Safe the Dance Guide to SXSW 2023
South By South West (or just “South By” as it is commonly referred to) is one of the biggest international showcase festivals and conferences, taking place in Austin, Texas every year in March since 1987. It’s a great gateway to the US market and an international hub for networking with industry leaders, artists as well as new and exciting innovators attending from around the world. The interdisciplinary character makes it an event well worth visiting.
With this guide, we are trying to provide some basic information for everyone, coming for the first time and hopefully also some new things to learn for seasoned visitors.
Music industry experts like Robert Meijerink (Eurosonic), Evelyn Sieber (Reeperbahn Festival), Andy Jones (Focus Wales), Andrea Da Silva (Keychange US), Kaelen Klypak (SaskMusic, Canadian music export) and Liam Prost (Breakout West) among others will give artists insights on how to get the best out of showcase festivals.
We also added some information for those attending on a budget on how to safe money. You are welcome to send us more ideas or feedback.
SXSW 2022 in numbers: 42,491 conference attendees, 1,446 conference sessions, 205,595 visitors total, 1,504 Artists, 2,342 Media representatives, 583 Film screenings (Source)
Documents & Insurance
- For travelling from outside the US you have to get an ESTA or appropriate temporary working visa, If you already have a valid ESTA from a prior year, check that it’s still valid online. Initiative Musik has a video explaining on who needs what visa and how to attain it. Also SXSW has info available on artists and visa requirements.
- Don’t forget to check what documents you need for entering the US, be sure you add your first accommodation and be nice and polite to the people at the border, they can decide whether you have to turn back and go home or enjoy Austin.
- Get a travel cancellation insurance that covers when you get sick (check that it covers Covid) and can’t go or have to rebook because you can’t fly home. Use a comparison website like check24 (for Germany) to find the best price. It should be around 80€ for a year.
- Just as important is a travel insurance covering medical emergencies!
Phone & Data
- Data can be really pricey when you use your own provider so it’s wise to get an e-SIM beforehand (if your phone supports this!) or buy a US SIM card either at a vending machine at the airport, Target, Walmart etc. or at a phone shop.
- Don’t forget to bring the metal pin to switch the SIM card.
- AT&T prepaid is the cheapest option for unlimited data, texts and call for $65 (plus activation) I would recommend going to an AT&T shop and let them activate it, it can be quite a hassle else.
- If you need data only, we can recommend Holafly for unlimited data (you can get 7% off by using code ESIMNOW – we’re not affiliated)
- If you need less data we haven’t used it yet, but Airalo seems to be recommended often.
- The eSIM is installed within a minute and works like a charm. You can get it even before flying in which can be quite handy when you want to navigate from the airport onwards.
- Be prepared it can snow and be 30C the next day – bring layers of clothes!
- Don’t forget to pack…
- a power bank (or two!)
- sun glasses
- empty water bottle (there are water refill stations everywhere)
- rain poncho or jacket
- travel plug for US (the cheap ones are often better than the universal ones and we can recommend getting one with extra USB slots so you can easily charge several devices)
- swimwear if you want to enjoy the hot springs!
Bringing together film, interactive media, music, start-ups, games and more, the festival consists of these sections:
- March 06-09 | EDU innovation and learning in the education industry
- March 10-19 | Interactive innovative technologies and digital creativity
- March 10-18 | Film featuring film, TV and XR
- March 13-18 | Music Artists, industry professionals and fans
- March 10-18 | Comedy
- March 14-17 | The Future 20 Rolling Stone Showcase emerging artists
- Additionally, brand activations as well as unofficial events all over town!
Plus new 2023: spinoff in Sydney, Australia, in October
- You can either get a badge or wristband, or just go attend the many free events (often require signup beforehand).
- There are badges for Film, Interactive or Music festival which give you priority access to the respective festival and secondary priority to the other tracks
- Even with badge, you will often have to queue and will not always get in – so be there in time if you really want to see something.
- Platinum badge gains priority access to all (but it’s quite pricey).
- The wristbands are much cheaper but won’t give you any priority access meaning you will get in last if capacity allows.
- There is a student rate which you have to apply for in advance
- Some organizations like music export offices or local music funders provide access to cheaper tickets, so it’s worthwhile checking with them!
GUARANTEED ENTRY: SXXpress Pass
- You can request a SXXpress Pass for most events that you have primary access to through the SXSW app around 9:00 am the day before, this will guarantee you entry. Per day and badge type you can request:
- Platinum: 3 passes
- Interactive: 3 passes
- Film & TV: 2 passes
- Music: 2 passes
- Your best bet is an AirBnB close to downtown keeping in mind public transport takes forever and Uber are usually quite expensive, so you will pay more in the end for Uber than for a more central stay.
- If you want to use something further out and take the bus, check that you have a stop close by which goes directly downtown without having to change and that’s a maximum of 30min. out. Remember when Americans write 10min from downtown they usually mean by car.
- Most hotels are really expensive, the cheap ones often have bad ratings – take those seriously!
From the airport on a budget: take bus 20 (leave the airport on the right – around letter “L” ;stop is across the street). 24h pass 2,50$ , 7 day pass $11,25 (pay cash or app)
- SXSW shuttle: free circulating route between the Austin Convention Center and most SXSW venues for badge holders; there is a live tracker.
- Last but not least: don’t forget your comfy walking shoes – you will need them!
BIKES & SCOOTERS
- Rent a bike via Metro Bike
- 75 stations in Austin with ebikes & regular bikes
- Book via app: BCycle
- pay as you ride (regular bikes: $1.09 unlock + 23 cents a minute; ebikes: $1 unlock + $1,75 for 30min)
- 30 days pass ($11 + $15 activation fee) unlimited 60 minutes free + $4 for every 30 minutes beyond that.
- Splinster bike-share app for people renting out their bikes (starting around $15 per day).
- If you’re up for something special, why not take a riksha.
CARS & RIDE SHARES
- Don’t get a rental car: most roads will be blocked and there is almost no affordable parking.
- If you do decide to rent a car, book a parking spot in advance via Spothero – close to the Convention Center! For car rental, check Alamo or Enterprise.
- Available ride-shares in Austin: Uber, Lyft, Ride Austin (20% of profits go to local social organizations). Be aware: the rides can get pretty expensive at high-demand times!
- If you want to go to another city on a budget, use Hitch (connects drivers & passengers heading to the same city)
Think about 2-3 specific things you want to get out of the trip, whether you’re an artist wanting to bag a booking agent or a U.S. tour, or an industry delegate looking for a new partnership. (JF)
- Be clear on what you want to get out of SXSW, set yourself realistic goals and plan accordingly. But: don’t over do it: be open to changes of plans. When you are open for the unknown, you often end up at the most exciting sessions, meet the most interesting people and have the best adventures.
–Reanne Leuning (RL), Aussenwirtschaft Austria
- Register on SXSW social, download the SXSW app. Don’t forget to update your profile and link your badge in the app, so people can find you.
- Check out who’s coming beforehand (you can search for people by tags or industry). Use the personal approach to email a select number of delegates, rather than spamming every delegate! Think about the 25 people you most want to see your showcases. (JF)
- Take paper business cards and digital ones (prep a QR code with all your info and a picture, so people will remember you)
- Don’t be sad if the group you are travelling with drifts apart. There is so much happening that you can’t let yourself be held back. And most of the time, when you are travelling alone, new acquaintances and groups emerge. (RL.)
Set up some brunch meetings: having tried (and failed) to keep up with the all-night showcasing > all-day meeting thing I used to do, I can definitely say a chilled late morning meeting is a good way to ease your way back in every day. (JF)
- Try to get to know people who are relevant to you on a personal level and have fun! It’s not about pitching who you are and what you do (still, if someone asks you what you do, it’s good if you can summarize it in a few words!) No one wants to talk to you just because of what they can do for you. If someone likes you, they will try to help you, whether it is relevant to their company or not.
- If you need a quiet spot with Wi-Fi to get some work done, check out the Austin Central Library, it also comes with quite a view, very cheap second-hand books and beautiful architecture!
- Keep your ears and eyes open at all times. The chance that you’ll suddenly find yourself standing next to a star is not that small at SXSW. (RL)
- Sign up for events you (might) want to go to. If you didn’t sign up and want to go to a sold out event: just go and try your luck! Often people won’t show up and you will get in. Also you never know when someone is going to message you to confirm a meeting if you can get to the event they’re going to.(JF)
- Check out the groups & lists for events to rsvp – some good ones:
SXSW is a beast of a showcase festival, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Here are a few showcasing tips for artists to help maximize the opportunity:
- Bring your own breakables
- Showcase changeovers are quick, and any delay will come out of your showtime – be prepared and have your gear show ready
- Time your performance in advance and give yourself a 5-minute buffer for stage banter and troubleshooting.
- Bring a stage plot and input list with you to your showcase
- Be early for your soundcheck (if you get one)
- Make sure you’ve run through your live set so it works for 40 minute slots, 30 minute slots and even a 25 minute slot (i.e. what songs will you play if the showcase is running behind schedule and you have to cut things down?) (JF)
- Interact with the audience during your show – especially festival bookers are looking for bands that can interact well!
- Invite industry to your showcase by researching and sending personalized emails to those you want to meet.
- If your showcase has a networking reception: attend!
- Say your artist name more than once while performing (minimum 3 times)
- Choose an area where you will be after your performance and mention this during your set.
- Attend conference panels for professional development
- Don’t forget: Following up with everyone you meet after SXSW is crucial!
– Kaelen Klypak, SaskMusic, Canadian music export
CONNECT WITH LOCAL ARTISTS
- Do some research beforehand and get in touch with musicians from Austin! That way, you might be able to borrow instruments and backline and also play other small concerts. It’s so easy nowadays via social media. That’s our most important tip. And it also meant the venue was full of interesting people at the SXSW showcase.
– Beißpony / Hölle Media, German artist at SXSW 2016
Connect with other artists while in Austin – make the most of the creative networking opportunity to find collaborators and potential touring partners…and not just artists from the same country as you.
– Joe Frankland, PRS Foundation / Keychange
If you’re performing at SXSW 2023, or any other festival, it can be easy to get tunnel vision and focus mostly on your own performance, but it behooves artists to smell the roses a bit. SXSW is a huge festival, and a collection of excellent artists from all over the world. Soak it in! It’s a discovery festival so you might not have heard of most of the acts, but there are always headliners to see and likely even some artists that are a really close alignment with your project. Get inspired by seeing other artists you love, and if you see an artist you really vibe with, go meet them. We’re all here for the same reason, and if you like it when folks come up to you to compliment your music, chances are that an act you like will enjoy hearing that from you. Maybe it’ll be a valuable connection for you, or even better, a real friendship. –Liam Prost, Breakout West)
- While artists should, of course, make a bunch of firm plans for meetings, networking, and showcases, artists should also build in some free time to simply explore SXSW. It’s a unique event and experience, and you never know what positive new career connections you might make, if you allow yourself to wander the venues and make some new connections. I’d also remind artists to factor in some time to stop, get out of the Texan heat, eat and hydrate. It’s so easy to get carried away with the excitement of SXSW, and forget about the basic things in life, like eating and drinking enough water. So take care of yourself and build in time to do that, and you can fully enjoy the event!
– Andy Jones, Focus Wales, meet him at the FOCUS Wales Showcase and drinks mixer on Thursday 16th March.
- One piece of advice is to give EXTRA time for everything and especially the airport, including, getting from the city to the airport when you’re leaving, don’t assume an Uber/taxi will get to you quickly and expect road closures/delays. Can’t underscore this one enough, and that includes if you’re staying further from downtown. Regular 20 minute rides can turn into 1.5 hours. Also plan your route to the venue in advance with extra time: SXSW will have streets blocked off, and you might not be able to get all the way to the venue. – Andrea Da Silva, Keychange US, meet her at Gender Equity In Music: Measuring Progress Leads to Change @ Innovation Bridge Europe House, March 15th.
On a related note:
There are plans on raising the visa fees for the US (even the temporary ones) by 250%, making touring the US almost impossible for newcomers. You can look into the state of things and sign the petition in this document.
- Food is expensive, you can save some money by getting some snacks in-between from a supermarket. Target, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are in walking distance in downtown. If you are staying close to a Walmart or HEB it’s also good to get some things from there.
- BBQ is a must for example: Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que or Rollin Smole BBQ or if you have time to go a little outside visit Salt Lick BBQ
- Koriente has affordable Asian food with lots of veggies.
- If you happen to come by definitely check out California hailing In-N-Out Burger for amazing burgers and fries
- Get some nice chillis or hot sauces from a Mexican supermarket to take home.
- You should also check out some of the amazing taco places in town like El Primo, Torchys or Velvet Taco.
- Head to South Congress at least once – I’m a big fan of Güero’s Taco Bar on the final Sunday to help me bring me back to normal before the journey home, but head there whenever you can! (Joe Frankland, PRS Foundation/Keychange)
- For those hangover days when you have spent all your money: Taco Bell is your friend.
- If yo have some extra money to spend: enjoy Steaks at Fogo de Chão Brazilian Steakhouse (ES)
Please remember: America and Austin in particular live off of tips and international folks are notorious for not tipping. It’s rough and an easy way to pass people off.Make sure to tip, the standard is 20%
- Absolutely don’t miss on going for a swim in Barton Springs: You can take the free SXSW shuttle to Zach Theatre and walk 15min along the river to the pool. You can either pay to go into the public pool or swim for free on the outside! The spring has a great temperature year round (21C). As the stones can be slippery, swimming shoes are recommended. There is also a smaller pool called Deep Eddy.
- Don’t forget to support artists and buy records. Some of the best records stores in Austin are End of an Ear, Waterloo Records, Exploded Records and Breakaway Records.
– Robert Mejerink, Eurosonic
- Play Chicken Shit Bingo Sundays 4-8pm at the Little Longhorn Saloon!
–Evelyn Sieber, Reeperbahn Festival
- Check out the Bats at South Congress Bridge Thousands of f bats fly from under South Congress Bridge over Lady Bird Lake in the evening (check the best times to see them via Austin Bat Refuge). You can also go for a night kayak trip and watch the sunset and bats from the water.
- Visit the Cathedral of Junk an installation made from 60 tons of junk in the backyard of a resident!
- Don’t miss out on seeing Austin from the water: rent a kayak.
- For immersive and interactive art, check out Wonderspaces Austin.
- Interested in the history of Texas? The Bullock Texas State History Museum is your place.
- Enjoy Art at Pease Park (1100 Kingsbury St) a free park with art installations.
- Experience Mount Bonnell at Sunset – it’s the highest point in Austin. To get there you have to walk up just over 100 steps. A free car park is available at the base of Mount Bonnell or take Number 19 bus close to Mount Bonnell and walk 30min to the base.
- Go for a beautiful hike in the Barton Springs Green Belt.
- Listen to excellent Bluegrass music at Radio Coffee & Beer on Mondays
- Cowork at Cosmic Coffe + Beer Garden
- Take noise cancelling headphones and remember to bring a connecting aux cable so you can enjoy the inflight entertainment on good quality audio.
- A sleeping mask and travel pillow are your best friends.
- Talking about masks: pack a medical mask, even if you don’t use them any more you might end up sitting next to someone visibly sick
- Bring some Covid tests from Germany/Europe, they are much cheaper, and you never know if you might need them.
- Hydration is key: take an empty bottle and fill it up with water once you passed security or ask the flight crew to do so.
- If you have a lot of luggage and need to change flights you can ask the airline to check your hand luggage through as well, so you don’t have to carry it around and only keep a backpack or purse with laptop, medication and other essentials. However as currently a lot of luggage is lost or takes forever to be returned, it might also be wise to pack some extra clothes into your hand luggage.
- Bring some snacks, don’t just think healthy, some sweets can go a long way of making you happy while travelling. We enjoy some nut and fruit bars and sandwiches.
- Wear comfy clothes on the plane!
- No matter the age: consider using compression socks and thrombosis prevention (shots, free in Germany) and walking around during the flight to avoid getting sick.
- If you are heavily jet-lagged Melatonin can help you regulate your sleep
Our SXSW Highlights 2023
14. March 2023 The Nighttime Lab @ German Haus,
16:00 – 17:30 Uhr: The Rise of Nighttime Governance and Why it Matters – Keynote von Mirca Lotz (Safe the Dance) und anderen
- How do communities & government work together to make a better city? This keynote session highlights examples from around the world and in Texas that have made a difference.
- Introductions: Charles Moon (SXSW, Austin);
- Lauren Goshinski + Lutz L + Mirik Milan (VibeLab)
- Speakers: Alby Bocanegra (Dallas); Ariel Palitz (NYC); Brian Block (Austin); Chris Stemann (Dortmnund); Dominique Greco (Orlando); Kae Burke (NYC); Mathieu Grondin (Montreal); Mirca Lotz (Berlin); Raheem Manning (Philadelphia); Randall White (Dallas)
15. March @ Innovation Bridge Europe House
Beyond the Binary: Bringing Underrepresented Genders to the Spotlight präsentiert von Keychange US & Safe the Dance
- 14:00 – 15:00 Keychange US Panel : Gender Equity In Music: Measuring Progress Leads to Change
- 15:00 – 16:00 Casual meetup for Women and Underrepresented Gender in Music (Rooftop) – Time TBC
- 16:00 – 18:00 Think Tank Best Practices Inclusion, Diversity, Equity – Time TBC
- 20:00 – 01:00 Showcase with Philine Sonny, Surma, Le Ren, Giungla, DJ Sally (Plattenbau) and opening remarks by Andrea Da Silva (Keychange US)
16. March Reeperbahn Festival @ Shangri-La
- 04:30 pm-6:50 pm Reeperbahn Hamburgers
- 07:00 pm – 00:00 Reeperbahn Festival Showcase @Shangrr-La
With Albertine Sarges, Akua Naru, Philine Sonny, ÄTNA und Ekkstacy
You can take the free SXSW shuttle to Zach Theatre and walk 15min along the river to the pool. You can either pay to go into the public pool or swim for free on the outside! the spring has a great temperature year round. As the stones can be slippery, swimming shoes are recommended. The smaller option is Deep Eddy.
I’d like to remind artists to factor in some time to stop, get out of the Texan heat, eat and hydrate. It’s so easy to get carried away with the excitement of SXSW, and forget about the basic things in life, like eating and drinking enough water. So take care of yourself and build in time to do that, and you can fully enjoy the event! Andy Jones, Focus Wales, meet him at the FOCUS Wales Showcase and drinks mixer on Thursday 16th March!
One piece of advice is to give EXTRA time for everything and especially the airport. Also plan your route to the venue in advance with extra time: SXSW will have streets blocked off, and you might not be able to get all the way to the venue. – Andrea Da Silva, Keychange US, meet her at Gender Equity In Music: Measuring Progress Leads to Change @ Innovation Bridge Europe House, March 15th.
Do some research before and get in touch with musicians from Austin. This way you might be able to borrow instruments and play some more shows - and it's so easy to do research via social media! Also it means your show will be full of interesting people at your SXSW showcase. - Beißpony / Hölle Media, German artist at SXSW 2016
Make sure you’ve run through your live set so it works for 40 minute slots, 30 minute slots and even a 25 minute slot (i.e. what songs will you play if the showcase is running behind schedule and you have to cut things down?). - Joe Frankland, PRS Foundation / Keychange
Get inspired by seeing other artists, and if you see an artist you really vibe with, go meet them. We’re all here for the same reason, and if you like it when folks come up to you to compliment your music, chances are that an act you like will enjoy hearing that from you. Maybe it’ll be a valuable connection for you, or even better, a real friendship. –Liam Prost, Breakout West
Eat BBQ at Rolling Smoke: Top 5 BBQ spots in the state, hands down my favorite and super nice folks. And please remember: America and Austin in particular live off of tips and international folks are notorious for not tipping. It’s rough and an easy way to pass people off.M Make sure to tip, the standard is 20% Dave Sims, Headwater Audio, will be running the show at Innovation Bridge Europe from March 9th-15th!
BBQ is a must for example: Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que, Rolling Smoke or Salt Lick BBQ. Koriente has affordable asian food with lots of veggies. If you happen to come by definitely check out California hailing In-N-Out Burger for amazing burgers and fries For those hangover days when you have spent all your money: Taco Bell is your friend.
Don’t be sad if the group you are travelling with drifts apart. There is so much happening that you can’t let yourself be held back. And most of the time, when you are travelling alone, new acquaintances and groups emerge. And keep your ears and eyes open at all times. The chance that you’ll suddenly find yourself standing next to a star is not that small at SXSW. - Reanne Leuning, Aussenwirtschaft Austria