South by Southwest (SXSW) Music and Media Conference & Festival

In its 22 years, the South by Southwest (SXSW) Music and Media Conference & Festival has grown from a tiny music festival in the Texas capital into a massive media extravaganza. The conference not only reflects, discusses and showcases trends in culture and media, but also often creates them. To pull off the annual event with flair and a heavy dose of efficiency, SXSW relies on FileMaker Pro database software.

Texas–Sized Week

South by Southwest (SXSW) Music and Media Conference & Festival


  • Music conference and festival attracts over 11,600 registrants with nearly 2,000 showcasing acts on 88 stages and some of the top professionals in the music industry featured in panel discussions
  • Film conference and festival with 260 films screened and 7,144 participants exploring all aspects of independent filmmaking
  • Interactive media conference attracts over 10,500 of the brightest minds in emerging technologies


  • Entertainment


  • FileMaker Pro software


  • Enabled small staff to manage hundreds of parties, venues, bands and more
  • Stored and logged video for YouTube channel that garnered 1 million views within the first two weeks
  • Created fully automated registration line

The sheer size and amount of data we store and the number of things we can do with FileMaker Pro is incredible.

—Matt Crawford, database and new media coordinator, South by Southwest

The first small yet successful South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival (SXSW) was held in 1987 in Austin, Texas. In the 22 ensuing years, SXSW has grown to become a beacon for music, film and multimedia artists, as well as a trendsetting event that sets the city abuzz for an exuberant Texas–sized week of non–stop activity. SXSW has also become a haven for social media gurus, with bloggers and others offering their views on emerging media in full force at the event.

The SXSW Conference & Festival drives substantial benefits for the city, including media attention from coast to coast and an injection of visitor cash of more than $100 million annually. A highlight in 2009, heavy metal band Metallica invaded South by Southwest, prompting record attendance, playing to droves of die–hard fans and launching their new Guitar Hero video game.

Business Challenge

Conference growth and popularity is good news for South by Southwest, but expansion also spawns logarithmic complexity. In 2009, the festival hosted 100 official parties, processed 10,000 applications from bands and managed 88 stages. And that is just the beginning of the logistics with more than 7,000 film festival and 10,700 interactive media participants. Says Matt Crawford, SXSW database and new media coordinator, "Simply put, SXSW is a massive event with a ton going on. With a full–time staff of 50 people, that's a lot to manage."

To add to the challenge, a single conference participant might be involved in a variety of activities at SXSW. Says Crawford, "We have to keep attendees' roles straight, maintain a clean mailing list and be sure that our internal staff members — whether they are in registration or sponsorship — have a customized view into the information."

Successful Solution

When he joined the company, Crawford saw the immediate need for an overhaul of the existing relational databases that managed the myriad information on the people, including 1500 volunteers, and logistics required to ensure that the conference runs smoothly each year. The database would need to operate as cross– platform and integrate seamlessly with several online application and registration systems.

Initially, Crawford was unfamiliar with FileMaker Pro but appreciated its intuitive operation and easy customization. He found it extremely user friendly and picked up on the development tools very quickly. He started from scratch, rebuilding the core of the system to work with the company's preexisting databases. The result was a custom–tailored system that would increase efficiency and enable staff to share pertinent information. "We needed something to organize our data and let everyone on staff have a unique view into the information depending on their jobs — FileMaker Pro made it easy," says Crawford.

FileMaker Pro is a powerful tool for running virtually any business. If it can help us run one of the biggest festivals and conferences in the world, then it can run just about anything.

—Matt Crawford, database and new media coordinator, South by Southwest

Today, FileMaker Pro manages the company's processes across the board. Whether they want to register for one of the three conferences, submit a film for consideration or apply as a band to perform, conference participants start by filling out a form on the SXSW Web site. The data automatically feeds into the FileMaker Pro database. "FileMaker Pro works smoothly in conjunction with everything else, including our online systems," Crawford says.

According to Crawford, the ability to tailor FileMaker Pro is essential for SXSW. "It goes back to one conference contact working with many different departments here," explains Crawford. "If someone is applying to perform through a record label and is also a vendor at the event, we have to know that it's the same person. I don't think our database would be as successful if we were constrained to just one view of the data."

Having created a system to store contacts and automate the company's core processes including registration and sales, Crawford began using FileMaker Pro to store and log video captured at the event to feed into SXSW's newly launched, branded YouTube channel. "For years, we've had all this great video, but we have not had the bandwidth to do much with it," says Crawford. "By using FileMaker Pro to store and log video, we were able to launch a YouTube channel that garnered 1 million views within the first two weeks."

Always looking for increased efficiency, Crawford subsequently created another FileMaker Pro database that runs a fully automated registration line at SXSW – complete with photo taking and badge creation. "We run a tight ship at SXSW," says Crawford. "So instead of using a prepackaged solution, we decided to take a shot at creating one in FileMaker Pro."

While Crawford admits that he was skeptical at first, FileMaker Pro provided the flexibility and power required. Today, event registrants enter one of several booths equipped with Mac computers and web cams controlled by iChat. A custom FileMaker Pro database created with the help of Mac OS X Automator and AppleScript captures the participant's photo, runs a script that grabs a screen shot of the iChat window containing the attendee's photo, crops and color–corrects the image and imports it into a local database. The photo is then sent to a remotely hosted FileMaker registration database that triggers a script to print the image, the attendee's information and a radio–frequency identification (RFID) tag onto pre–printed badge stock. The conference–goer threads the badge onto a lanyard and is ready to be admitted to the event.

As a next step, Crawford is looking forward to using the SMTP email functionality in FileMaker Pro. "We send out 8,000 rejection notices to bands, just as one example of the email volumes we handle. We are constantly in direct contact with everybody, whether we are updating schedules or following up on equipment needs. The SMTP mail functionality in FileMaker Pro will be huge," he says.

Customer Benefits

For SXSW, managing one of the world's largest events in the world with a small staff is a mammoth undertaking, but one that FileMaker Pro accomplishes with ease. "The sheer size and amount of data we store and the number of things we can do with FileMaker Pro is incredible," says Crawford. "FileMaker Pro is a powerful tool for running virtually any business. If it can help us run one of the biggest festivals and conferences in the world, then it can run just about anything."

For FileMaker:

Kevin Mallon
Public Relations Manager
FileMaker, Inc.

For South by Southwest Inc.:

Matt Crawford
Database Coordinator
South by Southwest Inc.

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