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On my first day back in the office following my first trip to SXSW… well, let me just say that it’d be tough to come back to a normal life if you didn’t like your job as much as I do! The sound experiences I’ve had in the past week have been amazing, and up there on my all-time list.
Beyond the music itself, the technology that facilitates the music was something to be marveled at. Whether it was services to help bring your music with you, or help you experience it in new ways, the next wave of smartphones with more robust sound technologies like Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby Headphone on board, or the flashy digital mixing boards employed at many of the venues, much of the technology played a vital role behind-the-scenes.
That being said, I also learned a few things that I’ll bring with me to Austin if and when I return for the conference and festival, and thought that a few of them would be useful for any sound and music fan planning to make the trek to this or other similarly massive and musical gatherings.
- Earplugs. This goes without saying, and was a box that I ticked early as a frequent concert-goer and music fan. As those who love sound know, it’s important to protect your ears at any concert if you want to continue enjoying audio. This is triply true when there’s music playing all day for several days straight.
- Extra batteries for your phone. Thought you’d be able to make it through the day on a single charge? Sure, why not. You weren’t going to tweet that, check in there, or snap that picture, were you? I neglected to bring an extra battery, and bought one while there, because smartphones are great, but their batteries aren’t always. And who knows when you might stumble across your next Dolby Headphone equipped smartphone and want to snap a photo, only to find you’re out of juice?
- An audio recorder. You might have seen and heard my recording from some of the set-up, recorded on a smartphone, and it illustrates the scene nicely. But if you’re an audio nut like we are at Dolby, it pays to have a higher-quality recording. Even though I couldn’t have brought a recorder into many of the venues without becoming a bootlegger (I’m not), it would have been nice to have my larger recorder on hand for the sounds of set-up and socializing that provide the constant background hum at SXSW.
- A strong plan and a flexible attitude. While I planned well in advance for the sessions I wanted to see, I realized early on that I’d hear about other exciting events every day and have to stay flexible and be prepared to make snap decisions if I was going to see the best things at SXSW. Half the time the best sessions aren’t announced until the festival’s begun, and there’s more than a handful of industry parties and events that don’t show up on any official schedule. You’ll have the best time if you accept that you can’t see everything, and make sure to get to Austin with a few “must-see” events and a few more than you’re ready to take or leave.
- Leave the creature comforts at home. If you won’t use it on the plane, you won’t use it at SXSW. Sure, it might sound great to get some reading done in Austin, or to finish that new PS Vita game you’ve been playing. Those extra items will end up being dead weight, because you won’t want to spend even one unnecessary moment indoors at the hotel.
- Always have a backup plan! Sure, this could be said to sum up the whole list, and it does, but it’s worth saying again. More batteries for that flash unit, a USB cable and a card reader for that camera, a whole different camera if you’ve got one, five smartphones and thirteen pairs of your favorite shoes. While the last two might be overkill, you get the idea – ten days in a new city can be tough, and while Austin has plenty to offer in the way of electronic outfitters and clothing shops, you won’t have the time to break your schedule to look for an umbrella or a dry pair of shoes while the rest of the SXSWers are doing the same. Make like a Girl Scout and be prepared!
I could go on and on, but I think this list provides a solid start for the first-timer. Are there any indispensable tips from veteran SXSWers and festival-goers in the Dolby community? I must admit, now that I’ve seen my first rodeo I can’t wait to return, and we’d love to know how you make sure you have a great time at an event of this scale.
And, if you made it to SXSW this year, we’d love to hear which track you were most excited about - Music, Interactive, or Film?