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Musicians Boycott SXSW Over Paltry Pay & Unfair Treatment

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Grass is green, rain is wet, and musicians are continually underpaid and under-appreciated by the industry at large. The first two are constants, but the last thing has the potential to change—which is why it’s so endlessly frustrating that, time and time again, talented and hardworking musicians are shafted by those who would exploit their talents for minimal pay. Recently, musicians have been taking a stand against Austin, Texas’ annual SXSW festival in particular, whose treatment of their musicians has been absolutely appalling for the last decade, despite the festival’s prestige:

Let’s reiterate: So many talented acts are recruited to play at such a prestigious festival, and yet they are forced to choose between either getting paid NOTHING in the grand scheme of touring costs, OR literally attending the festival for free, which should be their right. Considering the amount of attention SXSW gets, you’d think they’d be less stingy with how they pay their musicians, but I suppose they fall into the particular brand of Dipshit Capitalism that thinks “exposure is the best form of compensation.”

One day, exposure might be enough, but we currently live in a world where artists are already walking on a thin financial wire, so they need all the help they can get! AND these artists can easily get the same amount of exposure on social media nowadays, so that bullshit isn’t gonna cut it. The festival itself is valued at $142.3m, so, you know. Make it make sense.

I highly recommend watching Melon’s video on the subject, down below:

The artists in this union are demanding that the wages are increased to a minimum of $750, not just because, of course, pay them more, but because the application fees themselves have increased over the years. It’s so ludicrous. At the rate that SXSW charges for musicians just to get a foot in the door, they’re already shirking either a third or a half of what they’d make anyways by performing there. Again, touring costs an arm and a leg as it is, and on top of that, they might not even get placed in a popular venue if they don’t already have “cred” with the festival.

Aside from their demands, the musicians behind this boycott go on to discuss the other facts behind the boycott and the festival’s nonsense:

The lowest cost badge to attend the music portion in 2023 costs $795, while the highest cost pass is $1,395. Music festival wristbands, which grant lower levels of access, still cost a minimum of $149. The music festival regularly draws roughly 30,000 attendees, and the conference as a whole draws hundreds of thousands of people.

The application fee for performers has increased by 37.5% since 2012, from $40 to $55. In 2022, 1504 musical acts performed, out of 5001 bands and performers who applied. That means SXSW made $275,055 in 2022 from musician application fees alone.

Only 1099 of those 1504 musical acts were US artists and so eligible for compensation. SXSW reports that only 20% of artists choose to be paid over receiving a wristband. That means that at most, SXSW paid out $54,950 to artists, while stealing $275,055 from artists in application fees.  Yes: SXSW takes more money from artists than it pays out.

SXSW boast that the 2022 economic impact of the festival on Austin was $280.7 million The economic impact of attendance alone totaled $164.8 million, including ticket sales and goods and services that attendees bought while during the conference. The 2019 economic impact was $355.9 million.


The petition goes on to state that since 2019, SXSW has been owned by Penske Media, which is its own barrel of laughs worth looking into.

Ultimately, festivals are a great way for musicians to both gain exposure and get paid to have a good time. That shouldn’t have to change just because some jackass in a suit wants to hoard wealth. I mean, my god, those badge prices alone? I think I paid less than $100 to go to Pitchfork in Chicago, and all I heard was how much fun the musicians there had.

I wish these musicians the best of luck with their efforts, and I hope things change soon. I don’t know about y’all, but I certainly want to live in a world where musicians are able to afford touring without breaking their banks, and where I can keep seeing them live at cool events.

(featured image: UMAW)

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Madeline (she/her) is a writer, dog mom, and casual insomniac. Her prior experiences with media have taken her down many different roads, from local history podcasts to music coverage & production. Niche interests include folk music, elves/wizards, and why horses are cool actually.