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Destination: Texas?

Money woes hamper local bands’ quest to participate in global festival SXSW
Monday, February 22, 2016
Members of the contingent for SXSW in Austin, Texas, next month with ASK Promotions CEO Stephen Howard, fourth from left, and ASK chief operating officer Charlene Belfon, right. PHOTO: CASS STUART

Three rock bands from T&T have the chance to perform next month, at one of the biggest music events in the world, the annual South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas. 

However, as the time draws closer, they find themselves far short of the necessary funds required to participate. 

SXSW is an annual set of film, interactive media, and music festivals and conferences that take place in mid-March in Austin, Texas. This year, the event which attracts some of the biggest global acts, takes place from March 11-20. 

The three bands that have been chosen to participate are 5 Miles to Midnight, Sidekick Envy and King Inzy & DopeskisDaBand once they can get the funding, they will appear at the Trinbago Showcase at Buffalo Billiards Bar and Grill, in downtown Austin on March 19. The showcase event is sponsored by ASK Promotions, an entertainment management company headed by Stephen Howard. 

 At a media conference at COTT offices hosted by ASK, the bands admitted that they have only raised less than 30 per cent of the required money needed to fund their travel and participation.

In 2016, ASK Promotions said that state support for the artistes was not forthcoming as it was in 2015 when it debuted the Trinibago SXSW Showcase. For the bands and entourages which range from five to nine people—including sound technicians and marketing specialists—the cost is more than $100,000. That figure has proven to be a burden and is the reason that rock band jointpop, which was originally chosen for the showcase has opted out.

These six-figure amounts include travel and accommodation, SXSW fees, media and marketing facilitation, technical support, and underwriting the cost of the headliners, soca star Destra Garcia and Trinidad-born Eurodance hitmaker Haddaway. 

ASK Promotions CEO Stephen Howard, said at the news conference: “The recession is preventing public funding.” 

Howard said his organisation approached the ministries of Culture, Trade and Tourism as well as the private sector, but support was not forthcoming. 

As he addressed the press conference, the entertainment executive made comparisons with other countries which give their SXSW delegations state funding. Howard pointed out that there were benefits for the careers of many of those participants, and urged investment from both the public and private sector. 

Three bands indicated that they were registered with the Artists Registry at the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts and this meant that companies that sponsored, were entitled to tax deductible investment benefits. 

Howard reiterated that the SXSW four-day trip—including the Trinbago Showcase on March 19—provides ample opportunities for acts to interact with music industry “movers and shakers” in North America. 

“Acts have to take advantage of connections. The industry is music changing, and one needs to be there to be relevant. Networking is essential,” he said. 

Howard said ASK Promotions has sourced music journalist Patricia Meschino, a veteran who writes for Billboard, Rolling Stone and other major publications focusing on Caribbean music, to act as publicist for the T&T contingent. 

ASK has also done the pre-event legwork of networking with booking agents and label executives via the SXSW online social network that “locates the right people for our music” to ensure that they turn up to the Showcase.

Speaking to the T&T Guardian, ASK chief operating officer Charlene Belfon said the initial contingent was reduced from 44 people to 28 as some acts opted out. 

The financial burden remains the same however as bottom-line costs are unchanged. The company is still in active negotiation with private and state agencies for funding support. 

When asked about the possibility that the bands being unable to go because they were not able to raise the $100,000 plus figures, she admitted they “have not planned that worst-case scenario as yet, but the option of having a smaller show utilising US-based talent” was offered but not confirmed as yet. 

Stephen Howard is confident in the possibilities that can accrue from participation at SXSW. He is also aware of local attitudes towards funding and sponsorship for the music business from both artistes and potential sponsors. 

“Acts have work to do, and that includes marketing preparation and fund-raising. It’s not cheap to showcase internationally,” said Howard. “If acts can’t raise their funds, ASK will decide what to do.”

A search online revealed that many of the unsigned and independent bands who attend SXSW from both the US and abroad are using crowd-funding methods as one way of underwriting costs to attend the hugely-anticipated event. Most are seeking between US$3,000 and US$6,000. 

International showcases clearly are risky and expensive. With less than a month to go before the planned trip to Austin, the continued desire of all acts to go is tangible, and the harsh reality of their current shortcomings has not jaded that desire as yet.


How are the acts for SXSW chosen?

The process for going to the 2016 SXSW Trinbago Showcase included a local audition at the AMMBCON Expo in August 2015 where six acts were chosen by SXSW Music Fest programmer, Todd Puckhaber. Those bands received “coupons” that allowed them to register in the official SXSW database. 

The six acts were 5 Miles to Midnight, Sidekick Envy, King Inzy & DopeskisDaBand, jointpop, Orange Sky and pan player Derron Ellies. Orange Sky, Ellies and jointpop later dropped out and invitations were then extended to soca star Destra Garcia, reggae singer I-Sasha and Haddaway for the six-act, six-hour showcase in Austin. 

What success has come from SXSW?

There was success for some of the acts at the 2015 SXSW Trinbago stage. Parang band Los Alumnos de San Juan were invited to the World Music Expo (Womex) in Budapest, Hungary in October 2015. Womex is known in the music industry as the “most important professional market for world music of every kind.” 

Based on their appearances at Womex, Los Alumnos de San Juan received bookings at five festivals in Canada with the potential for several more in Europe. 

The Codrington Pan Family, who also attended last year, has a pending recording and teaching collaboration with Emily Lemmerman of Barracuda Steel Drums of Austin, Texas.



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