Wondering if a badge or wristband is worth it? We'll go over what each one gets you.
We get A LOT of questions about the 3 types of SXSW credentials: badges, wristbands, and guest passes. First let's get one thing straight: SXSW credentials are different levels of access for official events only. They really don't come into play for unofficial events (except for one exception which I'll note at the end).
Guest passes are FREE, and get you access to a very small, select number of SXSW official events. It's like SXSW giving you a free trial. Past guest pass events have included SXSW Create, SXSW Marketplace, and The Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake (usually an awesome lineup, saw The Strokes here in 2011!). SXSW usually releases guest passes about 3-4 weeks before the festival starts, so stay tuned for that announcement. You can learn more about SXSW guest passes at guestpass.sxsw.com.
I always see the most confusion around this credential. These get you access to all official SXSW Music night shows. Wristbands do NOT give you access to any interactive or film events. They also do NOT give you access to official SXSW Music day events. The distinction between day and night events is where the most confusion is so listen up! You can look at SXSW Music as 2 parts:
~8am - 6pm
panels, workshops, lounges, and keynote speakers
~8pm - 2am
music shows at venues all around Austin
badges and wristbands
It's key to note that only Austin residents can purchase music wristbands. However, each Austin resident can request 1 extra music wristband for a non-Austin resident friend. This year music wristbands go on sale January 22 and are $169. You can learn more about them at wristbands.sxsw.com/music.
Finally we have the almighty SXSW badge. Badges are the highest form of credential. They get you access to official SXSW day and night events. There are 5 different types of SXSW badges, which are described pretty well at sxsw.com/attend. Some badges only get you access to a specific SXSW subfestival (i.e. music or interactive), and some give you access to multiple sub festivals (i.e. the Gold Badge gets you access to both interactive and film). Each event on the SXSW website will indicate which badge you need to attend that event.
As far as the “are badges or wristbands worth it” debate goes, here’s my opinion. If your only SXSW goal is to hear some dope music AND you'll be in Austin March 13 - 16, wristbands are 100% worth it. Sure you can get by going to unofficial shows only, but your options are severely limited at night.
If you’re an industry professional looking to network and learn more about your field you may want to look into a badge. They really are expensive but damn, if you can afford it your options are unlimited at SXSW. If you can't afford a badge this year don't sweat it! You'll have more than enough non-badge events to attend.
One last thing to note: SXSW credentials DO NOT guarantee entry to unofficial events. However, some unofficial events will have separate, shorter lines for badge and wristband holders - so keep an eye out!