Feb 23, 2023 - News

Musicians demand higher pay from SXSW

Musicians jam at SXSW.

Musicians performing at SXSW. Photo: Amanda Stronza/Getty Images for SXSW

Ahead of next month's SXSW blowout, musicians are demanding more pay for their performances at the festival.

Driving the news: More than 2,000 people have signed a letter, titled "Fair Pay at SXSW," penned by advocacy group Union of Musicians and Allied Workers.

What they're saying: "Since SXSW launched in 1987, musicians have been the festival’s backbone and main draw," says the letter, penned earlier this month. "Yet despite SXSW’s consistently growing profits and ever-expanding programming over the past 30+ years, the musicians performing at the festival have been exploited with low pay, high application fees, and other insults."

The other side: "SXSW is honored to host over 1,400 showcasing acts every March," an event press officer emailed Axios. "We are committed to creating professional opportunities by bringing emerging artists together with media, the global music industry, and influential audiences. We appreciate the feedback from the UMAW and will be doing our policy review after next month's event."

  • Festival organizers do not release revenue or profit figures, but a firm hired by the festival estimated the 2022 event generated an economic benefit to the city of $280.7 million.

Details: Artists playing the festival have a choice of a one-time payment of $250 for bands ($100 for solo artists) or a wristband that grants access to conference and festival programming, as well as artist-only areas at the event, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

  • Those numbers have not changed in over a decade. Meanwhile, the application fee has climbed from $40 to $55, per the letter.
  • Other rising costs over the past decade: travel to Austin and food and lodging once artists arrive.

Of note: A festival spokesperson told the paper that of the 1,501 artists who were accepted to play last year, 128 chose the compensation and the rest chose the registration package.

State of play: The music industry has changed dramatically over the 36-year run of the festival.

  • Bands were once drawn to the festival by the prospect of being discovered by a major label, but today artists rely more on live performances, especially large festivals, to make money.

Zoom in: The union is seeking payment of at least $750 as well as a festival wristband for every performer and an end to the application fee.

Between the lines: In 2021, still reeling from the cancellation of the festival in 2020, the owners of SXSW LLC, the company behind the festival and conference, sold a 50% ownership stake to Penske Media Eldridge, the publisher of Rolling Stone, Billboard and Variety magazines.

The bottom line: Artists who cram into a van to get to Austin or fly from the south of Brazil are demanding a bigger piece of the festival pie.


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