Most college towns calm down during Spring Break as students leave for party points beyond – but not Austin. After all why would anyone leave when one of the biggest events in the music interactive and film business happens right here?

Every March since 1987 the South By Southwest (SXSW) Conferences and Festival takes over the Capital City. One of the world’s largest and most respected industry conferences SXSW showcases two weeks of the best in new music film digital media and interactive arts – plus hundreds of industry-related seminars discussions workshops interviews meetings and panels.

The event is made up of three distinct industry conferences: SXSW Interactive; SXSW Film; and SXSW Music – a unique convergence of emerging technologies independent films and the best in original music. In their second year in 2012 both SXSW Eco – a conference with sessions from experts in the public private and academic sectors who are “committed to finding solutions for a sustainable world” – and SXSW Edu – a conference focused on innovations in learning – enjoyed an increase in attendance. Bill Gates was the 2013 keynote speaker for SXSW Edu.  In 2013 SXSW Eco had a presence at the March SXSW Conference but is scheduled to have its own separate conference in October.

No matter what the industry there’s no question that the festival has a huge impact on the city – economic and otherwise. Consider that in 2013 the Interactive attendance alone had 30621 paying attendees.  Downtown hotel revenue from the 2011 event was nearly $27 million an increase of $5 million from the previous year.

Music and more

Whether it’s film interactive or music it seems that more deals take place during SXSW than at the blackjack tables in Vegas. The New York Times in a March 2006 article reported that SXSW is “…a hub for operating outside the recording business…It could be finding a European distributor for a self-released album or the offer of a Midwestern college tour.”

While SXSW is primarily an industry conference there’s a distinct festival appeal to SXSW. It’s a chance for fans to discover new favorites and genres hear new tunes from industry veterans see great documentaries and feature films and learn about the latest in digital and interactive media.

What to Expect at SXSW

The SXSW event starts with SXSW Interactive overlaps slightly with SXSW Film and is in full swing by the time the hipsters in their skinny jeans descend into town for SXSW Music which wraps up the week.

SXSW Interactive

Technology buffs and regular Joes are equally at home during SXSW Interactive which emphasizes cutting-edge creative thinking in the wide world of websites interactivity gaming new media social networking and all things technology. The convergence of technology and pop culture is evident with the registration numbers: In 2013 the interactive segment attracted 30621 people an all time high.

This is where industry trends happen – and where the seeds germinate for what might appear on your computer screen Twitter Mashable Tech Crunch or Facebook feed in the future. In 2007 SXSWi helped boost Twitter usage.  ScreenBurn is another aspect of SXSW Interactive – especially for emerging game designers and part open to the public with a fun family gaming showcase so you can check out the latest in gaming technologies.

SXSW Film

SXSW Film has grown into a major event on the international movie industry calendar over the last 20-plus years and the festival has earned a reputation as a venue for launching emerging talents.

Attendees and fans screen hundreds of feature films documentaries animated movies and shorts over 10 days during the SXSW Film Conference & Festival with screenings taking place at local theaters and other venues all over the city – from the latest premieres to groundbreaking and often controversial independent films. Directors and stars often introduce their works and talk about them after the show – and offerings include everything from big-budget Hollywood studio productions to edgy independent films made on a shoestring.

SXSW also hosts the annual (and very popular) Texas High School Film Competition which “supports and cultivate the state’s next generation of filmmakers.” Eligibility is limited to Texas students enrolled in the 9th through 12th grades for the full academic year. A panel of independent filmmakers and industry figures judge the submissions with prizes – including SXSW Film registrations – awarded for first second and third place. All films chosen as finalists are shown in a special program as part of the regular SXSW Film Festival schedule.

SXSW Music

SXSW Music wraps up the conference and there’s a clear distinction when film and interactive ends and when music begins. The annual Austin Music Awards kicks off the music portion of SXSW and it’s a can’t-miss event. Get tickets when they go on sale because it sells out every year.

Each year features thousands of acts in 2012 there were over 2200 acts and 2013 was just as large.  Industry speakers have included Grammy winning producer composer and arranger Quincy Jones in 2009 while rocker Bruce Springsteen was the keynote speaker in 2012 and rocker Dave Grohl of Nirvana fame was the keynote speaker in 2013.  In past years other SXSW speakers and performers have included Pete Townsend Jeff Beck David Byrne Shawn Colvin Tony Bennett Johnny Cash Sheryl Crow Billy Idol Philip Glass Wyclef Jean Robert Plant and Willie Nelson.

Though SXSW is an industry conference the opportunity to see bands from all over the world – especially up-and-coming artists – is far too tempting for many music fans many of whom travel from around the country and the world just to check out the newest bands. Even if you’re a music lover short on cash you’ll still see and hear great music. SXSW Music offers free shows three nights a week at Auditorium Shores during the festival with great artists – Elvis Costello Alejandro Escovedo and The Strokes have all played free shows here. In 2013 the three major SXSW conferences plus SXSW Edu had a total of more than 5000 events.

There are also tons of other musical events that happen outside the official festival. In particular the shows on South Congress Avenue and South Lamar have grown into their own – including a fun quirky festival of music known to locals as South By South Austin.

Getting Access: Mixed Metals and Wristbands

Now that you know all about the coolest party in town each March how do you get in? It all depends how much you want to spend. For the 2013 event prices ranged from $450 (early registration film-only badge) to $1595 (walk-up registration badge) depending on which pieces of the festival you wanted to attend.

The Platinum Badge gets you into all SXSW Music Film and Interactive Events; the Music Badge covers all SXSW Music & Media Conference and Festival events; the Gold Badge offers access to all SXSW Film and SXSW Interactive events; the Film Badge gets you into all the SXSW Film Conference and Festival events; and the Interactive Badge is your ticket to all SXSW Interactive Festival and ScreenBurn events.

Wristbands are also available which are less expensive than badges. But keep in mind that the wristband doesn’t get you into the industry/conference part of the event and that access to shows and films is on a first-come first-serve basis because Platinum Badge holders and specific Film or Music Badge holders are admitted first.

In 2014 SXSW is scheduled to be held from March 7th to March 16th with the Interactive part being held from March 7th to the 11th the Film part from March 7th to March 16th and the Music part from March 11th to March 16th.

Be sure to order your badges or wristbands early because they sellout quickly and they go up in price over time.  Remember to only trust the official SXSW site: www.sxsw.com. Registration opens in early August 2013. Keep checking the website for the exact date and other details.

Be Prepared – and Have Fun!

Best bet? No matter what you want to see at SXSW be prepared and have a plan. Whether it’s a hot band new film or top technology speaker it’s best to arrive as early as possible. SXSW involves a lot of standing in line so be prepared for that too. For music the wristband covers the admission price but if it’s a hot show arrive early and keep your fingers crossed. Everything depends on space available after SXSW badge holders are admitted.

SXSW underscores Austin’s undisputed position as a creative nexus of entertainment and as Austinites we’re proud to call it our own each March. Whatever you decide to attend you are sure to enjoy it.  So get a sitter splurge for a badge or a wristband and enjoy the benefits of the city’s creative status.

SXSW Eco which was held in March its first year will be October 7-9 for 2013. For more information about SXSW and details about upcoming events visit www.sxsw.com.