Musicians hold rally demanding fair pay for artists at SXSW

Angela Lim, Life and Arts Editor

Chanting “They say low pay, we say no way” and “Hey hey, ho ho, artist pay is way too low,” organizers and musicians gathered outside the Austin Convention Center on Thursday to amplify the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers’ Fair Pay at South by Southwest campaign.

The rally called to increase showcasing artists’ pay to at least $750, provide both a festival wristband and equal financial compensation for domestic and international artists and remove the artist application fee, according to the petition signed by over 2,200 artists.

Artist application fees have increased from $40 to $55 over the past decade. Meanwhile, artist pay has stayed the same: $100 for solo artists or an official SXSW wristband, and $250 for bands or the wristband. Out of the 5001 acts who applied to play at the festival last year, 1504 performed officially, according to SXSW event statistics. International artists — who made up 26.9% of total performers last year — do not get compensated and can only receive a music festival wristband.

“It’s so patently absurd that artists are paying more into this festival than (what they) take out, when the artists are bringing so much value to this company and everything else here,” UMAW organizer Joey La Neve DeFrancesco, who performed at SXSW in 2016 and 2017, said.

Members of the Austin Federation of Musicians also showed their support. After attending SXSW for 24 years, Aaron Lack said he still sees artists treated as secondary. SXSW’s artist wristbands do not guarantee admission nor give primary entry to showcases.

“We are the attractions and products being sold at this festival,” said Lack, president of the AFM.

In addition to only getting to choose between attending the festival or getting paid, Lack said artists must navigate logistical issues by themselves.

“Just getting to a show, you spend two to three hours parking and unloading your instrument to the (venue). You play the show and have to get out of the show,” Lack said. “(Musicians) from out of town are dealing with even more logistical issues with places to stay and just feeding themselves.”

SXSW brought $280.7 million in economic benefit to Austin last year, according to the festival’s annual report. Jason Lopez, president of the Austin Area AFL-CIO Central Labor Council, said musicians should receive more compensation especially as the cost of living in the city rises.

“I don’t think (UMAW’s) demands are unreasonable,” Lopez said. “At the very least, the leadership should sit down and talk with organizers (and) musicians here about their concerns and come to a mutual agreement.”

In an email statement sent to the Texan on Friday, a SXSW representative said they “appreciate the feedback from UMAW and will be doing (their) policy review after the event.”

DeFrancesco said UMAW’s campaign continues to receive an outpour of support from the music community, with more artists signing and promoting the petition.

“People have been angry for so long, and I think they’re finally realizing, ‘We don’t have to do this alone. We can have this collective voice,’” DeFrancesco said. “We’re gonna keep building this campaign, keep building UMAW, and we’re gonna win.”