After spending a whole week being on my feet for more than 14 hours a day down in Austin, TX for my first SXSW it’s almost like sensory overload. I really don’t know where to begin. It’s tiring, yet a once in a lifetime kind of event, that if you can make it to—is life changing.

The downtown area of Austin truly becomes a hotbed of creatives, artists, music industry leaders, business leaders, actors, comedians, and social influencers. Everyone in attendance was there equally as much for business as they were for pleasure.

Surviving And Thriving During My First SXSW Festival Experience

Considering that this was my first SXSW and first time in Texas, there was a lot to take in. The Apple Music playlist for the festival had over a thousand songs and artists. There are literally tons of business tracks, meetups, speeches, mixers, and panels for music, film, and cannabis. There are both official and unofficial SXSW venues and artist showcases. It’s overwhelming as shit, to be frank.

So more than anything organization, planning, and relative sobriety was vital to experiencing all that the festival had to offer. Yet, I still feel like I missed a ton of stuff I was trying to see. Regardless, here are some tips, tricks, and observations I made while down in Austin that helped me survive my first SXSW.

You Need Your Phone & The SXSW App

The SXSW app was my most vital tool for figuring out who was performing where and when. Bringing a portable charger for my phone was extremely useful. I noticed nearly everyone else walking around utilizing one at one point or another. There’s too much going on at this festival to not have a way of actively checking the schedule for the day. Not to mention finding out where and when unofficial SXSW showcases are going on around downtown.

Plan Your Shit

The app also let me favorite any event the festival was hosting. After a few days, I got into the rhythm of scouring the entire schedule for the following day the night before to favorite all of the things that I was trying to go do and see when I got up. The app will navigate you to what’s “on now” at any time from the day’s schedule listing. Favoriting them, though, will save you more time. I’m going to bring this up a bunch of times, but, do your research and plan ahead!

Pace Yourself

This festival seems to be trying to get you drunk; fair warning. You’re going to find yourself getting complimentary drinks given to you left and right so take it slow! The days will be long and the weather is dry and normally hot in Texas, which can get to you quickly. Be sure to drink water and eat food from literally anywhere downtown and it’ll be good. A lot of the showcases that are offering free drinks have free food too so don’t miss out.

Public Transportation

This is a big one for me because I have a firm belief that transportation costs are the devil in disguise. Personally, I avoid using ride services such as Uber and Lyft as much as possible when I’m in a major downtown metropolitan area—it’s expensive! I found a way to pay $2.50 a day for a bus pass that brought me into downtown. It only took 30 minutes from my friend’s apartment and brought me back there at night. I found the buses in Austin to be extremely easy to catch and never once crowded. This was a nice shift from the buses back in Seattle. The rest of the time it’s all about the electric scooters.

Electric Scooters

You’ll notice an abundance of these the minute you hit downtown. Companies like Uber, Lyft, Lime, and Bird have made electric scooters available in droves downtown. This seemed to be the cheapest way to get around as most of them only charge you fifteen cents a minute. Usually, I was only going less than a mile. As the week went on though, my feet were killing me. I often rode one of these zippy scooters from one part of downtown to the next to save time and my feet.

The Bigger The Artist, The Longer The Line

Show up AT LEAST an hour early for any big headliners you want to see or fear the venue reaching capacity. What’s great about SXSW from the music standpoint is that every show you see is at a relatively intimate venue. However, if you show up late to a set, the intimate venue may reach capacity. I ran into a few door-people turning me away from some of the later shows. My music press badge usually got me in an expedited line into any venue, but it didn’t always work.

Surviving And Thriving During My First SXSW Festival Experience

Don’t Just Go For The Music!

SXSW isn’t just a music festival, it’s so much more. It’s also a tech, film, comedy, and gaming conference. This year there was even the inclusion of cannabis business or “cannabusiness” tracks that gave me hope for future legalization in Texas. The amount of free game that was there to soak up at these meetups, talks, and mixers was astounding. In the music industry meetups, my colleague and I found just as many artists there looking to learn and network as there were business owners and representatives.

This is probably your best opportunity to gain insight into many facets of the entertainment business and potentially talk to the people running the show. Take the time to have a full conversation with anyone that seems like they’re making moves in your same lane. Bring business cards no matter what you do because you never know who you could meet at this festival that could help you take that next big step towards success.  

Above all else, if you get the opportunity to go to this festival, even if you’re not performing, actively try to build your network and connect with new people. I found out you never know who you might run into down in Austin during SXSW.

Thank you so much to SXSW for having Respect My Region out for a crazy memorable time, we’ll definitely see you next year. Be on the lookout for more content surrounding my first SXSW!