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NCAA Basketball isn’t the only March madness that takes place annually. Down in the capitol city of Texas there are nearly 100,000 people that congregate annually at the world renown event known as South by Southwest.

For those that don’t know, South by Southwest (SXSW) is a set of interactive, film, music festivals and conferences that take place every spring in Austin, Texas. Each of the three parts run relatively independently, with different start and end dates. It has been around for 23 years and it still going strong.

SXSW is one of the largest music festivals in the United States, with nearly 2,000 performers playing in more than 80 venues around Austin over four days, in March.

And though dominated by music, SXSW also features a robust film festival and an innovative, interactive technology conference, where techies from around the country showcase their latest software, gadgets and gaming technology. It is a well known fact that Twitter launched at the SXSW Interactive media conference in 2007.

Make no mistake…what happens at SXSW impacts the world. Whether for better or for worse. Recognizing this, one thing I observed as I attended this year’s conference, was that the Christian Hip Hop culture was absent outside of the 2nd annual, 'The Life in Hip Hop' concert. I’m talking about the wisdom filled workshops. I’m talking about the divine appointments that are waiting to be made. I’m talking about the life changing conversations that we could be having with people.

I believe that any believer that has a desire to impact the culture through music, movies or technology, should consider attending SXSW. Why? Because zeal without knowledge is an accident waiting to happen. But zeal with knowledge is dynamite with a lit fuse. Explosive. For those that are zealous and want more knowledge so that they can accomplish their God given dreams and visions, knowledge is up for the taking at the SXSW festivals and conferences.

You have to understand that SXSW means different things to different people. To some it’s all about fun in the sun. For others, it’s about late night concerts and parties. For others still, networking and education. Having attended SXSW in all it’s glory for 10 full days, for me it represented all of the above. I lived it to the fullest and for the sake of journalism and the readers of Rapzilla.com, I took notes. What I came back with was 7 reasons why you should attend SXSW next year.

7 GREAT REASONS YOU SHOULD ATTEND SXSW IN 2011:

1. Learn.

There are HUNDREDS of workshops and panels you can attend. These workshops are taught by experienced and successful professionals.

It was mind blowing to me when I attended a workshop titled “Get Your Music Licensed in a Commercial” and there were no people of color or Hip Hop Artists, let alone Christian Hip Hop artists in the room! Especially given the transition in the music industry that has placed music licensing as one of most lucrative areas of income for musicians.

2. Be Inspired

With so much creativity, resourcefulness, innovation and information floating around, it is hard not to be inspired when attending SXSW.

Not only are there workshops and panels, there are trade shows. These trade shows are awe inspiring. The latest and greatest of technology, film and music are on display. As I strolled down the huge aisles, looking left and looking right, ideas were shooting off in my head like fireworks, as I thought about how I could utilize various resources.

Two companies that stood out to me were Bandize, Web-based management tools for musicians and music professionals and SplinkMe, an upstart company that connects independent artists with sponsorships from companies and corporations.

3. You never know who you might meet.

I met Harvard graduate and Universal Records recording artist Ryan Leslie while attending a Blacks in Technology panel. I even had the opportunity to share my testimony with him. In addition, I was interviewed by the Los Angeles Times. And I met the CEO of Twitter. And all of this is simply because I was there. You never know who you might meet or what divine appointment awaits you.

For example…a few months ago I read about a video game publisher who I thought could benefit from my music. While reviewing the conference program, (a 250 page magazine!) I saw that the company had a booth at the trade show. I made it my business to visit their booth and before I left, a person of influence in the company pitched me on possible business collaboration.

4. Have power meetings

While at SXSW, I met 3 out-of-towners that told me they had pre-arranged business meetings scheduled during their visit to the conference. After a few days attending, I had a couple of my own as well. The environment is just conducive to this happening. People show up expecting things to happen and the power moves and business meetings follow.

Maybe that film distributor or music exec from Nashville or New York will be in town at SXSW. You could contact them in advance and perhaps arrange a meeting.

5. Be Entertained

There is TOO much to do. One of the few chores that comes with attending SXSW is planning your days in advance. There are film screenings, music concerts, networking events and parties galore.

While perusing the lists of showcasing acts I saw Jennifer Knapp was on the list. She recently returned from a 7 year hiatus. You Christian Hip Hop heads may remember her from the Grits song "Believe", which was featured on their 'Art of Translation' album. I checked out her concert and it was entertaining and inspirational. I was inspired by the fact that she, a Christian artist, was showcasing alongside secular artists. This a great way to get your message out to those that possibly could benefit from it the most.

6. Promote

Who lights a candle then hides the light under a bowl? No wise person. Nope. The wise folk are promoting what they do to the masses as well as to today’s and tomorrow’s leaders, decision makers and trend setters that are attending SXSW.

Having attended SXSW for 10 days, the only time I got a flyer promoting Christian Hip Hop was at the Christian Hip Hop concert. Huh? That doesn’t sound right. With nearly 100,000 people in a central location, SXSW serves as a great place to promote music ministries, be salt and light and win souls.

7. Be Ministered to…

Not only was there an official SXSW Christian Hip Hop showcase, which this year featured Tedashi and K-Drama as well as numerous others, there was an official SXSW Gospel music showcase. The gospel music showcase included Austin’s own Double Portion as well as Mwangaza Children’s Choir all the way from Uganda. In addition, this year featured a screening of "Rejoice & Shout," a film that touches on the history of gospel music and where it is today.

I feel I must take a moment to mention that all the aforementioned Christian and Gospel events took place at The Carver Museum. A very nice venue located in the heart of East Austin. The issue is, that East Austin is a couple miles east of downtown Austin, where the majority of all SXSW activities take place.

I guess that’s bad but necessary? I say bad because wouldn’t it be better exposure for all parties involved if the events weren’t isolated? But at the same time, these are family friendly events, so I don’t know if it’s feasible to plan to have them at the same clubs amidst all the hard partying where the alcohol is served.

My encouragement to those that are bold enough, and called even, is to showcase among your secular peers like Jennifer Knapp. Doing this will allow those you desire to reach to hear your message and be exposed to your music. The fact remains… the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.

In conclusion, I must reiterate that there are nearly 100,000 people attending SXSW. This year alone there were 13,000 registered participants in the music conference and festival. The potential audience includes deal makers and gatekeepers across the music business, and thousands are flocking to Austin annually to get in on the action. Everybody wants a piece.

Those of us that are in Christian Hip Hop should get a piece. The fight for influence in the culture does not only take place in the recording booth, but in the boardroom and business world as well. Attending SXSW can serve as a resource that you can use to educate and equip yourself or a platform you utilize to increase your sphere of influence.

Hopefully, I’ll see y’all in Austin next year.