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AUSTIN, Texas - It's no secret the South by Southwest Music Festival (SXSW) is designed to cater to the needs of the industry rather than serve as a fan-centric culture.
While some (particularly fans) find this aspect of SXSW frustrating, others like musician Brian Penick, of Cincinnati, appreciate the festival's approach.
As a musician with more than 13 years of professional experience, this year marked the fifth SXSW for Penick. The Elmwood resident is a former band member of The Seedy Seeds (also SXSW veterans), the Turnball AC's, Death in Graceland, and Bottom Line, who played on the official lineup for SXSW for three consecutive years.
Now Penick, who has toured all over the world and participated in a variety of festivals, has turned to the business side of the industry as the owner of The Counter Rhythm Group (TCRG) .
The Elmwood resident started TCRG nearly 2.5 years ago. It is an artist development and promotion company that offers music industry services. Some of the Cincinnati bands TCRG works with include The Pinstripes, Automagik, Young Heirlooms, Mad Anthony, Public and Shiny and the Spoon, some of which attended SXSW this past week.
Penick now utilizes the festival as an international networking hub.
"I think SXSW is still very relevant in the music industry. It's a great way to see who the trends are at the moment or the 'buzz bands' that are doing well," said Penick.
This year his company focused on promoting TCRG's new Musicians' Desk Reference e-book, which serves as a tool for new bands trying to grow their own brand. The e-book offers a set of guidelines to help bands, including video tutorials and help with press kits, for those just beginning their music careers.
Penick saw SXSW as the perfect opportunity to discuss his project with his fellow peers and musicians before its official launch this fall.
"SXSW is very important to us because we wouldn't have started pushing this e-book this early on in our company unless we saw there was a giant need for it by talking to bands down here. That's where the desk reference came from. [I] hope it makes a large positive impact when it comes," said Penick.
Penick, along with his campaign manager Izzi Krombholz, took to the streets of downtown Austin to talk to bands and held meetings with potential clients.
"It's important to put in face time with people you correspond with, important to communicate and network with new people and new contacts that are out there. It's also important for a company like us to have presence down here for validation and other peoples' eyes," said Penick.
Krombholz, also a local musician and a University of Cincinnati electronic media graduate, has worked for TCRG since last August. She attended SXSW for the first time this year.
"It was pretty insane. I knew it was going to be crazy, but it's one of those things you can't picture until you're here. It's bigger and crazier than a thought, almost like a smaller version of Mardi Gras. Everyone's out and even people who aren't here with wristbands or badges are just here to get some sort of experience from the festival, which is pretty cool," she said.
Krombholz said it was encouraging to see both attendees and artists excited about music.
"I love Cincinnati, but it does get me down sometimes just being in the music scene — and I'm very passionate about music — but it's really fun to be somewhere where people are excited to see shows. Even waiting in line to see The Stooges, people were there super early and didn't get to see them, but the fact that people are willing to stand outside in a line for hours because they love the music so much....It's great to be in a place like that were people are that dedicated," said Krombholz.
Aside from the music, another major component to the SXSW conference are the panels that take place each day. Amid the chaos of day parties and free drinks, it's easy to overlook the panels offered to musicians at the festival, which is an opportunity Penick says most bands fail to take advantage of every year.
"The vast majority of people down here don't care about it at all, but the music industry is sales. If you're a band, you're selling a product. If you're a servicing agent, your selling a band, etc. It's nice to remove yourself from the fans and see people that take SXSW at a different level of interest," said Penick.
Penick advises bands take part in the networking opportunities, while maintaining a professional outlook.
"If you're a band, have some goals while you're down here. Don't just come to get drunk and don't have any expectations because if you do, things change and you might be disappointed," said Penick.
But whether you're an established artist or newcomer to the industry, Penick says SXSW offers more than other festivals: It harbors a vibrancy in the music community.
"I really like the people down here because you get all the positive people in the community together and people hype each other up. There are negative aspects of this festival as well,
but I need this every year. This rejuvenates me mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. My religion is music," said Penick.
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