South by Southwest (SXSW) can be a little intimidating: there is just so much going on. Even writing this article I am a little overwhelmed: there’s obviously a ton of music, educational talks, tech talks, and on and on. South by Southwest has evolved into a massive event lasting weeks now. It’s not your normal event you simply purchase passes for and attend. This article is going to try to clear up everything you need to know with South by Southwest tickets: how much they cost, how they work, when they go on sale, and do you even need a badge. Let’s start with the basics.
The first important thing to understand with SXSW is you can go two routes: a badge or a no badge. If you want to be in the convention center for the big talks, lectures and have some other perks on the side you will need a badge. If you want to experience what is going on around Austin, see some concerts and perhaps catch a movie then go no badge. This article is split into two sections: first I go over if you have a SXSW badge and then I go over what’s going on for those who go the no badge route. Note that most people who aren’t going on their work’s dime just go to Austin with no badge and have plenty to do.
I suggest you watch the video above to get a good introduction into South by Southwest badges, I assure you it’s more complicated than most events. I am going to try to break them down in laymen’s terms to help you understand. The important thing to understand with SXSW tickets is the priority versus secondary access. There is limited room at all SXSW events, so generally not everyone who wants to attend gets to attend each event. To determine who will get in SXSW has two lines for each event: priority and secondary. If you are in the priority line you get to attend the event, regardless of where you lineup. If you are in the secondary line you need to wait for all of the priority people to go in, and then secondary people get to go in until the room hits capacity. You may or may not get in with secondary depending on how many people are at that particular SXSW event.
These are the four SXSW ticket options, with varying levels of access to each type of event. The only badge that guarantees you priority access to all events is the Platinum SXSW badge. The other badges (Music, Film and Interactive) give a varying degree of access to the festivals events. To see what badge gets to attend which events go here. Note that all badges get access to the following events: SXSW Gaming, SXSW Create, SXSW Job Market, Flatstock Poster Show, Registrants Lounge, Spotlights, The Dewey Winburne Community Service Awards, SouthBites Trailer Park, SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake concerts.
Summary: There’s not enough room at each event for everyone so there’s priority and secondary access. Each different badge gets different levels of access to different events. You should pick the SXSW badge that gives priority access to what you are most interested in. Platinum badges are the only ones at SXSW that give you priority access to everything.
The best way to purchase South by Southwest badges is by going through their official attend website, which you can access by clicking here.
Like many big events, South by Southwest does an escalating price structure. Essentially the earlier in the year you purchase your SXSW tickets the more money you will save.
The image above shows how the pricing went for South by Southwest in 2017. Generally these give a good approximation for pricing for the following year. As you can see the Platinum SXSW badges, which give you priority access to everything at the convention, are the most expensive. These ranged in priced from $1,150 to $1,650 depending on when you bought passes. The other three badges were all the same price ranging from $825 to $1,325. If you can commit to going to South by Southwest early you will save some money, not just on the tickets but on accommodations early. Generally my advice for SXSW, if you are paying out of pocket, is to figure it out early and book it.
Like I mentioned, you really need to purchase the badge that works best for you at SXSW, unless you are going with the Platinum pass. If you are new to SXSW I would recommend you take a look at the South by Southwest schedule, and see the type of events under each badge.
Each event will have a description explaining what you can expect to get out of it, but also will list who gets priority access. For example, the event above gives priority access to the Platinum SXSW ticket holders (as do all events) and the Interactive badge holders. Go through all (or some as there’s a lot of them!) of the events at South by Southwest, note the type of events that you want to attend, and see what badges get priority access to them. If you can’t afford the SXSW Platinum pass then you should go with the one that gives you priority access to the most events at SXSW you are interested in.
No, this isn’t like a music festival with a payment plan. The full cost of your South by Southwest badge will be due when you purchase it.
You need to pick up your badge at South by Southwest. Typically this is done at the Registration area in Exhibit Hall 5. This is located on the 4th Street side of the Austin Convention Center. You an pickup your badge at Registration every day of the festival, typically beginning at 9:00 a.m. but you should verify on SXSW’s official website for times for badge pickup.
South by Southwest badges / tickets first become available for purchase on August 1. This is your opportunity to snag the batches the lowest price. Just note that badges are nonrefundable so be sure of your plans before you purchase, SXSW is pretty strict about this. If you aren’t sure about your plans you don’t need to really worry about it selling out, SXSW badges are available up to the day of the event. As I have mentioned, however, the prices will increase pretty dramatically on the day of the event versus August 1, so purchase early if you can commit.
So most people actually take part in South By with no badge at all. If you are planning to treat SXSW like a music festival, which is mainly how people experience it, then you certainly don’t need a badge. Let’s first go over if you need a badge or not, and the pros and cons of each option.
This is a complicated question. This depends on what you want out of your South by Southwest experience. To attend any of the conferences, educational talks and keynote speakers you will absolutely need to purchase a badge. This is what I think of as the ‘Work SXSW’ experience. The SXSW badge is for panels and official showcases. However, plenty of people do go to Austin for SXSW without a badge, it just depends on what you want to experience.
There is a large amount of both official and unofficial SXSW events going on that do not require a badge and are open to the public. This is the best annual list I have found for unofficial SXSW parties that you can attend without a badge – all are open to the public. In addition to these events, there are tons of free/cheap concerts going on throughout the convention. You may be surprised to see how many shows there are that do not require a badge. Theoretically you could begin seeing concerts at noon and go until 2 a.m. constantly seeing shows all without a badge. Most concerts are held in bars and smaller venues throughout the city and are free of charge or a minimal $0-20 cover charge. There are larger acts that play at larger venues that require a badge, but if you want to see some great young talent there is no shortage of free or cheap shows going on throughout SXSW. Additionally, many of the films at SXSW can be seen with a $10 or so ticket purchase. The point is, if you don’t care about the intellectual panels going on at the convention center then skip the badge and go to SXSW without one. You will need to pay cover at some bars for some shows, but this is far cheaper than the expensive badge (and more fun).
There are two main advantages to having a SXSW badge. First, the main advantage of having a badge is you will given priority. That is, if someone with a badge wants to go to a show and so does someone without one, they get in before you if there’s only one spot left. If you aren’t trying to see a big show at a small venue you are usually fine. Second, SXSW reserves a large amount of the hotels in downtown Austin for badge holders. If you purchase a badge you get access to discounted hotel rates. This sucks for everyone who doesn’t have a badge as you quickly run into a supply and demand issue. There are already not that many hotels in Austin, so losing a big chunk of them makes the remaining ones even more expensive. Book early my friends!
So as I said it depends what you want out of SXSW. If you want the talks, keynote speakers, job networking, etc. – go with the badge. If you want to see some shows, maybe a movie, and attend some public (albeit crowded) events, save the $1,000+ and go without the purchase of a SXSW badge.
A lot! Check out this link for a sample of non-badged events from SXSW 2017. In addition to these parties there are always 1,000+ bands at SXSW, many of which do not require a badge to go check out. Finally you can purchase passes to see films featured at SXSW on an individual basis for basically the cost of going to the movies. I assure you there is far more going on at SXSW for non-badge holders than you will have time for – Austin has fully adopted the “no badge, no problem” philosophy for SXSW.
If you go to their official artists webpage located here you will find the full list of artists for this year’s South by Southwest. If you click on the artist’s link it will show you when and where they are playing. Typically unless it is a big show you can just show up early to the venue and purchase passes. If it is a larger artist it will be difficult to get in without a badge, as most of these venues are small and badge holders do get preference. That said, most shows you will be able to get into. I advise going early to try to secure your spot if it’s a show you really want to see.
SXSW does an initial release of their music lineup in late October. For example, the 2016 initial lineup was released on October 20th. From that point through March they continue to announce bands, and many of the larger announcements come later in the year. For example, Ryan Adams, Solange, and Future Islands were announced in early march for SXSW 2017. So start looking for bands to be announced in October and for more throughout the time leading up to SXSW.
I will try to keep this clear and not confusing, SXSW doesn’t make it easy. So there are badges that get you into the panels and talks at the convention center. There are also music wristbands available for residents of Austin. Wristbands cover your cover charge at certain shows. It is not a priority access pass. Anyone holding a SXSW Music badge will be giving entry before someone with a wristband, the wristband simply grants you free admission to live music venues and access before people who do not have a wristband. A similar wristband package is available for films.
Is a wristband worth it? Again it depends what you want to do at SXSW. There are plenty of free and cheap shows where it is not going to be required; it basically comes down to how much music you plan to see. If you are going to be constantly seeing shows for a week then I would say pull the trigger on the SXSW wristband. If you just want to wander, find some free shows, and check out SXSW and the atmosphere then pass on the wristband.
SXSW music wristbands cost $169 and can only be purchased by residents of Austin. Film wristbands were $65 for the half week bands and $95 for the full week. Note that all wristbands sold out for SXSW so if you are intending to get one be sure to purchase it quickly. Individuals can purchase two wristbands, with one needing to be assigned to the purchaser and one needing to be assigned to someone else at the time of purchase.
Typically wristbands will go on sale about two months before SXSW. For example, in 2017 SXSW wristbands went on sale on January 17th, 2017.
Whew, that was a lot of stuff. Most of this boils down to if you want a badge or not. Generally, people with badges are people who had it purchased by their company/work. They are going to SXSW to see panels, network, attend lectures, etc. Those people still definitely party and attend shows, but at that price level of badges SXSW is targeting people going for work. On the other hand, many people go to SXSW, and have for years, without ever purchasing a badge. There are tons of free and cheap shows, unofficial and official events open to the public, and you can still go to many of the films by purchasing a ticket. My advice would be to first decide if you want a badge, and that sets the tone for a lot of your trip and what you will be doing. There’s far more going on at SXSW than you have time for, whether you have a badge or not.