South by Southwest (SXSW) is the short name for the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference and Festival, held annually in Austin. The festival began in 1987 and is produced by the Austin-based private company South by Southwest, Inc. The internationally-recognized event in March serves as a showcase for musicians and provides a forum for music-industry professionals.
Inspired by the successful New Music Seminar held in New York in the 1980s, Austinites Nick Barbaro, Louis Black, and Roland Swenson, all of the Austin Chronicle, and Louis Meyers, a band manager and musician, founded the event to promote the Austin music scene. At its inception the festival featured primarily local acts. In 1987, 700 registrants participated and approximately 200 bands performed at fifteen venues. In the 1990s the symposium continued to grow in participation and promotion. The four founders incorporated in 1991. By 1994 SXSW had officially added film and interactive media events to an expanded schedule, and that year the conference registered more than 4,000 participants and showcased 500 musical acts at twenty-eight venues. In 2001 SXSW staff had organized 900 showcases playing at forty-eight venues.
The five-day music portion of the festival includes meetings and panel discussions on such issues as independent record labels, technology and music, copyright laws, and artist promotion. Austin's night clubs, particularly along Sixth Street, host bands from all over the world. Many musicians hope to attract the attention of major record labels, while other players who have already brokered deals view the festival as a major vehicle for publicity.
The SXSW Film Conference and Festival hosts workshops and special screenings that feature documentary films, music videos, animation, and other media presentations. The SXSW Interactive Festival examines all aspects of the Internet, trends in web design, and new media technologies. Trade shows, held at the Austin Convention Center, profile the latest equipment, technology, and companies in film, music, and interactive media.
Organizers launched an annual SXSW Preview Guide in February 2004, and in November 2006 they issued the first edition of a new quarterly magazine, SXSWorld, "devoted to coverage of the people and companies who collectively make us SXSW." The magazine is distributed free to thousands of people in entertainment industries. More than 12,600 music professionals participated in the twenty-second annual conference over a ten-day period in 2008. That year, some 1,800 acts performed at more than eighty venues. SXSW celebrated its twenty-fifth conference in 2011 and showcased approximately 2,000 musical acts at more than ninety venues.
In 2012 SXSW Interactive held its first hall of fame induction for “trendsetters whose career accomplishments have paved the future of the new media industry.” The following year, SXSW added another component—SXSW V2V—a four-day summer festival held in Las Vegas and the first SXSW-connected conference outside of Austin. By 2018 the SXSW festivals also included comedy and gaming-related events.
Notable keynote speakers for the music festival in recent years have included Smokey Robinson, Bob Geldof, Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, Snoop Dogg, First Lady Michelle Obama, James A. Prince, and Nile Rodgers. In 2017 SXSW had grown to 2,085 showcased artists at more than 100 venues as well as 320 panels, workshops, and sessions.