*Intro Music*

Henry: Welcome back to Magnolia on Mic. I’m your host Henry Frazier, and after over two years, music is back. Festivals at Coachella and Glastonbury are back. Musicians such as Taylor Swift and The Weekend, back on tour. And in Austin, Texas, festival South by Southwest is back after an over two year hiatus. 

Henry: Now what is South by Southwest? South by Southwest is a film festival, an interactive media festival. It has many conferences, but the backbone of it is its music festival. Now, before we get into it, a lot of people know South By for many different things. Their film festival is incredibly popular with movies such as Fast and Furious Seven, Chef, Twenty One Jump Street and more being premiered there. Its Interactive Media Festival has been extremely important, and has also shown things like different tech accelerators and startups and is also a trade show. However, most importantly is their music festival. Their music festival is vital. It is incredibly important and it is one of the few festivals of its kind that has something like it. It has over 2000 acts, all of which paid. However, that’s where things kind of come into question. In early February, the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers came out and talked about how South by Southwest has not been paying their musicians equitably. To get into the specificality of it, the festival has not raised artist rates in over a decade.

Henry: Now, before we talk about changes, let’s talk about what’s happening now. The festival will pay a solo artist a hundred dollars or a duo or group act $250. In addition, it will not provide wristbands. You can either pick between getting payment or a wristband. This means that musicians would not be able to see people like their friends, or even see other musicians perform, but rather just perform and leave. Now, in addition to that, musicians also need to pay for an audition slot, meaning that they had to pay and if they get chosen, then they’ll be able to perform and get compensated. When this news came out, the media was all over it. Music bloggers such as Anthony Fantano and music websites such as Billboard started talking about it instantly and showed and pointed out how big these flaws are. In addition, people in the American Congress also called this out and called out for change as soon as this was announced.

Henry: Now, something that I mentioned before was an application fee. For each performer that wanted to perform at South by Southwest, they would’ve to pay an application fee in order for them to even be considered. Now, this fee price has actually increased since 2012. In 2012, it was $40 and in 2022, it was $55. Over 5,000 bands and performers applied; however, only 1004 were actually picked. On the fee alone. South by Southwest made over $275,000 in a blurb direct- taken directly from their website only 1,099 of those 1,504 musical acts were US artists, and so eligible for compensation. South by Southwest reports only 20% of artists chose to be paid over receiving a wristband. That means at most South by Southwest artists paid out $54,950 while stealing $275,000 from application fees. 

Henry: Now, before we continue talking about South by Southwest, let’s talk a bit about its funding. Penske Media Corporation owns a 50% stake of South by Southwest. Now, while you may not know the name, you definitely know some of the publications they own. They own publications such as Deadline Hollywood, IndieWire, Variety, and their biggest publication, Rolling Stone. The Penske Media Company and Penske Family is controversial in their own right. In 2018, Penske Media accepted an over 200 million loan from the Saudi Arabian Public Fund the same year that they assassinated journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Penske family has not talked about this and even yachted in Saudi Arabia despite the ongoing war in Yemen. 

Henry: Now, let’s talk about some of the finances of the festival. South by Southwest is one of the biggest festivals in the world. In 2022, they reported that the festival is going to generate over 280 million dollars. The economic impact of the attendance alone was over 165 million dollars and it included sales goods and services. In addition to this, some of the talks at the festival have been considered controversial. Between talks given by government agencies such as the CIA and CIA deputy officers. Talks from people such as venture capital founders, different talks on AI and autonomous driving, investment, and even talks with executives from companies such as Meta and Amazon. 

Henry: Now that we’ve covered a lot about South by Southwest, let’s talk about the Union of Musician and Allied Workers. They’re a union focusing on the benefit of people in the music industry and people who work with them. Some of the other things that they’re very much so known for is Spotify and encouraging Spotify to pay musicians and people on their podcast fairly. In addition, they’re also known for being the people who start the end merch cuts campaign ending merch cuts that are brought upon by different concert venues. The concert venues sometimes take upwards of 25% of merch sold by musicians at a specific venue. They have also granted the support of Congressman Greg Casar and Representative Rashida Tlaib, both of whom have supported the Union of Musician and Allied Workers. 

Henry: Now lastly, let’s talk about the demands that the Union of Musicians is bringing up. They’re asking for South by Southwest to increase the compensation of showcases from $250 to at least $750 for each performance, which is still less than the cost of a single badge to attend the music- to attend the festival. They’re also asking to include a festival wristband in addition to financial compensation and stopping artists from picking both, they’re requesting to provide the same compensation and wristband deal to international artists and domestic US artists and finally they’re asking to end the application fee. 

Henry: In over a decade this music festival has paid their artists the exact same amount with most of these artists being small musicians where this could be their big break or this could be one of the future shows that they’re able to do, and yet these musicians still are not getting paid fairly or treated well from South by Southwest The letter and petition that South by Southwest put out has over a thousand signatures and is over 70 pages long. This includes artists that paid from the festival board- artists have paid from the festival before, artists that support this cause and more.

Henry: Now in the end, to summarize everything up, rates for performing artists at South by Southwest have not changed in at least a decade. Lowest cost to attend the music festival portion costs $795 and even the lowest level is $150, which is more than what a solo musician paid. The application fee has increased by over 37% from $40 to $55, and South by Southwest alone has made over $275,000 from this. To look back and think about this, I think this is incredibly important. I think that the music economy is always against the small guy and this shows it. South by Southwest is incredibly greedy, bragging about how much money they make from this festival yet are still doing this. The festival is on route to earn over 200 million dollars despite the economic situation that we are in. It is still one of the biggest festivals in the world. It is attended by millions of people who go for many different things and have the prowess and the status to really make people household names, however they underpay their artists and it has taken over 10 years for this to come to light. 

Henry: The Penske family, which owns Billboard, the Hollywood Reporter and more are the people who run- own this festival and despite their net worth being in the billions and despite all the other publications they own, most of which being music related, they’re still underpaying artists.

Henry: In addition, South by Southwest also brings hundreds of millions of dollars to the Austin economy. To look back on financials, attendants garner 165 million dollars, operations brought in 79 million, in partnership stand at 37 and a half million dollars. This includes sponsors as well as events hosted by third parties. South by Southwest, also directly booked over 10,000 individual hotel rooms and over 45,500 room nights for South by Southwest registrants. This generated over $1.8 million.

Henry: Despite all these big expensive ventures and big expensive things, the backbone is still not well supported. 

Henry: While not often talked about. The economics of being a small musician are usually really hard. This might be some musicians only show or some musicians who are really struggling and really need this money. The fact that South by Southwest is doing this is incredibly disrespectful to an economy that is already being tipped against others. When this news came out, I was surprised, but also it made sense. When reading articles and watching videos from creators such as Anthony Fantano, it really shocks me just to see how greedy a festival like this is. One that has always kind of been proud about having a very diverse culture, including panelists from the LGBTQIA and other marginalized, not often talked about groups, but they will talk about things that interest them and it will talk about the biggest issues that can pertain to that. Even a panel about touring musicians at South by Southwest and how to make money while touring with one of the panels saying that they will be talking about how they’re not paying their musicians.

Henry: It’s a very contradictory festival with them kind of saying one thing and saying how you know musicians should be fairly paid and how we should support musicians, but at the same time not doing anything to really support it. While my personal opinion is not as important, I really hope that South by Southwest does the right thing and pays their artists the fair amount. It’s really hard to be a musician in this economy and this is how musicians get paid. People love showing their art, just like South by Southwest loves people coming to their event and they love booking these talks and showing off all these arts and all these different films and all these different tech concepts. Yet they’re still not giving the same amount of respect to people that put time and energy and sometimes even their entire life into a craft that is really respected but never really given the attention that it deserves. 

Henry: In addition to this, it is reported by the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers that South by Southwest has a lot of power, with musicians being scared to come out against them.which is the reason that they are. Members of the union, musician allied workers have been contacted for comment, however, none of which responded. I look forward to hearing from South by Southwest and the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers and appearing to agree and I look forward to hearing about what comes next.

Henry: For Magnolia on Mic, I’m Henry Frazier. Thank you for listening and I’ll see you next time.

*Outro Music*