If your boss is finally cutting the umbilical cord and allowing you to sojourn in SXSW for the first time, you're gonna need a plan of attack. But don't fret: AT&T has enlisted Andrew Kahn — formerly a music supervisor for The Sopranos and at Apple's in-house ad agency and currently the founder of Good Ear Music Supervision — to share his six years of insight and help you craft a game plan for the festival.
Whether you're heading to Austin for business or pleasure, discovering new music is on every festival-goer's agenda. It's a chance to discover bands before they get big — something Andrew has made a living doing. Here's his advice on how to do it:
Put your planner away. My general rule of thumb is to let my mood determine what shows I'll see. It's a five-day festival with endless options, so you have the luxury of making decisions in the moment. This maximizes the potential for a surprise, which is kinda the goal. There have been countless times I've unexpectedly encountered a great show just by walking around downtown and following my ears. That's how I saw Lykke Li for the first time — during an early set at around noon at Emo's in 2008, with hardly anyone else in the crowd.
If you're looking for the next Florence and the Machine, make time to see these bands. Lately, industry folks seem to tend toward well-produced, uplifting pop records. It's mainstream music with a safe amount of indie cred. Everyone's trying to figure out who the Lorde of 2014 will be, and rightfully so. I'd say the top contenders are Wet, ASTR, The Preatures, BANKS, Chlöe Howl, Mapei, and Birdy — the first four are confirmed to perform this year, so incorporate them into your playlists in preparation. That way, you'll know what you're keeping an ear out for come festival time.
Stop by the Fader Fort. The Fader Fort has consistently been the most reliable and diverse venue at SXSW. Every up-and-comer plays a short set — and occasionally, superstars drop by. Last year, Solange, CHVRCHES, Macklemore, Jake Bugg, Future, and Disclosure played; the year before that, the Fort hosted Action Bronson, Kimbra, Blood Orange, and Kendrick Lamar — in one day! Plus, it's free, comfortable, and stocked with drinks. It seems too good to be true, in retrospect.
Local bands are just as likely to put on an amazing show as headliners. One of my fondest memories is from 2009, when Kanye played in an empty grocery store for Perez Hilton's party. He always puts on a great show, but this one was particularly surprising because of well, the whole Perez Hilton meets empty grocery store thing. But the night got even better when, at around 3 AM, my friends and I hopped in a pedicab and saw local Austin band the Strange Boys in a ballet studio. It was packed with kids from the city and there was a feeling of enthusiasm and camaraderie. The Strange Boys were followed by Monotonix, a band of mostly-naked, hairy, crowd-surfing hard-rockers from Tel Aviv. No stages, no grand setup, no holds barred. The show is best encapsulated by the expression on the dude's face at the end of this video.
Tomorrow, Andrew will be back to discuss the infamous SXSW culture — stay tuned (pun intended).
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Andrew Kahn works as an independent music supervisor at his company Good Ear Music Supervision (GEMS) for brands such as Apple, Target, Southern Comfort, ESPN, Cadillac, and many more. From 2007-2011 he served as the in-house music supervisor at TBWA/Media Arts Lab, overseeing Apple's iconic commercials, and prior to that as the Music Coordinator on HBO's The Sopranos. Andrew keeps on his musical toes DJing events in LA and NYC, and consulting for brands such as Human Rights Watch, Konkuey Design Initiative, and FixFood.