March 13, 2011 at 3:29 pm

SXSW: Rhapsody-Sponsored Festival Explorer Austin Edition Makes SXSW Manageable

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Few things are more intimidating than looking over a four-page spread of the 2000-plus bands showcasing this year at South by Southwest and figuring out who to see, where, and when. Fortunately, there’s an app for that.

Chronological View Festival Explorer SXSW 2011Festival Explorer Austin Edition, a  mobile app sponsored by Rhapsody and created by The Echo Nest (publisher of, is designed to make the SXSW Music experience a little bit easier — and more fun, because it ups the odds that you’ll make it to more shows you’ll like.

Festival Explorer is designed with the virtues of simplicity in mind; the app operates with no more than seven buttons on the screen at any time, and they’re all pretty self-explanatory. The object is to get you to the shows you want to see with the least amount of stress or confusion. Thus, Festival Explorer allows you to search for bands alphabetically, chronologically, or by popularity using Echo Nest’s “hotttnesss” data, which works like HypeMachine to bring you the most (or least) blogged about bands. South Carolinian chillwave darling Toro Y Moi reigns supreme in that department at the moment.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra SXSW 2011 Festival ExplorerOnce you find a band that piques  your interest, you can click through to their artist page for information about where their shows are and how much blog buzz they have. Personal favorite Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s page shows a “hotttnesss” level just above a lukewarm simmer — denoted by yellow. Toro Y Moi’s hotttnesss level, by comparison, is a scalding hot red.

You can also stream music from any bands already available to get a feel for what kind of sound they’ll bring to the stage, or search for bands by venue or tag. SXSW includes 48 “art rock” bands, 100 “party music” bands, and 26 bands that fall under the adventurous “new wave america” tag.

You can add bands you like to your personalized schedule both on a by-show basis and by-artist, meaning that if an artist — like Toro Y Moi — is playing more than one official showcase, you can make them a favorite for easy access to their show listings, then decide which one to add to your calendar. Such flexibility is valuable at a conference with more than 2,000 bands playing in such a short window of time. Another helpful feature: Google Maps integration, so you can figure out where you’re supposed to be.

Maybe most valuable to Festival Explorer users on the street and without a definitive plan of action is the Recommendations feature, which analyzes the music stored in your iPhone’s iPod app and finds those bands similar to those who are playing SXSW. That could come in pretty handy when you’re stepping out the door of BD Riley’s with little clue of how to sort through the chaos.