For most people, the name South by Southwest means music. It’s a valid association – SXSW is still the largest music festival of its kind in the US and one of the biggest draws in music that bring people to Austin, whether as tourists or residents. But since the mid-90s, SXSW has grown to not only include music, but a full film festival, and most recently an expansive interactive festival as well, which encompasses everything from websites to gaming to startups. Some of the biggest and most important events now aren’t just in the music showcases or from a breakthrough act, but in the conference portion of the festival.
Due to the size and volume of information at the festival, SXSW can be overwhelming to attendees, but organizers make it as easy as possible by breaking down each portion of the festival into different tracks. You can find exactly what you’re interested in and attend the suggested sessions, panels, and workshops, or make your own schedule. Tons of events at SXSW are also listed as “convergence” tracks, meaning they’re accessible to more than one type of badge if it’s a crossover topic.
The SXSW Film Conference brings together the best and most creative minds from various fields within the film industry. There are dozens of panels, workshops, sessions and meetups from one-on-one mentor sessions with experts, conversations with writers, actors and filmmakers, instruction on crafting your project, finding your audience, marketing films and new technology in film making. The different tracks include Influences; Creating Your Content; and Finding Your Audience.
The SXSW Interactive Festival is a multi-category powerhouse that showcases five days of panel sessions led by the brightest minds in emerging technologies, hands-on instructional workshops, mentor opportunities with industry leaders, plus tons of networking opportunities. The different tracks cover everything in multimedia, technology and business you could imagine: Art, Science and Inspiration; Branding & Marketing; Content and Distribution; Health & MedTech; Work and Career; Government and Policy; and Startup Village.
But still, the big draw to SXSW is music, and the SXSW Music and Media Conference has built on this. The SXSW Music and Media Conference aims to educate and inspire musicians and those who work with them. It’s almost become a must-attend for anyone working or interested in the music industry, as fast as it’s changing these days. The session list for music is long and expansive, as are the various tracks people can attend. But the Music and Media Conference definitely isn’t just for industry folks — even if artists aren’t performing, it puts established and aspiring musicians in touch with others in the industry, keeps them up to date on the newest gear, latest legal news, and emerging technologies that are shaping the music world.
SXSW itself says of the event, “The conference overall offers unmatched access to ideas and global viewpoints on an increasingly borderless industry. It aims to educate and inspire musicians and professionals alike, with sessions attended by over 30,000 registrants and showcasing artists. A large multi-industry trade show exhibition, Music Gear Expo and daytime stage performances round out the day while evenings are devoted to the SXSW Music Festival, which showcases 2,000 acts ranging from the unsigned to the iconic.”
SXSW is huge and badges are expensive. But based on the amount of content available, the ease of navigating such an enormous conference, and the networking opportunities available, most would argue it’s worth it.
SXSW Interactive is held from March 11-15, SXSW Film is March 11-19, and SXSW Music is March 15-20. Full information is available at sxsw.com.
At SXSW Music, throw out your wish list and hear something unexpected
One of the best things about the SXSW Music Festival is that it gives fans the opportunity to hear music they might never hear on their own. SXSW has always prided itself on showcasing smaller and emerging acts, in multiple genres from all over the United States and around the world. Last year saw more than 2,200 different musical acts from 62 different countries, all in 100 different venues in six days.
There are always a few names that are already notable by the time they get to SXSW: Miley Cyrus, Big Sean, T-Pain, Run the Jewels, and Wynonna Judd made appearances at SXSW 2015. Performances will be finalized up to showtime for 2016 but you can expect some big names, as usual. Last year, I discovered for myself Courtney Barnett, Alvvays, Leon Bridges, Kate Tempest and Bleachers, five acts I’d never even heard of who immediately moved to the top of my music list.
For me, it’s pointless to make a list of what I want to see – I never make it there on time, I get distracted by some other show, it’s too crowded, the venue’s moved, I don’t want to leave where I’m already at, or I just get exhausted at certain point and have to sleep. But that’s okay, because SXSW is an experience, not just an event.
What I like is that despite whatever plans I have, those will change and I’ll end up hearing something I’ve never heard before and come away with some new favorites.
And let’s talk economy: during SXSW, the influx of international talent each year transforms Austin into the global epicenter for creative professionals, which is pretty cool.
Even as it approaches its 30th year, SXSW is still growing in relevance and continues to provide a range of opportunities for creative cross-pollination, not just in music, but in all things creative and innovative.
“SXSW is a testament to the creative and collaborative culture that has become synonymous with Austin,” says Michael W. Rollins, the President of the Austin Chamber of Commerce. “It remains a key economic driver that supports our local economy and innovation community well after the main event concludes.”
Even if you don’t have the money (or endurance) to wristband-up and get out there to see some shows, don’t forget about the all-ages SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Birdy Lake. The SXSW Outdoor Stage features a three-day series of charity beneficiary concert events, which are free-to-the-public with a SXSW Guest Pass (available online). It’s SXSW’s largest stage with more than 50,000 attendees over three days, with shows taking place March 17, 18 and 19, 2016.
SXSW continues to be one of the most important and pivotal festivals in the U.S., and the music is the reason for that.
SXSW Music Festival takes place March 15-20. More information available at sxsw.com.