The SXSW Music Festival in Austin, TX has become one of the more influential music gatherings for the discovery of new talent and breakthrough acts. The Music branch of the festival is running this week, and with Fairtilizer, we’re proud to bring you a playlist by SXSW’s hip-hop booking agent, Matt Sonzala, as well as an exclusive interview. Above you can listen to his personal playlist that he created for us.
We talked about SXSW this year, his job for the festival, and took a general outlook at the music industry.
Read the in-depth Interview with Matt Sonzala after the jump.
Are you ready for SXSW 2009?
Yeah man, I am so ready. Been working on this one for some time now, and it’s really incredible to see how it has come together. There’s a real buzz, hip-hop at SXSW has come a long way man.
2008 was your first year doing full-time hustle for SXSW, how was the experience?
Pretty incredible. To see from the inside how this whole thing comes together, it really is a year round job. I never thought about how much time, and how many good people it takes to make this thing happen. It’s intense man. And this year I am dealing with a lot of stuff outside of hip-hop, different labels, special projects, etc, so it’s been real interesting.
What were the highlights of the 2008 edition?
Man for me as a whole it’s just to see the growth every year. I loved seeing Tech N9ne last year. Dizzee Rascal with Jammer and Newham Generals. The Bun B opening night show was amazing. Packed to the gills, just incredible vibes. I don’t get to just chill and watch shows so I don’t know what the highlights really were, I know what I caught and what I liked. Hopefully every set left some sort of an impression on someone and was their highlight. I love hearing people’s post-SXSW stories, especially when they tell me they discovered something new. I also really get happy when I see the young, independent artists walking around the convention center with their badges on looking to catch a panel and gain some knowledge. I remember my first trips to SXSW and it just blew my mind, and I mean, I get a little geeked when I see some of the young folks coming down and getting their minds blown.
What about this year, what are the events that should not be missed?
Thursday and Saturday night at Austin Music Hall, we have a couple of incredible shows. Thursday Big Boi from Outkast and Dallas Austin and K’Naan will all share the stage, and there’s a couple cool bands on that one as well. It was put together by the guys at Afropunk. Saturday Night Ghetto Metal is bringing Dead Prez and Bazarre Royal for a show with Bun B, Rick Ross, B.o.B., Kidz in the Hall, Al Kapone, Mistah FAB, Balance, Free Sol and more. The Blacksmith show on Thursday should be insane, with Reflection Eternal reuniting and John Forte coming out as well. Peter Rosenberg is hosting that one. This club called The Back Alley Social is gonna be packed every night. Strong indie hip-hop line ups all four nights. Mr. Lif, Invincible, AwkQuarius, Tanya Morgan, U-N-I, Charles Hamilton and more. Ummmm, if you wanna see who’s really putting it down in Texas, Club Fuze on Wednesday and Thursday will be the place to be. Fat Pimp, Gerald G, Question, Tum Tum, all sorts of great folks will be there. I mean, man it’s really goin’ down every night in multiple clubs. I suggest getting a badge or a wristband so you can club hop all night.
What makes SXSW so special?
Man the whole world comes to Austin for this huge event. You can network with people from Africa, Japan, Norway, Australia, whatever man. You got tons of music lovers, music biz types, people who book tours, write for magazines, place music in films, etc. The Entire music industry is here from all over the world and it’s like, to me, the place to be to get your year in order. So many connections can be made. And I mean, on a more organic level, you’ve got music from all over the world, all over the spectrum. If you really love music, SXSW is like diving into an ocean full of it. Come explore it, it’s so dope.
You’ve been a promoter/booker/event master for 20 years, what are the most important skills for being good at what you do?
Man well, one day I was in New York a few years back, when I was doing a lot of shows/parties with Roxy Cottontail. And she said some shit to me like “Man, why are so many people such fuck ups? I get hit up everyday from people who want to ‘help’ me, but they don’t do shit.” And you know, we both are big fans of the Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’s and that song “Maps” is definitely one of my favorite songs of all time, and that song was playing and I summed it up pretty easily. I said, “They don’t love it like we love it.” You really do have to love what you do. And I think it’s great if you have good intentions as well. A lot of music biz folks are way more biz, and have bad intentions. Me? I am way more into the art of all this, and supporting that art. I am not a musician, but I love music and even more than that, I love people who try to make something of themselves by producing great art. So I mean, I think that genuinely giving a shit is the most important thing. As far as skills, you have to be diligent. You are working with artists and quite often, artists are not diligent. You gotta make happen, what needs to happen. You have to be hands on and ready for anything. It’s not brain surgery by any means. You’d be surprised what a difference a little care means. How many parties have you been to where the sound sucked, all the acts went on late, etc. That’s because the motherfuckers who put on the event either were totally inexperienced, or just didn’t care about anything but lining their pockets, or both. You’ve got to care, and I care. To a fault at times I think.
We all know technology has completely changed music but how has it impacted your area of expertise in particular?
Man well I have been thinking a lot about when I started out, cause like you said, it’s been 20 years since I booked my first show. And I remember in 1989, we had no internet. I came from a city with no worthwhile radio. We had the daily paper, but no weekly. So it was like, we had to get the news out there and we literally spent every night all night stapling flyers to poles. Writing letters, not emails, to the newspaper dudes who would not take our calls, um, it was very organic and totally in the streets. In the malls. Whatever. Spreading the word was way different. Today, I can promote more effectively in like, literally ten minutes posting shit up on the internet, sending emails, etc. I mean, I tend to be a little more meticulous, and tend to be really anal about stuff, but I mean, promoting shows with the help of the internet is way different from the days before this shit.
That being said you still have to have the streets. One place I see a lot of people messing up is when they maybe like, post a Myspace bulletin and they’ll get like 100 responses and think that that’s all it takes. But I have also learned is that people who spend A LOT of time on the internet, often don’t go out. So you need to get your email lists solid, know ALL the spots to post online, and also get you some flyers in the streets, word of mouth buzz. Traditional radio they say is dying, but community and college radio is still doing what it always did and if you can get your shows announced there, that’s worth a lot. The internet and technology helps, but you still need the streets. You need both, you need to do whatever it takes to get the word out there. People think it’s so easy, but it’s not easy. It’s fun, but it’s not easy, at all.
More generally, where do you see the music industry heading the next few years?
Who gives a shit. Musicians, rappers, DJ’s, whatever, buy a van and hit the road and touch the people. Sell your own CD’s, get your shit online, and get on stage and perform and do what you are supposed to do. The music business is just the same as everything else. Our economy is in shambles because we all did our part to be wasteful. The dudes in charge wasted our resources, made bad decisions and screwed the world. Well, I am sorry to say but the same shit happened to the music biz. They got selfish. They got wasteful. They have all but died. That being said, I am talking about the record industry. The MUSIC industry, the industry of artists who actually make music, should be fine. I know so many people in this world, who have never been on TV or radio, but have made a name for themselves on the road, and they thrive. They can sell t-shirts, hats, posters, stickers, books, etc, as well as their CD’s, mp3s, jump drives full of their music, man, come on now. There’s still a lot of options out there. The music industry, like the world economy is in a shambles. But I mean, there’s plenty of possibilities for artists on all levels to thrive and survive. My advice is to concentrate more on the music, and keep your biz straight and you’ll be fine. Keep your intentions pure and set goals and make it happen. I know dudes who sell 20,000 CD’s a year and have more money in their pockets than the one hit wonders who happened to sell a million records. I am serious man, the music industry is heading onto your desktop, and into your trunk, and hopefully into your pockets.