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Why We Are Asking For It?
Rates for performing artists at SxSW haven’t changed in at least a decade, with the festival paying either an entry wristband to the festival OR a paltry $100 for solo and duo acts, and $250 for bands to perform.
The lowest cost badge to attend the music portion in 2023 costs $795, while the highest cost pass is $1,395. Music festival wrist bands, which grant lower levels of access, still cost a minimum of $149. The music festival regularly draws roughly 30,000 attendees, and the conference as a whole draws hundreds of thousands of people.
The application fee for performers has increased by 37.5% since 2012, from $40 to $55. In 2022, 1504 musical acts performed, out of 5001 bands and performers who applied. That means SXSW made $275,055 in 2022 from musician application fees alone.
Only 1099 of those 1504 musical acts were US artists and so eligible for compensation. SxSW reports that only 20% of artists choose to be paid over receiving a wristband. That means that at most, SxSW paid out $54,950 to artists, while stealing $275,055 from artists in application fees. Yes: SxSW takes more money from artists than it pays out.
SxSW boast that the 2022 economic impact of the festival on Austin was $280.7 million. The economic impact of attendance alone totaled $164.8 million, including ticket sales and goods and services that attendees bought while during the conference. The 2019 economic impact was $355.9 million.
In 2019, the festival was sold to Penske Media, a massive media corporation that also owns Rolling Stone, Billboard, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Women’s Wear Daily, and numerous other publications.
Penske Media is owned by Jay Penske, a member of the billionaire Penske family. His father, Roger Penske, is the founder of Penske Corporation. The Penskes and the Penske Corporation are major donors to former President Trump and other Republican politicians and causes. The Penske Corporation gave $676,000 in donations to Republican candidates in the 2020 election cycle, according to Opensecrets.org.
In 2018, Penske Media accepted a $200 million loan from a Saudi Arabian public fund. That same year, the Saudi government assassinated US journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Jay Penske has refused to answer questions about the loan, despite the assassination of Khashoggi and the Saudi’s ongoing war on Yemen. In fact, in 2019, Jay Penske doubled down and co-hosted a yachting event in Saudi Arabia.
*The US visa system for cultural workers is broken and requires a larger overhaul to truly treat non-US artists fairly. However, SxSW can do far more to work toward compensating non-US artists on equal terms as US artists. Most obviously, SxSW must compensate non-US artists who hold eligible visas on equal terms with US artists. Further, the festival must compensate the touring costs of non-US artists whose visas only allow for cost reimbursement, and aid all non-US artists in obtaining visas that will allow them to be compensated for their SXSW performance.