Austin’s hottest music festival

Posted in The Weekly on March 10, 2017
American Authors gather for a photo with Island/Mercury Records’ President David Massey and BMI's Samantha Cox at the BMI / Billboard Acoustic Brunch presented by Suntrust Bank during SXSW at the Four Seasons on March 14, 2014, in Austin, TX.
American Authors gather for a photo with Island/Mercury Records’ President David Massey and BMI's Samantha Cox at the BMI / Billboard Acoustic Brunch presented by Suntrust Bank during SXSW at the Four Seasons on March 14, 2014, in Austin, TX. Photo: Erika Goldring

SXSW starts this week - are you ready?
I’m really excited for this year’s festival. We have a great lineup of stellar talent, that I think festivalgoers and fans alike will be really blown away. We have everything from up-and-comers Vera Blue and Cherry Glazerr, to established acts like Devin Dawson and Valerie June, to GRAMMY-nominee Ryan Adams and GRAMMY Award-winner iLe – I’m confident we won’t disappoint.

What do you look for when booking acts for SXSW?
It’s all about music—good music—and being a true artist. Booking is definitely a team effort. All of the Writer/Publisher relations teams from New York, Los Angeles and Nashville come together to identify a handful of great acts who we feel really deserve to be showcased. We get suggestions through our relationships with producers, labels, attorneys, managers, agents, other songwriters and musicians. We’re always on the lookout for new talent, and we all turn each other on to new music. It’s at the very core of what we do.

In terms of acting as a launching pad, how has BMI made an impact at SXSW for developing artists?
We’re proud of our reputation for presenting artists today that everyone will be talking about tomorrow. Playing a BMI show gives you a “stamp of approval” in the industry. The Lumineers, X Ambassadors and American Authors played our Acoustic Brunch before they were ever on radio. Halsey, Melanie Martinez, Imagine Dragons, and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis were all a part of our SXSW lineup before they were household names.  After playing our SXSW showcase a few years back, The Blancos signed with Pulse Music Publishing while GRAMMY-nominated trio Highly Suspect signed with 300 Entertainment – so expect to see big things from both in the near future. 

What can we catch you and the other Writer/Publisher Relations representatives doing during the festival?
We are out in full force. Aside from supporting our BMI songwriters and our events – SXSW is also an amazing opportunity to see and hear other artists perform, especially international acts that we wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to see. We seize every chance we get to learn about songwriters we aren’t familiar with. SXSW is all about music discovery, and we take advantage of it to scout new talent and we’re on the lookout for the next Ryan Adams, the next Halsey, the next Ed Sheeran.

As popular music continues to shift and evolve, so does SXSW. With all these new bands, new sounds, new voices and new trends happening, how does BMI’s Writer/Publisher team manage to keep its finger on the pulse?
If SXSW is evolving, we have to evolve with it by presenting the best of the best. It’s really important to get out and experience as much new music as possible and to keep our eyes and ears open and tuned to all the amazing and emerging talent performing. Seeing an artist play live, meeting with them and getting to know them and their team is crucial to building relationships on both a personal and professional level. These organic connections can lead to bookings at our future SXSW events or even on our stages at other great music festivals like Austin City Limits or Lollapalooza. It’s all about recognizing talent, building a rapport and creating opportunities. I’ve been doing this for a long time now, and sometimes you have to take the gamble and trust your gut, it’s just the nature of the music industry.

What’s the best way for acts to distinguish themselves at SXSW?
There is so much competition at SXSW that the best advice I can give is to play as many shows as possible – three gigs at the very least. Industry executives are busy taking meetings and going to so many shows, so there are always going to be scheduling conflicts. Playing more than one show can increase your chances of being discovered by the right people. If you can’t play multiple shows, then playing one show on a sponsored stage will put you in front of industry people. Beyond that, it’s especially important to have a strong social media presence. Name recognition is key, so if industry execs can’t make it to your show, make sure that they know your name. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a new album or music video being released around the time of the festival.

What if you’re an artist attending SXSW but not playing a gig?
Don’t overdo it – set a goal for yourself. Whatever that goal is—large or small—stick to it and if you manage to accomplish it, then your trip was a success! Make it your mission to meet at least one new person in the industry. Who knows? Maybe that one new person can introduce you to more people who can help you take the next step in your career. You never know! Maybe your goal is the learn more about the business and growing your fan base?  Sit in on panels that teach you how to leverage your social channels and build social impressions. Like I said, there is so much going on at SXSW that it’s important to go with a clearly defined plan and try to leave the festival one step closer to realizing your dreams.

Related: BMI at SXSW 2017

SOURCEThe Weekly TAGS Indie Austin SXSW