About 3 years ago I was brimming with excitement as I found out after years of longing I would be one of the chosen few to descend on Austin for SXSW for a week of networking and live music. Immediately I set to book my flight and hotel. I also contacted colleagues to set up meetings and compare schedules. Unfortunately not long after I booked everything and organized my schedule I found out from my boss that due to budget constraints I would have to cancel my trip. While I understood and appreciated the possible opportunity I was crushed. I felt like Eddie Murphy’s neighbor kid that dropped his ice cream in Delirious. Fortunately I found someone I could transfer my badge to and all was worked out.
Since then like many of you out there I have had to live vicariously through my lovely friends and colleagues who throughout the years have become SXSW veterans. Facebook, Twitter, and blogs have become my best friends during the third week of March so I can get all the updates like I was there. I thought that I would ask the experts how they prepare for SXSW year after year. Perhaps one of these tips might help if you never have been or give veterans something else to ponder before you head out. So without further ado here are the top 5 tips for making your SXSW experience the best yet!
1. Do your research with these online tools before you go
There are an abundance of opportunities at SXSW in terms of shows, showcases, parties and panels. Everyone I spoke with echoed that you HAVE to do research on bands, event, and panels you want to see BEFORE you get to Austin. Way back in the day Kelli Fannon of Rdio used to use a excel document and a highlighter to plan her attack on Austin but now there are some great online tools like Google Calendar to keep track of events. Kami Knake of The Orchard suggests using Sched.org to build your official calendar. Kami also suggests Scott Perry’s New Music Tip Sheet because it usually has the most accurate and up-to-date schedule of parties, set time, and which events have free food and drink. Caren Kelleher of Songkick recommends reading the blog Done Waiting which helps to curate all the possible shows for you. Along with using these tools for research on your possible schedule it is important to listen to a lot of bands before you leave. Kami suggests “If you are going to SXSW to discover new music then you have a lot of listening to do before you get there! First download the SXSW torrent which contains over 1000 free mp3s from artists playing official SXSW showcases. These tracks can also be streamed via the official SXSW Shoutcast Stream. Also check out the Songza 2011 SXSW radio station.” Lastly, a new iPhone app was announced today called Festival Explorer Austin Edition from The Echo Nest & Rhapsody. This free app allows you to create your own personalize schedule based upon your musical tastes.
2. If you plan to attend a headliner show plant yourself there
We all know the popularity of SXSW has skyrocketed over the years and that has brought larger crowds and bigger bands. To combat this Caren suggests if there is a larger act you really want to see to camp out at that venue so you don’t end up missing the act and you might discover new artists. “For popular shows, you can end up waiting in a queue for so long that you end up missing the set you want to see. While it at first seems to miss the point of SXSW, this strategy has actually helped me discover a lot of bands I might have missed if I was instead trying to chase down every hot act in Austin. I camped out at Central Presbyterian Church for a show with Band of Horses and The XX and as a result discovered the incredible Holly Miranda, who played between the two.”
3. Attend a few great panels
When most people think of SXSW they think of the shows and parties at night, but there is a conference going on during the day. Kami suggests that “Panels are a great place to learn and network! Everyone should attend at least a couple but do your research first! I always select my panels based on a speaker I want to meet or subject I want to learn more about.” Important thing to remember that Caren points out is that the panel’s conversations can be a little hit or miss because relatively anyone can nominate themselves for a panel.
Here are 2 suggestions on interesting panels at SXSW
– Who’s Gonna Make Me a Star Now? Panel
– Indie Label Roadmap Panel
4. Wear comfortable shoes, come hungry
Erik Siebert of Revelry Media recommends wearing very comfortable shoes for those long days and coming to SXSW with an appetite. Looks like Austin has some amazing food trucks that offer anything your stomach might desire. Kelli Fannon also suggests the benefit of renting a car “I learned the power of having a car when everyone else is waiting for a cab.”
5. Plan a loose schedule but allow for some deviation
Caren had some great advice for newbies like me, “I would also recommend that newbies put together a loose schedule but be diligent about not keeping to it. You can drive yourself mad trying to fit in everything you want to see, but SXSW is so much more interesting if you let your curiosity inform some decisions.”
If you are at SXSW this year be sure to attend:
1. “Unburied Treasure Party,” a SXSW Day Party Thursday, March 17th presented by The Spellbound Group, Indiefeed, and Bands Under the Radar. RSVP here and to download 10-song sampler from the bands playing the party.
2. 2nd Annual SXSW MusicTech Happy Hour Tuesday, March 15th
3. The Orchard Day Party, Friday, March 18th
4. Songkick Open House, Wednesday, March 16th