South by Southwest was first held in March 1987, with an expected 150 attendees. Over 700 came, though, and nearly three decades later, the event has grown into a music-business-film haven, with over 70,000 people attending each year.
What’s so great about it, you ask?
First off, there are celebrities:
Fred Armisen began his comic career with the short film Fred Armisen’s Guide to Music and SXSW, released in 1998.
James Blunt was discovered here while playing a small show at the 2004 SXSW Music festival.
And celebs such as Lady Gaga, Mike Tyson, Grumpy Cat, Selena Gomez and Andy Cohen flock here during March.
There are also connections:
Hundreds of vendors and companies and CEOs are involved in the festival these days, meaning you can witness the launch of big-name brands (like [maybe] Twitter in 2007 and Foursquare in 2009), meet up with dream employers (like Nina Garcia) and hear from some of the smartest people in your industry.
It’s a convergence of so many creative ideas, combined with fun marketing stunts (often involving yummy food or free swag), live music, an increase in our amazing city’s economy ($218M impact in 2013) and a great deal of knowledge (because even if you don’t buy a badge, you’ll learn something – more on that later).
So, if you’re interested in going, here’s what you need to know.
#1: Get a hotel. Downtown. Early. These babies fill up quickly, so book a room months in advance, and opt for one close to the Convention Center. Austin really isn’t that big (compared to our neighbors, Houston and Dallas), so it’ll be easy to navigate around downtown, to on- and off-site events – IF you have a hotel down there.
Even if you’re an Austinite, you should still cough up the extra cash for a room, as parking is a nightmare. Yay to slumberparties with close friends and not-as-close colleagues!
#2: Use Uber, pedicabs and your feet. Now, if you do have to meet someone at a restaurant further north or want to explore SoCo (South Congress = funky shops, bats and a great view of the Capitol), which is further south, try out one of our fun alternatives to cabs.
This is a fit city, and if you’re wearing comfy shoes, walking is definitely my top suggestion!
#3: Bring the necessities. You’ll be out and about allll day, so bring your phone charger, a water bottle, some snacks/bars to hold you over and your business cards. That’s really all you need; there are charging stations/water fountains everywhere, and you should hand your cards out to literally everyone you meet – After sending out follow-up emails a few weeks later, you never know who could turn into a client/partner/friend.
#4: Dress accordingly. ATX is amazing in the spring, and since you’ll be walking/surrounded by people, you should dress for warm weather. Since it IS a festival and a hippie town, you can get away with some Coachella-inspired pieces, but it IS also a networking event, so we don’t need flip-flops or bra straps.
#5: Don’t buy a badge. This final piece of advice may surprise you, but I’m sticking with it. Badges are expensive, and unless you’re actually working towards being the next Zuckerberg, realllly into unknown films or a total music person, then I wouldn’t get one. There are SO many free things to attend, and just walking around downtown will lead you to spot celebs, stumble upon surprise concerts, hear some inspirational talks, soak up the culture and get a load of free goodies.
If you have some spare time to explore the city (you won’t – but still), check out my list of top local attractions!