September 30

The Localist: Performing Out of Town

The featured image to this post is actually a screenshot from the application to SXSW. I may write a bit about the pathways to SXSW another time, it’s a bit of a shit show. But for the time being I wanted to put the questions out there as a focal point for thinking about performing.

The first thing of note is that they do not ask what your draw is. They ask the average *venue capacity* of the shows that you play. It’s probably a better question, because there are hundreds of bands that can get a good and healthy crowd out for a show, but who play mostly covers and crotch rock, and that isn’t the musician that SXSW is trying to draw. Another question asks how many shows you’ve played in the past year, presumably to determine your level of experience with live performance.

The question of note that tends to weed the most people out though is this: Shows played outside of your hometown last year.

Playing in your hometown is difficult enough as it is, but playing outside of your hometown can be excruciating. Without a local network of musicians and friends to bring out to the bar, you can easily play a show to a crowd of zero, as I have most certainly done from time to time. Forging a network in a new city can be time consuming and requires dealing with a whole new set of personalities and obstacles. Of course this is why they put the question up there in the first place.

How does one go about playing shows out of town? The simplest answer is to apply to play festivals. But this route has changed ever since most festivals switched to using bookers to book the festivals straightaway. Festivals rarely have an open application for performance slots these days.

I think the better option is to develop friendships with out of town performers that you play shows with and can hit up to perform with the next time you are in their neck of the woods. This means amongst other things, putting on a good show when you play a show with them, and *sticking around for their set* when they play. Because people do notice when you don’t stick around, and they’ll be unlikely to want to do a set with you later on. Though of course even this is a process fraught with obstacles.

In any case, the thing to avoid is being a music act that performs too frequently at home and never abroad. I provide the SXSW questions as a focal point to think about what to aim for in terms of a live performance output.


The Localist is a column focusing on issues relating to aspiring local musicians in New York City. In his free time, the author performs as St. Lenox. St. Lenox’s most recent record, “Ten Fables of Young Ambition and Passionate Love” was placed on Best Albums lists at Pop Matters and AllMusic. AllMusic credits St. Lenox with “some of the most unique and unconventionally thrilling pop music in the late 2010s.”