South by Southwest is a unique cultural experience. So much music, so many artists and bands, so many ideas being expressed in one place. Because of the festival’s unique place in the world, getting a handle on it can and will take more than one go.
When bands get selected to play showcases in Austin they have a lot to think about. Their show, the audience, who they’d like to meet with, not to mention all the logistics of bringing a band down to Austin (note: I’m assuming you’re from out of town). There’s a lot to think about, and that’s not even taking into account the craziness of the festival itself, which at the best of times can be a little overwhelming.
Therefore I’d suggest that even if your band isn’t playing SXSW, it would be a good idea to come down and scope out the scene. Of course make sure you can afford it and all of that stuff, but if you can make it happen then I would recommend it. The whole band doesn’t need to come down, just one or two of the key members/partiers/connectors.
Coming down and checking out the scene will familiarize yourself with the workings of this global music meetup. You can get a feel for the festival, what times of day are the best to play, what bars are hot, what places to avoid, where to stay, where to eat, who to connect with to make your life easier, etc, etc.
Only good things can come from doing ground work and researching the way SXSW works before your band comes to town. The more knowledge you have, the easier it will be for you when your band is selected to showcase. When that time comes, if you’ve been to SXSW before, you can make sure that your money will be well spent. Because coming down as a band will be wayyyy more expensive than having just one person come down and do some research.