How to Do South By Southwest

The South by Southwest (SXSW) Conferences & Festivals will be taking the city of Austin by storm once again in 2015 from March 13th through the 22nd. The festival, which presents music, independent films, and emerging technologies from around the globe, takes over Downtown Austin as its main vein of action. The weeklong party brings together thousands of music and film lovers, young entrepreneurs, trend-seeking corporations, and entertainment industry insiders. For some, this is business; for others, it's pleasure. No matter your reasons for attending, there's one universal rule: have a plan.

Even for those of us who thrive in organized chaos, the nine days of SXSW can be overwhelming if you don't plan ahead. With over 2,300 bands performing in over 100 venues all over the city—not to mention countless film screenings, interactive panels, free parties, and VIP events—we advise you to know what you're looking to accomplish.

Buy the Badge

If you are in the entertainment industry and looking to expand your knowledge and network, go with the official SXSW option, aka: Buy the Badge. The Platinum Badge is pricey and will grant you full access to all elements of the Music, Film, and Interactive Conferences and Festivals. This means nine days of festival screenings and premiers, nine days of film, interactive, and music programming, keynotes, and mentor sessions, as well as six nights of shows during the SXSW Music Festival.

Badge holders also gain access to the SXSW Trade Show as well as all official Film, Interactive, and Music openings, closings, and awards parties throughout the event. The fact that badge holders also receive preferred access to all non-official events and parties is icing on the cake once you see the lines the rest of the festival-goers will be standing in.

Visit the SXSW website (www.sxsw.com) to buy your badge—the site is a fantastic guide for all things official, from booking your hotel to customizing your personal festival agenda. Find the most current lineup of musical acts at www.sxsw.com/music/news/more-music-festival-2015-bands.

Go Unofficial

If you are not in the industry and just want to enjoy Austin at its finest, SXSW is still your festival. Celebrate in the streets, ramble across a lifetime's array of live music, and drink as much free beer as possible, also known as: Go Unofficial. There will be live music streaming from every nook and cranny in Austin throughout the festival. Gas stations, churches, and private residences are fair game. You will hear music—like it or not. However, with a little bit of planning, you can have access to a full spectrum of free parties and events with fantastic lineups.

Details are still in the works, but there are a few key recurring parties to add to your itinerary. Visit party websites and RSVP, and you'll receive an email confirmation with directions on picking up your wristband. Lines to pick up wristbands are notoriously long, so arrive early. It's worth it though—those with the most wristbands are rewarded with the most access to music. If you really want to go big, we suggest visiting party site RSVPster (www.rsvpster.com). For a small price, you will be RSVP'd to most of the major parties automatically. Oh yeah—drinks are generally complimentary thanks to the festival's generous array of sponsors.

Keep Up Online

There are plenty of sources to add to your playbook for SXSW news and information. A few sites to follow include ShowlistAustin (www.showlistaustin.com/), Do512 (http://do512.com/), Donewaiting (www.donewaiting.com/category/sxsw/), and CultureMap Austin (http://austin.culturemap.com/). But we've got to add (in true festival veteran fashion) that all planning aside, your most memorable SXSW experience may come from a random encounter. That's the beauty of Austin.

—By Courtney L. Williams

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