Today’s post comes from one of our intrepid Graphic Designers, Ryan Sawyer. As Ryan just relocated to Austin, TX, we thought he could offer a unique first-hand account of what South By Southwest® is like for the locals. Recently, my wife and I moved to Austin. Two days before SXSW started, to be exact. I had visited Austin many times before, but never had the opportunity to experience the film/music/interactive festivals first hand.  In many ways, it was a wonderful introduction to what Austin has to offer not only to its locals, but to the rest of the world, too. Austin is headquarters to hundreds of startups and food trucks, as well as corporate giants like Apple, Intel, and Google. Its citizens range from fair-trade farmers to software developers. There really is something for everyone here, and SXSW proclaims it loudly and proudly. Many friends back home were asking who I was planning on seeing perform and/or speak at SXSW. The sad truth was, I had no idea where to start! Do I wait in line for a few hours to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds perform at Stubbs BBQ, or do I use those hours to check out 2 or 3 smaller, relatively unknown bands? This is SXSW, after all…for all I know, one of those smaller bands could end up being the next big thing, and then I’d be able to get all that “I saw them before they got big” hipster cred that everyone seems to want/hate. And of course, you need to leave some flexibility in your schedule because you never know when a megastar is going to make a surprise appearance at a hole-in-the-wall club. As for the Interactive presentations, do I watch Edward Snowden teleconferencing in from Russia to discuss privacy, or do I attend the Neil Young panel where he debuted the prototype of his new “Pono” music player/service? I didn’t get to attend a lot of film-related events, but I did get into a screening of the new Wes Anderson film “The Grand Budapest Hotel” at one of the Drafthouse theaters. Apparently Wes Anderson and Jason Schwartzman were at the screening the day before to do a Q&A, but no such luck on the evening I went. One of the more common complaints was that SXSW has gotten too big. There are far too many events and activities scheduled to take advantage of even a fraction of them. Case in point, there were over 2000 bands performing this year. If you were magically able to stay awake for 6 days straight and you spent all 24 hours of each day seeing a band play a 30-minute set, you’d STILL only be able to see 14% of the bands that performed! Carefully curating your SXSW experience ahead of time has become very important. Of course, it’s not all about the grand, large-scale performances, either. SXSW has also become an important networking event, where representatives from small startups can be rubbing elbows with executives from large corporations, pitching their ideas and making important career connections. When you’re standing in line for 2 hours to get into a panel on Gesture-Based Mobile App Design, you really get to know the people standing next to you. You never know, the person you’re chatting with might know someone who’d be very interested in funding your Kickstarter idea for a Whoopie Cushion smartphone app (disclaimer: please don’t actually sit on your smartphone). Could they benefit from toning down the size of the festivals? Possibly, yeah. It’s becoming more and more apparent that many people are coming into downtown Austin on the evenings for the sole purpose of taking advantage of the after-hours free food and drink being offered by various studios and companies throughout the week.  Ironically, SXSW started in 1987 because club owners were looking for a way to get people into the empty bars and clubs during spring break, since all the college kids had left town for those 2 weeks. Nowadays, SXSW has BECOME a spring break destination. If you can navigate your way through the live performances, the panel presentations, the surprise guest stars, the amazing food trucks, the film sneak previews, and the fascinating new technologies, SXSW can be an immersive, educational, and entertaining event. Just make sure you plan ahead in order to get what you want our of your own SXSW experience.

About the Author: Ryan Sawyer is a Graphic Designer for Webs. When he’s not at a computer, he plays guitar, does stand-up, designs t-shirts, and has also taken up whittling.

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