Featurrre: Several Musical Acts Announce Their Withdrawal From SXSW Festival


Turns out they barely get compensated in the first place

By Angelo Comeaux

March 5, 2024

Mt. Bigbreak

Last night we watched in real time as several artists slated to perform at SXSW announced their exit from the showcase. For those unaware, South By Southwest (SXSW) is a massive tech/film/music festival held in Austin, TX. Every year thousands of corporate professionals and artists come together for the 10 day extravaganza. It is considered one of the largest music, art, and tech showcases in the US and is especially unique because of its strong industry presence & professional networking component. According to theaustinthings.com artists such as John Mayer, The White Stripes, and Foster The People got their big break at SXSW.

So why are artists removing themselves from the showcase? Witch rockers Squirrel Flower summarize their position with the quote “in protest of SXSW’s ties to the defense industry and in support of the Palestinian people,”. Several other artists have also withdrawn for similar reasons, Stereogum published a good piece about that here.

We’re going to look at this situation from a different angle though because when we heard that artists were dropping from the event we thought “Damn they must be sacrificing a pretty healthy paycheck.” Three minutes of investigation later we discovered that is NOT true and we’d like to share what we found upon further digging.

We quickly learned that bands are given the option of free musician passess (priced at $995) OR a $350 cash payment.

........What the fuck? $350 for the whole band? SXSW clearly states in their showcase application that artists have to pay their own travel and lodging, so if you’re coming from anywhere then the event is most certainly a net negative financially.

But why? Because the “exposure potential” is so high? Maybe, sounds like the economics of the lottery, but consider this: SXSW’s self published impact report from 2022 contains a graphic slide (see image below) showing that the festival generated $164.8 million in revenue strictly from credentialed participants and ticket holders. Their showcase lineup press release from this year states that 240 artists are on the lineup. Let’s do some rat math to estimate SXSW’s expenses for musical acts. Assuming that all artists take the $350 cash option we get (240 * $350) = $84,000. You’re generating $165,000,000 in revenue but can only afford to pay $84,000 to the artists?

2022 SXSW Impact Report, Slide #4

Let’s get rabid and crazy and imagine that artists had a $1,000 cash option, about equal to the price of a single musician pass. Is this economically sustainable for a band of three to split? Not really, but it’s three times more than the current pay structure. If all artists took that option the expense would be (240 * $1,000) = $240,000, which is still only 0.15% of the total ticket revenue. Yes, less than one percent, just more than a tenth of one percent.

Artists have had enough. The music industry takes advantage of them time and time again and this time we’re looking at you, SXSW.