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The SXSW Effect: Who Got the Most Out of Their Festival Appearance?

SXSW, the renowned Austin, Tex., conference where film, music, culture, and tech meet, is legendary for launching countless musicians’ careers. Names as iconic as those of John Mayer (who first played in 2000) and The White Stripes (2001) all famously benefited from the festival’s exposure.

How have artists translated their performances into success in recent years? We dug into the data to find out.

The winding road to overnight success

Ask 10 music critics who their favorite breakout acts have been over the course of the festival’s nearly 30-year history, and you’re liable to get as many different answers. To get a broad sense of the impact that an acclaimed performance has on an emerging musician’s career, we narrowed the scope, and examined a group of musicians who have been considered to have hit the national scene following their performances over the past half decade. We selected Mike Posner, the prolific hip-hop producer and songwriter who also penned Justin Bieber’sBoyfriend,” the blues-rock quintet Alabama Shakes, indie-pop darlings Foster The People, and pop-rock powerhouse HAIM.

Daily Views For Breakout Acts Following First SXSW Performance
Views expressed as a proportion of the highest view count, based on sum of personal and Vevo channel totals.

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Of all musicians in our selection, none had received as much lift following their first festival appearance as the Alabama Shakes. Prior to appearing during NPR’s showcase, the band didn’t have a YouTube channel. Shortly after creating one following their universally-praised SXSW set, their views immediately rocketed into the six figure range — smartly, coinciding with the release of their debut album.

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Alabama Shakes’ “Hold On

Try, try again

While acts tend to garner the notice of music industry insiders during their initial appearance, we’ve found it usually takes a second SXSW showing to translate into mass appeal.

Daily Views For Breakout Acts Following Second SXSW Performance
Views expressed as a proportion of the highest view count, based on sum of personal and Vevo channel totals.

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For HAIM, Mike Posner, and Foster The People, mainstream success on YouTube began about two months after their second appearances.

By this point, all three had either completed or were nearing completion on their full-length albums, and generated enough pre-festival excitement to ensure that the critics would focus on them, rather than the hundreds of other bands. For HAIM, the second performance also meant taking home the festival’s inaugural Grulke Prize for Developing US Act.

The Alabama Shakes were in a slightly different position: they had received much of the critics’ attention immediately following their debut album, which was released shortly following their 2012 SXSW performance. Nevertheless, they also experienced a lift in views (once more, coinciding with the release of their 2015 album).

To give a better sense of just how meaningful the difference between the impact of the first and second year’s performances is, we’ve compared their effects on views for each of the artists, below:

Avg. Increase In Views Over Six Month Period Following SXSW Appearance
Views expressed as a proportion of the highest view count, based on sum of personal and Vevo channel totals.

While it’s impossible to say who, among the hundreds of showcasing bands at this year’s festival, will be the breakout star, one thing is certain — it’ll almost certainly take a return trip to help produce HAIM-levels of popularity.

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