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A SXSW Guide to Earning Your Access Instead of Paying For It


A SXSW Guide to Earning Your Access Instead of Paying For It

Hillary Lewis April 2, 2024


Do you ever feel like entertainment industry conferences, festivals, or networking events are out of reach? Why are these conference price tags so unrealistic for the average joe to pay for? Why do these events feel so unattainable especially now, in these unprecedented times of layoffs, twin strikes, and a slow trickle of content being greenlit?

Unfortunately so many professionals in the industry are still faced with unemployment. And for those struggling to stay afloat, attending events like these can mean the difference between making a valuable networking connection or not.

Even with a job, your chances of getting your ticket paid for is very slim. There's few too many employers in the industry that offer to pay their employees' way to conferences. My previous employers were never one of those, and for years I assumed those conferences were out of my reach until I discovered volunteering.

Every year in mid-March, a convergence of music, film, comedy and tech happens in the heart of Austin, TX. South by Southwest (SXSW) is a mountain of opportunities for those attending. And having a badge can get you access to nine jam-packed days of premieres, screenings, mentor sessions, panels, workshops, happy hours, meetups, screenings, activations, award shows, and so much more. It's a career playground for professionals and a hot spot for networking.

If you want to attend SXSW, you can get a badge in one of three ways:

Pay the steep fee for a Music, Interactive, or Film & TV badge next year's pricing starts at $945 and increases heavily over time. If you want full access to all three tracks, you'll need to pay even more for a Platinum badge which starts at the low, low price of $1365.

If you're employed, you could muster up the courage to ask your employer for a badge cross your fingers and hope for the best.

OR do what I did and sign up as a volunteer! This can be a huge opportunity for those with flexible schedules or anyone unemployed looking for a chance to learn and network with other like-minded industry professionals.

Like most of my colleagues in Unscripted TV, I've been unemployed since May of 2023. Since January of 2024, there was zero indication that the industry's momentum was going to change anytime soon, so I signed up as a SXSW volunteer at the end of January.

Volunteering: How Does It Work? To sign up for volunteering at SXSW, you can visit their volunteer website and fill out an application form. The application process is straightforward and allows you to choose your availability and preferences for volunteer shifts.

Volunteering at SXSW requires a minimum commitment of 40 56 hours in exchange for the same badges and access to the festival that other attendees are paying for. You'll need to volunteer 40 for either a Film & TV, Music, or Interactive badge, and 56 hours for a Platinum badge. This can feel like a big commitment of time but you can usually knock out your hours in 4 shifts or less.

Volunteer sign-ups start two or three months ahead of the festival, so be sure to get on the mailing list and sign up with enough time to select a crew and schedule that works for you.

Select Your Crew The festival itself is spread out all over the downtown area of Austin and needs all kinds of volunteers doing different jobs. You could opt for the Sessions crew and be responsible for scanning badge holders in and out of scheduled panels, sessions, or workshops. Or the Transportation crew, driving VIPs to and from the airport, theaters, events, shows, etc. Each crew offers a unique experience and opportunities to get involved with like-minded individuals. Check out all the Crew options and descriptions here.

Select Your Shifts When volunteering, SXSW requires a total of 40 volunteer hours to earn a Music, Film & TV, or Interactive badge. If you want the full access Platinum badge, you'll need to volunteer 56 hours. Depending on the crew you picked, you can choose four 10-hr days to fulfill your required hours. There are other shift lengths available as well as weekdays and weekend shifts. Make sure to schedule and show up for your full required hours or you could have your badge access revoked. Note: Don't worry about feeding yourself while volunteering. Shifts longer than 8 hours will get you a meal ticket to several food trucks just for volunteers.

Hot Tip: Sign up to work your volunteer shifts at SXSW EDU, which happens the week before the full conference begins. This allows you to get most or all of your volunteer hours completed ahead of time so you can fully enjoy your badge access during the conference!

Select Your Badge With four different badges to choose from, Music, Film & TV, Interactive, and Platinum, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one for you. Since I chose the Film & TV track, I'll be focusing on my experience with the Film & TV badge access. Check out more details on badge access here.

Use Your Badge After confirming your shifts, pick up your badge at Registration on the first day of the conference, or as soon as you're able. Even if you haven't worked your first shift yet, you now have full access to all Film & TV premieres, screenings, panels, sessions, events, activations, happy hours, opening parties, awards shows, and more!

If you're unsure or have any questions, reach out to The staff is so friendly and genuinely wants volunteers to get the most out of their volunteer experience.

My Personal Volunteering Experience

My overall review: I genuinely had a great time volunteering. I picked the Sessions crew and my shifts consisted of scanning badges, monitoring room capacity, radioing in room status for the SXSW app, greeting speake
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