It’s hard to imagine a time when we’d never heard of John Mayer or when “Pumped Up Kicks” hadn’t blown up on the radio, but of course, no major artist makes it big overnight. Most of them spend years playing festivals before breaking out in a major way.

And one of those festivals is South By Southwest, which, like many of the artists who have played there, gets bigger and bigger every year. Tons of our faves broke out at the Austin congregation of music, film, technology, and more ― including a few you may find surprising.

Catch 15 acts who broke out at SXSW!

1. Miguel

Would Miguel have found himself nominated for Grammys without the exposure he got at 2012’s SXSW? Likely not. It’s an important stop for many artistic acts looking to break into the big time.

2. John Mayer

Long before he was playing Alice to Katy Perry’s Wonderland, John was one of SXSW’s early success stories. His appearance at the 2000 festival led to him being signed with his first record label.

3. Alabama Shakes

Yet another band that played SXSW the same year they were nominated for Grammys. Coincidence? We think not. If Justin Bieber really wants one so badly, maybe he should sign up…

4. Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand became the hottest band of the moment back in 2004, when the infectious single "Take Me Out" led them to major radio play.

5. Foster the People

Foster the People is the kind of band you expect to see at SXSW… but not really the kind you expect to hear on Top 40 radio, especially with a creepy song like “Pumped Up Kicks.” Yet the 2011 performance of that oh-so-catchy single helped them get the exposure they needed to be heard everywhere later that year.

6. Imagine Dragons

A year ago, these guys were just beginning to break out in a big way. Now, they're one of the hottest bands around and have even orchestrated their own puppet-fighting ring... so don't think SXSW can't work wonders for a musician's career.

7. Mike Posner

Mike's "Cooler Than Me" was a hit from the 2010 fest... but how can you get any cooler than performing at SXSW? Umm... we're drawing a blank here.

8. Odd Future

Actually, their future was a little more "famous" than "odd." The hip hop collective, complete with some of its famous members, gained some major attention playing SXSW back in 2011.

9. James Blunt

James was discovered by musician and sognwriter Linda Perry while playing a small show back at the 2004 SXSW. She signed him to her record label and soon he had ladies swooning to the sounds of "You're Beautiful."

10. The Naked & Famous

They were neither naked nor very famous in the United States when they played the 2011 SXSW. This appearance helped cement the New Zealand band's status as one of the "it" bands with the single "Young Blood."

11. The Strokes

The Strokes were the buzzy band of the moment when they played SXSW in 2001. They signed with RCA a short time later... reportedly, because RCA was the only label that wasn't bothered by their claim that they'd never shoot a music video.

12. tUnE-yArDs

Music fans forgave the caps-lock gone awry spelling of the name to embrace this unique act in 2011. A matter of months later, they were all over the year-end Top 10 Albums of the Year lists.

13. Hanson

While "MMMBop" isn't the sort of single you expect to associate with SXSW, it was where the notorious trio of brothers from Oklahoma was discovered by their first manager way back in 1994. He helped them get signed to their label, Mercury, and the rest is MMMhistory.

14. Janelle Monae

Janelle caused a stir of excitement with her original sound when she first played SXSW in 2009, returning in 2011 with a much bigger fan following after a heaping of acclaim from critics and fans.

15. The White Stripes

The White Stripes were unknowns when they played back in 2004... not long before the married twosome exploded in a big way with "Fell in Love With A Girl."


Who is your favorite breakout artist from SXSW?