It’s never too early to start getting ready for South by Southwest. In Austin, it’s our next big season after the holidays. We mark time by it, fretting about what we need to accomplish before South By and what we don’t want to think about until after South By.
For those that haven’t attempted it yet, I want to reassure you that you can fully partake in the excitement of the conference without paying for a badge. Badges top out at about $1700 for the walk-up rate of Platinum badge, and are cheaper the earlier you buy. The cheapest it gets is for a Film badge at $500, but you have to buy it in September of the previous year. So…yeah. It’s expensive.
Fear not! There are tons of free events. Waaay too many to list here and far too many to predict in advance. The key to SXSW is to be available, be prepared, and roll with the punches. Be content to miss certain things and just enjoy the moment you’re in. For each amazing show you see, you are missing 50 more. It’s hard not to get wrapped up in the hype of secret shows, which is big part of SX. But you can’t do everything, so make peace with it or you’ll drive yourself crazy. The worst thing you can do is run from place to place, trying to get in and spending more time standing in line than doing anything else. So, without further ado, here are my tips:
1. First of all, you have to get yourself where you need to be. This is the time to acquaint yourself with public transportation, ride your bike, or hitch a ride with friends because parking SUCKS.
2. For Interactive (March 13-17) you want to be downtown. This is the week of the best freebies. All the tech companies are giving out fun swag, free drinks, and throwing parties. Bars and restaurants will turn into branded lounges. Go in, get a drink, pick up a free JamBox and learn about SoundCloud or Bing or Samsung or Foursquare.
3. Have your backup email address handy for when you need to sign up for random shit. Be prepared for everyone you walk by to offer you a free app. Or branded chotchkies. Take what you want, leave the crap.
4. If celebrity sightings are your thing, scope out the theaters for premieres and bring your camera. Film takes place March 13-21.
5. Music (March 17-22) is when the city gets a little dirty. If partying is your bag, head over to 6th Street or Red River for the thickest crowds and best people watching.
6. Make sure you’ve got comfortable shoes! You’ll also want a shoulder bag (to fill with swag during Interactive) and all the crap you need to carry.
7. Obvious essentials: cash, cell phone charger, sunblock or sweatshirt (depending on the weather,) mints and chapstick. If you’re in it for the long haul, maybe stash a KIND bar or two.
8. Keep your eye out for free shows. Waterloo Records always has a full line-up. There’s a wealth of bands and parties available all over East Austin (and everywhere, really.) The key is to be aware of the most current information. How? Twitter! Here’s who I recommend following:
9. Lots of events will require an RSVP. The decision on whether to RSVP is yours, but I recommend it. (Use that backup email address!) Many places won’t have an actual guest list, but are just looking to collect your information for their databases. RSVPing does NOT guarantee you entry into parties. You will wait in line with everyone else.
10. There are massive free events like Fader Fort which DO require an RSVP to get a wristband. (Note that as an official SXSW for the first time this year, badge-holders/wristbands will get in first, but there will still be plenty of free spots, too.) Spots for these events are limited and draw some of the bigger bands, so it’s best to confirm your spot as early as possible. Other huge stages sponsored by big companies will ask for RSVPs, and you should go ahead and get those in right away, too.
11. Confused about the RSVPs? My tactic is to just sign up for everything I hear about. You can also use an RSVP service to do the dirty work for you. RSVPster has various levels of RSVPing in a pass format starting at $30 and will save you the hassle of trying to manage all your party options.
12. Keep up with the gossip. Sometimes it’s true and you run into Jimmy Kimmel at a barbecue truck. Sometimes you get burned by wasting an entire night at the supremely boring Austin Music Awards waiting for Johnny Depp to show up…and he doesn’t.
Roll with the Punches
13. Always have a backup plan. If you don’t make it into a show, have another one lined up. Plan 2-3 activities that you could be doing at once and try to minimize running from place to place. DO take petty cabs and promo rides everywhere. Little electric golf carts sponsored by Netflix? Yes. Piggyback ride for guy dressed as Darth Vader? YES. Cram as much fun as you can into this epic ten day span, because it’ll be over before you know it and your fun memories will fade into a blur of South By’s past.
14. Don’t shy away from the big events. While it’s virtually impossible to get into the secret shows like Prince or Justin Timberlake, it does happen. Pull every string, use whatever connections you have, shamelessly promise anything to anyone. All you can do is try.
Again, you want to live in the moment and enjoy where you are. You will see lots of crazy shit. You will hear a mind-boggling amount of great music. Don’t worry about what you’re missing. Just have fun!
Do you have any tips to share? Leave a comment!