A group of musicians who have gathered together under the banner of the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) has published a petition calling for better pay for artists selected to perform at the annual SXSW conference and festival each March. The petition — which at press time bore the names of more than 400 artists, and which is being continually updated with more names — has been signed by artists such as Eve 6, Mountain Goats, Jeremy Messersmith, Speedy Ortiz, Zola Jesus, Pedro the Lion, YACHT and Emperor X, as well as the Songwriters of North America (SoNA). Of the signees listed on the site, a half-dozen are scheduled to play SXSW this year.
In the petition, the UMAW is taking aim at the compensation that artists receive for being officially invited to perform at the festival, which launched in Austin in 1987. The petition claims that artists who are selected to perform must first pay an application fee, which has risen from $40 in 2012 to $55 this year, while they are offered a choice of either a festival wristband or $250 ($100 for a solo artist) as compensation. International artists, the petition says, are only offered a wristband, with no possibility of financial compensation.
In light of those claims, the UMAW is requesting that compensation for artists be raised from $250 to $750 per act; that a festival wristband be included as part of that compensation, not as an either/or choice; that international artists be offered the same compensation as domestic U.S. artists; and that the application fee be eliminated. The petition is addressed to SXSW and Penske Media, which owns Billboard as well as publications like Rolling Stone, Variety, and The Hollywood Reporter. (In April 2021, Penske Media Corporation became an investor in SXSW by taking a 50% stake in the conference and festival. A rep for PMC did not respond to a request for comment.)
“SXSW is honored to host over 1,400 showcasing acts every March,” a SXSW spokesperson said in a statement to Billboard. “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.”
The UMAW, which has 18 members on its steering committee, including Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz and Zachary Cole Smith of DIIV, has been active with petitions in the past. The most impactful has been the Justice At Spotify campaign, launched in 2020 to protest the low streaming royalty payouts from the music streamer, which was signed by more than 6,000 individuals and demanded both higher royalty rates and a switch to user-centric royalties. That initiative was followed up with a series of protests by musicians outside Spotify offices around the globe in March 2021; days later, Spotify launched a website called Loud & Clear intended to increase transparency around how it pays rights holders.
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