THE BLOG

SXSW: A Music Manager's View

06/03/2014 15:03 GMT | Updated 06/05/2014 10:59 BST

In just a few days time, the doors to the biggest and most important showcase for new music swing open again.

I can still recall my first experience of South By South West (SXSW) - it was rambunctious, full of pure abandon and randomness - flitting from one venue to another with remarkable speed. My job at the time was in A&R, I was in my mid-twenties, and full of vitality and excitement. And I had an expense account! But I understood relatively little of what SXSW really meant to those at the sharp end: to be one of those hopeful bands competing for audience attention over six jam-packed days.

However, in 2014 I am returning with a fresh perspective. Woman's Hour, a band that I manage will be travelling to Austin, Texas to be sized up, questioned and open to judgement.

While I write this blog, the pressure is already building. My next urgent job is to collate tech specs and stage plots for the venues that Woman's Hour will be playing - making sure that, in the madness and randomness to come, everything is as organised as possible.

For festival goers, SXSW is in some ways similar to the Glastonbury experience. Music is everywhere. It builds into a throng, beating the streets, blasting from every corner. And the diversity is incredible. There are more than 2,000 bands playing, across at least 100 venues, all showcasing an incredible array of musical talent. The intensity is overwhelming, leaving a feeling of: 'Oh damn, how the hell am I gonna see everything I want'.

Every year, commentators ask if the event has become too bloated? Is there simply just too much to choose from? Will Jay Z get more coverage than the next deserving new band.

Amidst such cutthroat competition, you might now be questioning why my band is even bothering to play. However, this is the beauty of SXSW - it offers something that no other festival can. It is the one time that everyone in the global music business gathers to listen to new music and to discuss new ideas. It is a collision of bloggers, radio presenters, agents, media, sync people. The list is endless.

For a UK act, SXSW provides a unique moment to showcase what they are capable of, and hopefully to build momentum towards greater things - to promote their album or single release in the world's most important music market, whilst building bridges with key contacts from everywhere from Japan to Norway.

Unsurprisingly, none of this comes cheap. A trip to the US is very expensive for any artist, whether they are signed or not. Believe me, the amount of money it costs to get a band on the road is extortionate. Most must beg, steal and borrow unless they are one of the lucky few (and I mean 'few') that receive tour support from a major label. Consequently, funding has become something of a necessity for artists to build strong fan bases both in the UK and around the world.

Some governments offer amazing funding for bands - Australia, Norway, Canada and Finland being the obvious examples. In the UK, you can count the opportunities on one hand. PRS for Music Foundation's International Showcase Fund is one of the few examples - helping Woman's Hour, alongside many other bands, with travel and accommodation expenses.

The creative industries, and music in particular, are hugely important for this country. Yes, they contribute massively to the economy, but they also boost our standing in the world. The UK still has an unrivalled reputation for the innovative and the cutting edge.

Thanks to the internet, music has never been so ubiquitous. People in every country around the world now have the opportunity to engage with an artist and hear their music.

But you still need face to face engagement. In a world of diminishing attention spans, it is vital that artists can travel beyond their home country to capitalise on this attention. And fortunately, the UK continues to have array of acts capable of building US fanbases, among them Frightened Rabbit, Mumford & Sons, Alt-J and many others.

It proves that the US media and US audiences continue to welcome UK artists with open arms. But given the scaled-down nature of today's music business - and especially at an event like SXSW, arguably the ultimate access point to North America - there is a strong case for wider forms of funding if the UK is to retain its global reputation as a creative powerhouse.

Her Ghost by Woman's Hour is out now on Secretly Canadian.