SXSW Music Festival: Making the Most of Badges, Bands, and Your Budget

Posted Feb 23rd 2011 11:00 AMUpdated Feb 25th 2011 01:00 PM

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SXSW Music

Ed Schipul, Flickr

In the last five years, the SXSW Music conference, once an event primarily for music industry insiders and lucky Austinites, has become a something of a free-for-all, attracting thousands of music lovers from all over the country.

But South by Southwest isn't like a Bonnaroo or a Coachella – or any traditional music festival for that matter – with set acts on set stages that you're guaranteed entrance with the price of admission. With nearly 2,000 bands playing at venues throughout the city, SXSW Music works on more of a free-market system, meaning getting in to see the bands you want to see relies on patience, cunning, and how much you're willing to spend.

Here's a breakdown of the means of entry to SXSW's plethora of live shows:

Badges
South by Southwest was, and still supposedly is, an exhibition for small to relatively large independent labels to display their musical properties to media outlets, promoters, and radio professionals. As such, the "Walkup Rate" for badges for the complete nine days runs a cool $750, which is way outside of the price range most folks are going to pay out of pocket (the organizers argue this is a deal on a per band basis, but there are theoretical realities and fiscal ones – it's a recession, people). Badges get you the most access: priority entry to all official SXSW music events, access to the "conference" portion of the show (this year's keynote speaker is Brit legend and former Boomtown Rat, Bob Geldof), as well as SXSW Music-sponsored parties and events.

Wristbands
Let's say you don't have $750 lying around, though. Then what? If you're an Austin native, or happen to know one, you can get a wrisband, which were $165 at the printing of this article, but will go up to $200 before the festival starts. If you manage to score one of these, badge-holders still get priority in line, but you're the second up, and guaranteed not to pay a cover at any of the venues.

The Free Ride
But why pay when you can go for free? The not-so-secret secret about South by Southwest is that you can see just as much music by going to the many free "unofficial" performances going on throughout the week. SXSW Music used to impose a rule that "showcasing" acts weren't allowed to play non-sponsored shows, but that edict's been relaxed, which means if you're savvy, you can see some of the bigger bands at parties sponsored by record labels and other music-friendly channels (the A.V. Club usually runs a pretty good one) and other far more ad hoc ventures throughout the city (I remember bands playing on the Lamar Pedestrian Bridge one year).

Showlist Austin
is the best place to find out about these non-showcase shows, and at most venues you need to RSVP by email beforehand, but some you can just show up and wait in line. The key to doing SXSW Music on the cheap - and even with badges and wristbands - is patience, planning, and flexibility. Get a loose idea of who you want to see, and always, always have a backup.

Let's face it, South by Southwest is the ultimate glut for music-lovers. You'll never see all the bands you want to see, and you'll see more music at one time than you ever could have imagined. It's a big five-day party, so have a game plan, keep your eyes and ears open, and go along for the ride.

Heading to Austin for the festival? Check out Six SXSW Hotels to Check Into in Austin.

Filed Under: Arts & Culture, Seasonal

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