Austin, TX is home to one of the most influential music conferences in the world. The SXSW Music Festival and Conference hosts artists, industry professionals, and fans from all over the world for a week of seemingly non-stop performances, panels, and workshops lead by industry icons and artists. If you're interested in anything industry related, SXSW is something you should have on your schedule year after year.
To put it simply: there is no better time and place to discover the newest waves of musical talent and innovation than South By Southwest.
Looking back to our first time attending in 2017, we had a general idea of what to expect, I mean, Austin's a weird place to begin with so like... what's the worst that could happen? We'd each been to our fair share of festivals over the years, but nothing could've prepared us for this level of intensity. Pure mayhem, to say the least. Panel sessions with industry executives, showcases with free food, pop-up performances all over Downtown, PLUS exclusive parties with lineups better than Coachella, all happening at the same time, and you can only choose ONE. Now picture that, for six days straight.
Luckily, for first time festival + conference attendees, Unsigned Unheard compiled a few tips from our original SXSW crew so you can make the most out of your SXSW experience.
Water is Life
"My biggest thing would be to hydrate! SXSW is a huge party. Drink a ton of water so you can avoid the hangover and hating yourself every morning! Also bring external batteries, your phone will die, but at least they help it last longer."
If you're reading this and you're from Colorado, chances are your water bottle somewhere within reaching distance. Bring it with you, the heat can definitely sneak up on you while you're exploring every nook and cranny of the festival. There are plenty of places to snag a bottle/boxed water, but beware the silent judgement for using single-use plastics. Save yourself the shame, bring your own bottle... even slap an Unsigned Unheard sticker on it. ;)
Pace & Pitch
"Pace yourself, it’s a long-ass week and you’ll be exhausted by the third or fourth day if you do too much (sort of like we did lmao). I’d also say, if you attend the panel sessions, trying to talk to the speakers afterwords is a huge plus and can get [a musician or someone who’s in the music business] the right connections or may lead you to the right connections."
Wise words from The Britty Bunch. Pacing yourself can save your mind, body, and soul a lot of suffering once the week comes to a close. There were days when we would be coming home at 3am - 4am only to wake up three hours later to make sure we could get in line for a panel. Being on top of your schedule is important, but spreading your energy thin day after day, you're almost guaranteed to get sick when you get home. Take care of yourself and your crew. As for networking, bet on yourself and go for it. Seriously, if you're going into this blind, without a purpose or a game plan, you're missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime. Take the two weeks before you go to practice your elevator pitches, get yourself some business cards, and get your game plan down on paper. You never know who you could meet in line for tacos or BBQ.
Plan, plan, plan
"I would say have a plan and have a backup plan. There are a lot of resources like the SXSW app and fast passes that I didn’t really utilize until it was too late. Also, try to go to as much as you can. You can sleep when you're dead!"
I can't tell you how common it is for plans to change in a matter of seconds. You'll stroll up to a 200 cap venue you've had your eye on for hours, only to be met by 500 others all expecting to get in. What now? 1) If you're on top of your sh**, you can zip right to the front with a fast pass. 2) You have no idea what a fast pass is and now it's time find someone else to see. Moral of the story, if there's an artist you just HAVE to see, be sure to check on fast passes for that show. You'll have to snag a special ticket pretty early on in the morning and be warned, they're almost always guaranteed to be out of fast passes by 10-11am.
Otherwise, go out with a friend and discover your new favorite band. That's what you're there for after all, right?
... LIKE WAY IN ADVANCE.
"I would say book your place way in advance! We ended up with a good spot but ideally it would have been closer and cheaper (maybe we would have found that if we booked earlier)."
Okay, I have to be honest again, this trip would have never been as fun as it was, if it weren't for Sarah. Inviting eight strangers/classmates to split costs of an Airbnb for a week was a brilliant (and risky) decision. By the end of it all, we all felt like we'd each made genuine connections with each other and enough memories to last a lifetime. Bottom line, book as early as possible to ensure you're not going to be paying for an Airbnb with your first born child. When we say this is a big f*****g deal, we mean it. If you're reading this and it's February or later, we wish you the best.
Don't even get us started on flights...
To Sleep or Not To Sleep?
"Sleep. Just get sleep. Oh and walking shoes, those will help too."
Everyone functions differently, meaning some of us require 8 hours of sleep while others can "survive" of less than three. Consider your resting requirements and keep them in mind throughout the week. Even though my soul resonates with Brandon's, "you'll sleep when you're dead" comment, if you have a few extra minutes for a nap, just do it.
What makes the biggest physical difference though, WALKING SHOES. Forego the pain, soreness, and complaining by heading into the festival with arch support. I can't deny my undying love for my trusty ol' Vans, but I made sure to grab a fresh pair of insoles to save my lower back.
THE GREAT 8
"1. Drink plenty of water and take lots of vitamins to strengthen your immune system. I got the flu and a sinus infection my first south by and it’s not a fun time. Germs are everywhere!
2. Pace yourself! There’s so much to do and you get pretty overwhelmed and it will knock you out.
3. Business cards are your new best friend.
4. Take advantage of the free food! They really do offer a lot.
5. They have electric scooters in Austin now and are super easy to use and get around. Way cheaper and more fun than RideAustin."
6. Map out a schedule of events/panels you want to go to because you’ll want to go to one event and then the next one you want to go to might be on the other side of town and you’ll have no time to get there.
7. Get an Airbnb with 8 strangers and hope for the best!
8. Take a day to actually explore Austin. You don’t really need to do this to survive SXSW, but it will definitely make for a way more fun time"
I couldn't have wrapped up better myself. Whether you decide to use any these tips or not, you're in for something special. It's a whirlwind week, chuck full of memories and connections to be made. Push yourself outside your comfort zone, and challenge yourself to go with a goal & purpose. Do that, and the rest will fall into place.
Good luck out there. Maybe we'll see U there.
One last thing:
find Colorado artists you like
& go support them.