South by Southwest starts today in Austin, Texas. A festival that started out in 1987 with plans for it to be a showcase for emerging music and creative companies has grown to become a truly behemothic event that takes over the whole city for 10 days each Spring. The past few months have seen a glut of names added from the world over to the event that once again looks to set to have the eyes of the music world on it for its duration. Yet as the names change there some fundamentals that always stay the same, and so here at Contact we thought we'd give five useful tips on things to look out for and what to do.

Jack White of The Raconteurs
1. Catch The Big Names
The first Sxsw featured names such as MICHELLE SHOCKED and self-styled "dyke rock" band TWO GIRLS. For 2012 the world's most popular rapper Jay Z will be performing on March 12th in a concert that'll be shown worldwide on Youtube. He'll be far from the only big name in Austin either with others set to play including Jack White, Bruce Springsteen, Lionel Richie and Rihanna producer The-Dream.

2. Watch out for the surprise slots
Jay Z might have been announced this year but last year he turned up out of the blue to help Kanye West during his 2011 set at Sxsw, in 2006 meanwhile The Flaming Lips played a surprise set that went on to be viewed as one of the Top Ten Musical Moments by Time. Last year the Foo Fighters blew everyone away by turning up after a documentary was shown about them. Surprises could crop up anywhere, and with rumours of Eminem appearing alongside Z crowds could be in for a very special treat indeed.

Dave Grohl Foofighters Live Earth concert
3. It's not all about the music
The music program dominates the headlines but in fact 2010 saw more people register to attend and the film and interactive sections of the festival. It's those parts of the conference that begin today, and Austin's array of keynote speakers and panels are as important as they come for any creative company keen to learn.

4. Pay attention to the Brits
Artists travelled from 57 countries last year, and a similar figure is expected in 2012; none dominate more so that the British however. James Blunt was discovered in 2004 playing an intimate show, whilst Muse blew everyone first as up and comers at the turn of the millennium and then in 2010 as bona fide stars. Will any of Django Django, Tribes, Dry the River or any of the countless others heading to the States from the UK make a similar leap?

5. Don't do too much
Last year there were over 2,000 artists performing at over 90 venues in Austin to 16,000 music delegates. The chances are you'll have a full day whatever you do so don't go rushing around too much trying to catch everything you want to! You'll tire yourself out.