For eleven years, Stacey Wilhelm has stood at the helm of one of the largest music festivals and conferences in the world, the annual SXSW in Austin, Texas.
As Senior Manager for SXSW Music, Wilhelm has contributed to the planning and production of the mega showcase festival, working alongside a team of dedicated programmers to curate the always eclectic lineup of new, developing and established artists.
As a primer of sorts to the indelible wisdom Wilhelm will impart, TIO asked her about the increasing Australian contingent to SXSW, the conference’s surprise performances from big-name acts, the three things that keep her sane, and more.
What do you see as your main goal as Senior Manager for SXSW Music?
My aim is to keep myself and our team focused on bringing in the best possible talent – fresh, rising artists and influential industry players – on board each year to showcase at the festival.
We work to find the best mix of people and get them in the same space together and then let them take it from there. The conference and festival can be a lot to navigate for first-timers so we want to not only curate an amazing, diverse selection of performers and participants but also provide strong customer service along the way so we can help them make the most of their time on the ground during SXSW.
You’ve contributed to the planning and production of SXSW for 11 years. Tell us three things that keep you sane and progressing?
1) Accepting and making peace with being insane.
2) There is awesome new music coming out each day which makes it truly exciting to piece together a different and inspired lineup each time.
3) Being witness to the actual event – there is so much planning and effort each day of the year and then finally, for only a few days in March is the actual festival in its living, breathing form. Each time is exhilarating.
SXSW just took in a record number of Australian artists this year. Is it the incredible music we make or the increased list of applications that’s behind it?
The incredible music. We do always have a large number of applicants from Australia and that can naturally impact on the number of invitees. But the truth is we select only those who have impressed us, who we feel are talented and ready.
Australia has long provided a wealth of outstanding and diverse performers but also due to the impact of amazing organisations such as Sounds Australia, we see not only increased skill but preparedness – applicants who understand the opportunity and are at a stage of their career where a trip to SXSW will be much more than just a good time, but a true stepping stone, as intended.
SXSW is renowned for creating career enhancing opportunities. What’s your favourite SXSW success story to date?
They are all my favourite! Honestly, each time I learn of something that has developed for an artist or band either at or because of SXSW, my heart swells.
Our job at SXSW is to find awesome artists and put them in the same space as the industry professionals and let them take it from there. We can’t take credit beyond that.
Each time something positive happens for an artist and SXSW is part of the narrative, I know we’ve done our jobs.
This year SXSW hosted surprise performances by big-name acts like Common, Run DMC and Action Bronson. How far out are those surprise additions to the programme booked in?
Most appearances that seem like a surprise to our audiences have been planned in advance. How far in advance is relative.
Sometimes not as far out as we’d prefer but that just comes with the territory. We know how to hustle!
What can you tell us about what’s in store for music delegates in 2019?
More of the same. Our goal each year is to top the previous year, not in statistics but in quality of experience.
We are always raising the bar on curation efforts and doubling down on improving the user experience.
You’re speaking at CHANGES next month. What are you most looking forward to?
Over the years I’ve been so inspired by the organisation and supportive nature of the Australian music industry. I’m so eager to witness it first hand, on its home soil.
I hope to be of service to the CHANGES audience but I also know I’m going to bring back some education as well. Oh, and I want to hug a koala.
Will the trip double as a talent scouting exercise too?