A Beginner’s Guide To SXSW (Part 1)

SXSW begins less than a month from today, and the music portion of the world’s largest festival is only a few day further away than that. We will be on site March 15-19, and we’ll be hosting a panel regarding the future of digital promotional distribution that Friday, March 18. We hope to see many of you there, but even if you go and we do not manage to connect we want you to be as prepared as possible for everything Austin has in store. SXSW can be the best time of your life, but it can also be a total waste of time. Preparation is everything for those hoping to cover the next big artist or get face-to-face with industry heavyweights, so we created the following guide to make sure you know exactly what to expect as you prepare to travel to Texas in the coming weeks.

Clothing

You never really know what to expect from the weather in Austin. There are years when skies are forever gray and it rains nearly every day, but other years it’s sunny and so hot people from the North end up sweating profusely everywhere they go. The best approach to making sure you have what you need to stay comfortable on Sixth Street is to plan for everything. Bring short sleeve shirts and shorts, as well as a pair of jeans or two and a hoodie. You might also want to bring a jacket, but make sure it is a light one as the weather in Texas can change pretty fast and you don’t want to be stuck in a hot space with a heavy jacket.

As for footwear, you really need to fight the urge to wear sandals and bring reliable sneakers. The days at SXSW are long and the nights are often even longer. You may be in one venue or space for several hours at a time, but while there you will almost certainly be on your feet. Aside from a few rides via Uber or Lyft you will likely be walking everywhere you go in Austin and standing at every show. Comfort is everything.

Backpack/Fanny pack/etc

Most major airlines (except Spirit) allow you to bring one carry-on item in addition to your traditional suitcase. We suggest using this opportunity to bring along a backpack, fanny pack, or similar item that you also do not mind carrying around downtown Austin. You may or may not need to bring your iPad, laptop, notebook, or whatever with you each day, but when you do you will want something to carry those materials in so that your hands can remain free. There is a lot happening in Austin during SXSW, so for the sake of simplifying travel, as well as keeping your belongings safe, we highly encourage bringing a something to help carry your stuff around.

Items you may want to ensure are inside your carry-on include: 

  • sunscreen
  • charging wires
  • pens
  • pencils
  • business cards
  • promo items
  • the SXSW event guide you are given when picking up your badge/wristband. 

Like the Boy Scouts say, “always be prepared.”

Phone stuff

Are you one of those people who believe themselves too cool to place a protective case on your smartphone? If so, it’s time to take a hard look in the mirror and realize you’re just like the rest of us because SXSW is going to test the strength of your device regardless of whatever protection you may have in place. Between weather, alcohol splashing from cups, and the ever-present chance of simply dropping your device on the same Sixth Street concrete that has claimed the lives of countless other phones, there is more reason than ever to put your phone in some kind of case ahead of your trip to Austin.

Protect your ears

There will be numerous companies handing out promotional items at SXSX, including several brands offering ear plugs. Whether you choose to accept those freebies or not is up to you, but we highly advise you to make arrangement to protect your ears during your time in Austin. The venues for most shows are incredibly small and the sound is usually as big as can be without causing distortion. This is truly an awesome thing, but too much greatness can and more than likely will do longterm damage to your hearing. Come prepared to rock, of course, but also take precautions to ensure you are able to rock well into old age.

Arrange for interviews now. Expect those plans to change.

Everyone is short on time at SXSW, and the only way to ensure you have a chance to speak with the musician or industry professional you hope to meet is by making plans now. Publicists around the globe are waiting for emails from journalists, and as the beginning of SXSW nears the number of inquiries they receive day-to-day will continue to grow. Your best bet at getting face time with anyone important in Austin is to make plans to do so right now. Some may say they need to wait a week or two for confirmation, but at least your name will be added to the list, and that is farther than many will ever get.

Even if you receive confirmation we would advise against counting your interview or meet-up as a sure thing until the encounter actually occurs. SXSW is notorious for undoing the best laid plans, so it’s very likely your scheduled interview will be pushed or cancelled altogether by the time its scheduled occurrence arrives. Don’t take it personally, as it happens to everyone, but do make alternate plans in case such moment come to pass. Speaking of that….

Create a schedule. In fact, create two.

We’ve already told you that planning is everything, but it’s worth emphasizing further because that fact is never more true than when it comes to devising you SXSW schedule. Between now and the March 15 start of SXSW there will be literally dozens of performances announced featuring hundreds of musicians from around the globe. Some of them you may know, but most you probably will not, and we want to urge you to try and discover as much as possible during your time in Austin. Seeing the bands you know and love perform in small spaces can be fun, but there is nothing quite like the rush of seeing someone relatively unknown absolutely crush a SXSW crowd. Who knows? You could see the next big star just months before they become international sensations?

With this in mind, use the time between now and SXSW to explore the various pitches you receive for coverage at the festival. When you find something you like, be it a performance or a panel, add it to your calendar. When you fill up your week, open a new calendar and build an alternate schedule for yourself. If there are events you absolutely do not want to miss you should include them on both schedules, but also try to add alternate choices in case something prevents you from attending that particular happening.

We will feature more tips and tricks for making the most of SXSW in the weeks ahead. Stay tuned!

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.