A Beginner's Guide to SXSW 2015

Beginning in 1987, South by Southwest, or more commonly shortened to SXSW, takes place mid-March in Austin, Texas, and is one of the premier events for the film, music and tech industries.

March 13th - 22nd, 2015

For newcomers and even for SXSW veterans, it can be a stimulating and, in some ways, stressful week of presentations, performances, networking events and one-on-one business meetings. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your trip:

How to get there

Austin vacation rental #3805290
Austin vacation rental #3805290
If reaching Austin by plane, fly into Austin Bergstrom International Airport (AUS), which is located just six miles from the city center and reachable via taxi, shuttle or car rental. Most major airlines fly in and out of AUS and depending on where you’re coming from, you might be able to snatch up one of the direct flights. Austin is also accessible by train via Amtrak, car and bus.

What to pack

Unlike vacations, SXSW is primarily a work event so it’s important to pack for both business and pleasure. Weather in Austin can be unpredictable to make sure to check the forecast before arriving. That said, it never hurts to pack comfortable walking shoes, an umbrella in case it rains and download a city map on your smartphone. There’s also a SXSW GO app where attendees can view their individual schedule, connect with friends, post and engage on social media and navigate the city and trade show.

SXSW is just as much of a concert as it is a conference, so pack accordingly. Plan for all types of situations: meeting potential clients, attending networking events, concerts and films. Comfort is key but so are first impressions. It’s not uncommon for attendees to pack a change of shoes so that they can walk quickly from event to event and then switch into a dressier pair.

Music

Ben Harper, Body of War Concert, SXSW
Ben Harper, Body of War; Photo courtesy of Kris Krüg
The SXSW Music and Media Conference kicks off this year on March 17th and runs through the 22nd. As the world’s top music industry event, there’s certainly a lot happening within a short time span. The convention center will host the Music Gear Expo among other activities but the real fun happens at night. The best way to choose which sessions to attend is by choosing a theme like A&R, Convergence, Data/Technology or Digital Music/Streaming.

More than 2,200 acts from near and far will perform on over 100 stages throughout the city as part of the SXSW Music Festival. Try to attend a few networking events because this is often where the magic happens. This year there will be even more opportunities to meet with professionals in similar industries: agents can meet with buyers and artists can chat with publicists.

Film

The Film Conference & Festival runs from March 13th through the 21st and celebrates both the creative process of making films and the business savvy required to effectively market them. This year there will also be a Future15 session featuring 15-minute solo presentations.

There’s a definite focus on innovation and how the industry will change and adapt to new technologies as they emerge. In addition to film screenings, there will be mentor sessions, 20-minute moderated interviews with film insiders, interactive workshops on cinematography and social media, panels and discussions.
Helvetica Screening, SXSW Film
Helvetica screening, SXSW Film Festival; Photo courtesy of Ashley Bischoff

Interactive

Peace, SXSW Interactive
SXSW Interactive; Photo courtesy of Kris Krüg
During the five-day Interactive Festival, slated for March 13th – 17th, there will be a series of presentations and panels from some of the most renowned entrepreneurs responsible for driving new technologies. The Interactive portion of the conference focuses on the future of technology, with the core values of innovation, inspiration and creativity at the heart of many conversations. It’s also a chance for start-ups to gain insight, vision and guidance. Many of the panels were actually user-generated via the SXSW PanelPicker.

Accommodation

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Austin vacation rental #372074
Last minute flights to Austin for SXSW are likely to be sold-out or over-priced and the same is true of hotels. Once you have a ticket to the festival, start making arrangements as soon as possible. Many attendees opt to share home rentals, hotel rooms and even hostel dorms with other friends and coworkers to help cut costs. Home rentals generally offer the most space and variety not to mention a retreat from all the action. Whether staying in an apartment in downtown East Austin or something more luxurious with a view, booking early yields the best deals.

Getting Around

While many events take place within The Austin Convention Center, there are just as many networking opportunities at local bars, restaurants and nightclubs. For those on a budget, public transportation is the most budget-friendly option. Capital Metro provides bus and rail tickets and there are also SXSW Festival Shuttles. Additionally, there is a hotel shuttle that stops by most hotels in the downtown area. Bikers can take advantage of the pay-as-you-go Austin B-Cycle system. If all else fails, there are always pedicabs and taxis in the downtown area.

Travel Tips

Remember that there are many flights heading to Austin from all over the world, especially during SXSW, so double check your flight status before heading to the airport. The same is true of your accommodation. Another thing many attendees do before landing in Austin is using SXsocial to find friends and business connections also attending the event. If this isn’t their first time at the rodeo, their advice can be invaluable.

It’s smart to be realistic about your time and create your schedule accordingly. There are so many events taking place simultaneously that it can feel overwhelming choosing which ones to see and which ones to skip. Those who try to do it all often wind up exhausted before the week is over. Think of SXSW as a marathon rather than a sprint and choose quality over quantity. Another helpful tip for organizing your schedule is to take a good, hard look at the printed materials presented at registration. The Austin Convention Center might be easy to navigate on a normal day but not during SXSW and the detailed maps save time when going from one panel to another.


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