South by Southwest (SXSW) is one of the most exciting, chaotic times in the music industry. For emerging artists, it’s a time to connect with new fans, other bands, and industry professionals in an effort to widen your network and overall clout. It’s also a week filled with free alcohol, concerts, food, and more parties than you’d ever even want to attend. And that’s not even counting all the panel discussions, secret showcases, product demos, and other activities!
Whether it’s your first time at SXSW or you’re a seasoned regular, the sheer overwhelming nature of the thing remains the same. Where should you spend your time? Who should you connect with? Exactly how much partying is too much partying? Given that it’s a once-a-year industry madhouse packed with opportunities galore (and it does cost a pretty penny!), making the most of your time in Austin is essential.
Settle on a goal for the festival
It’s easy to say, “I just want to have a good time and meet new people!” But the problem is that that’s far too broad, and it doesn’t really point you in the direction of anything specific. Plus, it’s almost certain those two things will happen even if you do nothing.
It’s important to remember that if you’re attending SXSW with the intent of making it a business trip (i.e., positioning yourself to increase your career opportunities) — you can’t leave the rest up to chance. Charting specific goals — like who you want to meet, what bands you want to see, and your ultimate outcome — will help you to plan your schedule and to stay focused.
Once you settle on your takeaway goal, you’ll be able to adjust your schedule accordingly. When it inevitably starts overflowing, you can then easily ask yourself, “Does this bring me closer to my goal?” And if not, “How important is this to me?”
Make a list, check it thrice!
The SXSW official app is really handy for this, but because there will be so many amazing unofficial parties, showcases, and events, you might want to have a backup planner in place, like Evernote or an old-fashioned pen and notebook to schedule out the day’s events.
Before you even land, make a list of the people attending the festival that you want to meet (panelists, bands, label reps) and try to come up with an idea of how you’re going to make that happen. If you can, reach out to them a few weeks before the festival. You might not be able to set up a time to meet right away, but you’ll at least have made the introduction and potentially even exchange numbers, so that once the craziness dies down, it’ll be easier to link up.
Inevitably, your plans will change along the way. You’ll get invited to different things or just not feel like going to a pre-planned event one night. But by having some kind of schedule in place, it’ll prevent you from feeling like you’re being pulled in a hundred directions, or feeling like you’re missing out, while ensuring you get to do the things you really want to do.
Come prepared to network
One of the great things about SXSW is that everyone wants to meet people, so you won’t be the only one out there hungry to network. You might want to have a convenient way to exchange contact information, and keep in touch long after the festival ends. Business cards are an incomparable asset in this department. And in a city like Austin, a bit of a creative, unique touch goes a long way. So consider any wacky ideas that would make your card stand out from the crowd — literally.
Don’t let self-care fall by the wayside
It is incredibly easy to get caught up in the excitement of everything happening at SXSW. The FOMO is real. If you want to stay fresh and be your best self for when you’re meeting new people or playing a showcase, you have to make sure you’re taking care of yourself. This means getting adequate sleep, eating well, and, as if it’s not already obvious, try not to drink yourself into oblivion.
The goal isn’t to just be able to function, it’s to be 100% present. Because you’re going to be so much more active than any normal week, you’ll likely need more rest. Take the time to make sure you’ve packed things like sunscreen, water, snacks (nuts or protein bars), and a backup phone charger. Austin is hot, and SXSW can produce some long days, so I recommend indulging in a little downtime whenever possible, and keep these things handy in case the schedule gets crazy.
Follow up a few days after SXSW
After everything is said and done, don’t forget to follow up with the people you’ve met. Personally reach out to them within those first few days (no more than a week, or you risk them forgetting who you are) with a quick recap of who you are and how you met, and how nice it was to meet them. On your end, you should have a plan for keeping in touch. If the context is right, perhaps make a note to check in every few months, or keep in touch by supporting their social media posts with comments and insight. The goal is that once you’ve made the connection, continue to nurture it.
That’s it! SXSW is an incredible opportunity and an amazing time — stay safe, stay hydrated, have fun, and enjoy yourself!
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