With SXSW in full swing, we thought it might be interesting to present the festival experience of someone who’s there as an insider. And to offer that perspective, I naturally turned to fest vet and (in the spirit of full disclosure) personal friend Thaddeus Rudd. He’s the general manager of the indie label Mom + Pop Music, whose roster includes Sleigh Bells, Andrew Bird, Metric, Ingrid Michaelson, and Poliça.
He graciously took time from his busy schedule to talk about topics ranging from the festival’s ever-widening scope to advice for SXSW newbies…
TIME: So what does a general manager do?
Thaddeus Rudd: I do a little of everything to help keep the label running successfully. I work closely with our president, Michael Goldstone, who co-founded the label. We all work as a team, and I try to be helpful wherever I can, but my core responsibilities include legal, business and international, as well as creative and marketing on certain projects.
A question I’m sure you get asked a lot: How did you get into music industry?
I went to college in Chicago for what I thought would amount to working in the art business. I discovered that as much as I liked writing about paintings, I liked going to see bands play more! While at school, I started a little magazine, which then began promoting concerts. I was offered a job by Virgin Records in their marketing department, and couldn’t pass it up. I moved to directly to L.A. after graduation.
How many years have you been attending SXSW?
I’ve been going to SXSW every year since my early days running an indie label, Sugar Free Records, out of my house in the late ‘90s; continuing through the next decade where I worked as a manager. I think I missed only one year from ’98 to present.
Any particularly memorable moments you want to share?
My favorite moments date back to my first years, where Sugar Free helped throw what were then seminal day parties, at places like Yard Dog and Club De Ville, hoping fans and industry would show up. The pace was less frenetic then.
What advice would you give to people who are new to SXSW?
First, find one of the many free day-party lists online and RSVP to as many as suit you—many blogs have lists with RSVP links. It’s easier to see the bands you want to see early in the day, before lines get long. For something with a more relaxed pace, check out a band in a backyard under the Austin sunshine, Shiner Bock in hand.
Also, I always make the short walk from the Convention Center or 6th Street to Iron Works for barbeque.
Is there something you particularly look forward to every year?
I make it a point to go for a jog in the morning on one of the many great biking and running paths – it helps me recover from the night before! And I always make the short walk from the Convention Center or 6th Street to Iron Works for their great barbeque.
Why is SXSW important for the music industry?
From my perspective, being involved in new bands and emerging talent, SXSW has always been instrumental in helping all of us identify and appreciate exciting new artists. Every year, there are a handful of unsigned or indie acts who end up being on everyone’s lips. Media coverage has grown from rock critics’ reports to a constant live audio/visual feed of shows and interviews.
Has the festival’s focus changed?
The focus hasn’t changed as much as enlarged – the proliferation of free, sponsored day-parties over the last decade created a de facto parallel SXSW, with dozens of daytime shows, free to the public — which organizers have wisely embraced. Also, festival has morphed into a huge branding opportunity for well-heeled content and tech companies, paying established acts generous fees for invitation-only shows
What’s on your agenda this year?
This year, Mom + Pop has, at last count, nine artists we work with playing shows, so a lot of my time will be spent seeing each of the bands a couple times, and spending some time with each of the artists and their teams. Some are from outside the USA, so it’s a great opportunity to connect. I’ll be also using the time to meet with new industry contacts from the UK, Europe, Australia and Japan. It’s become a global festival and a great opportunity to make new relationships for our artists and company.
Of course, I’ve got a list of bands I’ve heard but not seen in person, and looking forward to seeing their live sets. I’ve learned and been reminded many times that the music itself is the most important thing in our industry!
You’re moderating a panel on Friday — “Selling Albums in a Spotify World: Non-Traditional Strategies” Care to elaborate?
It’s about how streaming sites like Spotify are here to stay. As a music fan, I love this.
We’re going to talk about how artists and labels are adapting and developing new ways to sell music, in light of the impact of this new technology on music buying.
What bands, panels or anything else are you looking forward to this year?
The young Alabama songwriter Katie Crutchfield, who goes by the name Waxahatchee, just released a great album called Cerulean Salt. I’m looking forward to seeing her play. There’s the UK DJ/Producer duo Disclosure who I love and will see on Friday night. I’m hoping to make it to hear Clive Davis and Dave Grohl give their talks. And, of course, there’s the Flaming Lips show, which should be a ton of fun.