#slownewsday: McDonald’s Sponsors SXSW, but Expects Artists to Play for Free

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SXSW is the place to be if you enjoy being an advertising target. Yes, there’s a lot of music, but there’s a lot of brands throwing things at you too (I’m actually a little relieved to be skipping it this year).

But surely those bands are paying artists, so it can’t be all bad…

Well McDonald’s apparently has enough money to sponsor the entirety of SXSW, but they don’t have a budget to pay artists who play their showcase.

The band Ex Cops has posted an open letter on Facebook. They say that McDonald’s asked them to play their showcase in exchange for exposure. The audience will be getting free food, but they have “no budget for an artist fee (unfortunately)”.

Ex Cops said:

“I will also go ahead and save time for any schill / troll rebuttals; “Are the other showcases paying you? No one is holding a gun to your head!” This is true. It is our choice (pretty much) to fly to Austin, play shows without soundcheck, and get paid nothing to a little. But hear this loud and clear, we LOVE making music, it is what we do, and despite some of its very apparent flaws, SXSW still provides a decent venue to be heard by some people who are really there to hear new music and not just do blow with dudes who wear square toe loafers.

It is a horrifying and gross reality when one sees the true nature of corporations and their pathetic attempts to achieve relevance with millennials.”

Okay, maybe McDonald’s thinks SXSW is nothing more than a cross-promotional circlejerk. Someone should tell them that brands of their size can afford to pay artists if they want to attract precious  tastemaker approval.

NOPE, McDonald’s Global Media Relations Director Becca Hary replied to multiple publications with the same statement:

“We follow the same standard protocol as other Brands and sponsors by inviting talented and emerging musicians to join us at the SXSW Festival. We look forward to serving McDonald’s food, drinks and fun in Austin. #slownewsday”


Not only is McDonald’s not paying artists, they’re responding to criticism with sass.


Nina Ulloa covers breaking news, tech, and more. Follow her on Twitter: @nine_u

Image: ‘McDonald’s’ by Mike Mozart, licensed under Creative Commons Generic Attribution 2.0 (CC by 2.0). 

12 Responses

  1. GGG

    Wow, I heard this yesterday and it already made me angry. But to have the gall to add that dickheaded hashtag? Fuck McDonalds.

  2. Sam

    The only reason to play SXSW is if you’re an amateur planning to go anyway and just want a free ticket.

  3. #Slownewsday #mcdonalds

    A ‘Global Media Relations Director’ who surely had many layers of approval for their statement? Sometimes you realize you would have been better off asking a child, or any random person, for a proper, decent and even, shudder to think, ‘strategic’ response.

  4. CC Devville

    SXSW jumped the shark many many years ago. File this under: Who Gives A Shit

  5. Anonymous

    none of these things exist on similar levels without the help of corporate sponsors, many events such as sporting will hardly ever have free stuff from the sponsor. there are festivals that exist with zero hoopla and no media, where corporate involvement doesnt occur, that perhaps would be a better tradeoff for those that want to play for free.

    sadly its the same with many many festivals, the large acts with the biggest draws take home the largest cheques and the rest fight and claw for gas money, i guess a band with only a few thousand likes doesnt warrant such a fee, and if they are already playing for free, then its safe to assume it as a kind gesture from a spending partner in an effort to showcase a band they may think is cool.

    i can understand the frustration, but olympic athletes are hardly paid and college athletes arent paid, and the corporate world makes a killing off them. if they are amazing they might be able to leverage their athletic career into good money later on, but its still a huge risk. golf tournaments have entry fees and all your other costs, and you only get money if you play well. racing, same thing, bull riding same thing, you name it its the same thing, its too bad music cant operate similarly where fair honest ethical results get you rewarded but its just too subjective and political. of course when you see things like lance in the tour de france and the constant doping in the olympics, it all gets rife with corruption in an effort to supplant legacies and greed, to provide better chances for victory in hopes of larger pay days and other good opportunities, so its tough to say.

    personally i would never really play for free, but i would certainly pay to play, but only if theres a chance to profit tangibly or else to lose, and while publicly it often appears i normally take a different approach, in the real world i would be very kind and gracious of the offer and thank them very much for it, say something along the lines of how currently the brand ethos doesnt fit my brand and image, and very politely decline while ;leaving the door open and possibly asking for other creative ways we could help each other or else any tips or suggestions on ways to best maximize things, and then possibly asking for a good introduction to their music director or art director, and try and rub some elbows with who places music in ads and commercials or just talk about something we have in common.

    that being said, for an offer that was only a maybe to be mentioned on social media, their cynical slag job got them much more exposure and notoriety, and its becoming a bit of a counter culture, so im guessing these brands are seeing that any publicity is good publicity, cause if youve ever seen a picture of their burgers and then seen what you get when you actually go to the restaurant, its amazing they still get away with it and that every last customer doesnt just turn around and walk out for false advertising and total bait and switch, but everyone does it and everyone should know, so there ya go…

    • Anonymous

      anonymous translation: Take your (non)payment and shut up…

  6. danwriter

    “we LOVE making music, it is what we do, and despite some of its very apparent flaws, SXSW still provides a decent venue to be heard by some people who are really there to hear new music and not just do blow with dudes who wear square toe loafers.”

    There goes your leverage.

  7. Mike

    Reminds me of the Oprah post, “we don’t have it in the budget to pay the bands, unfortunately”. This is nothing more than PR-speak for “I don’t have the power/career/respect in my position at this corporation to push through a budget that would account for payment to the performers. My tone-deaf superiors simply tell me what to do, and I comply. Hey, I just want to keep my job.”

    I wouldn’t be surprised if upper management at McDonalds didn’t even know what SXSW is. (Is that a Jimmy Stewart movie or something?) In their defense, it takes more than just a year or two to appreciate all the nuances of the music industry. Big mistake on McDonalds part. Fair artist pay is not exactly a new argument in our industry, and McDonalds reignited the controversy with one errant PR email. Shot themselves in the foot. Surely they don’t need to have a debate on income inequality/fair wages/environment every 5 minutes.

  8. Peter Kett

    Don’t play. You can get an amazing amount of exposure on social media. Why do you need to spend all that money on plane tickets and transporting your gear? Are you a bunch of rich kids propped up by your parents?