Musicians’ union puts on showcase demanding fair pay for musicians at SXSW

Trisha Dasgupta, Senior Life&Arts Reporter

The Union of Musicians and Allied Workers put on a showcase Tuesday night at Hole in the Wall to call for fair pay for musicians at South by Southwest. 

Featuring local Austin bands such as Pleasure Venom, the showcase aimed to bring attention to a UMAW petition demanding SXSW to increase artist compensation from the current flat rate of $250 for bands to a $750 minimum for all performers, include a wristband for all artists alongside compensation, pay international artists the same rate as domestic artists and eliminate application fees. 

“Artists have been complaining about this festival’s treatment of artists for a very long time, but they’ve been doing it in an individual way,” UMAW organizer Joey La Neve DeFrancesco said. “We’ve never done a collective action or gotten together to make these demands stick in a serious way, so we decided to target the festival, which is one of the worst offenders in the music industry.”

SXSW charges artists an application fee, the cost of which has increased from $40 to $55 since 2012, according to a statement put out by UMAW. Meanwhile, artists’ pay has stayed the same; solo acts are offered the option of $100 or an official SXSW wristband, and bands are offered $250 or an official SXSW wristband. International artists are not eligible for compensation. 

In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter in February, SXSW said they “appreciate the feedback from the UMAW and will be doing (their) policy review after next month’s event.”

UMAW will pay every artist from Tuesday’s showcase $750, the rate the petition demands performers at official SXSW showcases be paid. 

“We’re this underfunded workers’ organization and we’re paying bands fairly,” DeFrancesco said. 

While over 2,200 artists have signed the petition since its release in February, organizing the showcase still proved to be a challenge, said UMAW organizer Marshall Moran, with several venues and artists canceling bookings for the show in fear of retaliation from SXSW. 

“(The venues’) first instinct is that they have relationships with the festival, and they don’t want to upset those relationships, whether or not they think they’re being treated perfectly,” Moran said. “That shows the hold … the economic power SXSW has on the community at this point.”

Despite the setbacks, the showcase featured performances from eight artists, including Ratboys, Pleasure Venom, The Ophelias and Blvck Hippie, with District 9 Austin City Council member Zohaib Qadri making an appearance to voice his support for UMAW and SXSW musicians. 

“$250 or a wristband is not going to pay the bills, and it’s not going to pay your rent,” Qadri said. “It’s a slap on the face of so many folks that make this city the unique and wonderful city that it is. We need to make sure that we’re a city that treats its worker’s rights.”