SXSW Executive Strategies - Def Jam's Sickamore: 'When You’re Down There It’s Very Intimate in a Way'

South By Southwest, which kicks off today with SXSW Interactive (March 7-11) and SXSW Film (March 7-15) followed by SXSW Music (March 11–16), is one of the year's most prominent music events and, as is often said, the most overwhelming. For at least a decade, industry pros have complained the confab is marred by overpopulation, innumerable events at all hours of the day and night, corporate sponsorship ad nauseum— all of which beg the perennial question: Has SXSW jumped the shark? In 2012, the number of people who attended at least one SXSW activity totaled some 155,000.

With that in mind, Billboard polled a brain trust of veteran music execs to get expert strategies for how best to approach the conference; and to explain why, exactly, it's still worth the ticket to Austin. Today, talks to Sickamore, A&R at Def Jam, for his seasoned perspective on the industry's annual Texas takeover.

A&R, Def Jam

This will be my fifth year going to South By, second for Def Jam. I’ve always loved the culture of it all. When I first started going, only like five percent of the artists would be hip-hop and they’d usually be playing in a dark corner somewhere. It wasn’t really sanctioned. But it’s been growing steadily and now some the biggest artists like Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper are rappers.

But I’m not gonna lie, this year I’m not going in expecting much. People like Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga going down there kind of defeats the purpose of what it’s all about. It used to be about the counter culture, but now it’s all about who can get the biggest sponsor. The labels write it into the marketing plan like anything else. “SXSW? Check.”

"I'm not gonna lie, this year I'm not going in expecting much."

But there are still a couple of scenes that I’m excited about. I think Fader does a great job with the Fader Fort and the Illmore house is always amazing.

I’ve formed a lot of important relationships with artists and other people at South By. When you’re down there it’s very intimate in a way. There’s no security -- it’s just you and whomever you’re with running around a city that nobody knows that well. It’s fun.

Last year I was down there with [Def Jam artist] YG and he was there for the first time. I remember we saw Kendrick and the whole TDE family at the Illmore and they were killing it like it was a house party or something. YG’s mind was blown. He was like “I need this.” I think watching that was a real turning point for him in his career. What’s cool is this year he’ll be performing that same show.

I’m also coming with Lil Durk and Troy Ave, and I’m excited to see Isaiah Rashad, Lil Herb and Janine and the Mixtape. Hopefully some other artists that I don’t know yet, as well. An artist has to do something creative and interesting to make a splash; otherwise it’s just “Myspace Presents: Eminem.” What’s the point of that? We’ll see how it goes this year. I’ve got mixed feelings.