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EVENTS, ORGANIZATIONS, SOCIETIES, AND UNIONS - South By Southwest Annual Music Festival

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCareers in the Music BusinessEVENTS, ORGANIZATIONS, SOCIETIES, AND UNIONS - South By Southwest Annual Music Festival, National Association Of Recording Arts Sciences (naras), Country Music Association (cma)

SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST ANNUAL MUSIC FESTIVAL

MANAGING DIRECTOR AND PRESIDENT

OTHER POSITIONS

Staff employees and volunteers work on every aspect of the annual event.

CAREER TIPS

“Failure is not necessarily a bad thing—if you learn from it.”

“Making it in the music business is one of the hardest things you can do. Most people have to make up their own job. In Austin, there weren't many places that were going to hire me to work in the music business. When you don't have any choices, you're able to do things that you might not have thought you were able to do.”

JOB OVERVIEW

Roland Swenson manages and directs the overall marketing and staging of the South by Southwest (SXSW), North by Northeast (NXNE), and North by Northwest (NXNW) annual music festivals.

SPECIAL SKILLS

THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT THIS JOB:

“As hard as we try, there are always people who are unhappy with what we've done or how things turned out. Whether we've invited them to perform, speak, or use their club. In an event this big, there are people that are unhappy with how it turned out and they complain and we have to deal with that.”

THE BEST THING ABOUT THIS JOB:

“The best part of my job is during the ten days of the event. It's stimulating to experience being at the center of this big storm that, upwards often thousand people, are involved in during the course of the week. We're all adrenaline junkies. We've worked for a whole year for the event to come to fruition, and the best part is seeing the results.”

“Always in demand at SXSW are people skills,” says Roland Swenson. “Most of our work is done in a computer program called FileMaker. We use that for just about every aspect of our event, from scheduling to keeping track of all our registrations, volunteers, and bands. Having some strong database background is something we're always looking for, and people that have strong graphic skills and can work in programs like Quark and PageMaker. A lot of what we do is create documents. It helps to have a background in the music business, whether you've worked at a nightclub, a record store, or maybe a small record company.”

POINTERS FOR THE JOB SEARCH

“Most of the people that work for us were initially part of our volunteer core. We have about 900 people volunteer every year for SXSW that work on literally every aspect of the event; doing everything from filing to moving equipment, and answering phones. Working as a volunteer gives you a big leg up in getting a job, because someone on the staff has worked with you and knows your work ethic, your skills, and whether you're effective or not.”

ROLAND SWENSON, MANAGING DIRECTOR AND PRESIDENT, SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST, INC.

While Roland Swenson's scholastic endeavors at the University of Texas at Austin floundered, his music career was launched. “I was a history major, a journalism major, and I think I was studying film in the communication school when a friend from high school asked if I would manage his band.” Swenson finished out the semester and never returned to school. Over the next five years he added other bands to his roster, worked for a small management firm, an independent record company, and even established his own label. In the mid-1980s, he decided to get out of the music business and go to work for the Austin Chronicle. “The Chronicle was just three years old and had a very small staff. I would do everything from deliver the paper to the proofreader to write stories, edit, and sell classified ads.” Swenson became the newspaper's in-house organizer of benefits, shows, and special events. Through involvement with the city convention bureau, he came up with the idea for an event that would promote Austin as a music capital and tourist destination. After selling the newspaper on the idea, the first South by Southwest event was held in March 1987.

“The first year we figured if we got 150 to come, we'd be a success.” Initially showcasing 200 bands, the event attracted 700 attendees. Since that time, SXSW has built a music industry following that has grown to nearly 10,000 registrants. Swenson continued working at the newspaper until 1990, when he began working on the event full time in partnership with the Austin Chronicle. The event grew to include a film and interactive media conference in 1994 that split into the South by Southwest Film Festival, and the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, the following year. The film and interactive events bring another 7,000 people to Austin every March. Also in 1995, Swenson and the Chronicle spun off their original music event to include North by Northwest in Portland, Oregon and North by Northeast (NXNE) in Toronto, Canada. One of Swenson's original goals for SXSW was to create an event that would bring creative people and companies together to meet and share ideas and to further develop their careers. That continues to be his objective, whether it is through music, film, or the Internet.

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