A coalition of music groups and allies have announced a May 31 protest outside the NYC offices of the SXSW festival, Penske Media Corporation (PMC).
The coalition includes the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers, Music Workers Alliance, New York Working Families Party, NYC-DSA, Bandcamp United, and Secretly Group Union. PMC is a 50% owner of the SXSW festival and the single largest stakeholder.
The protest marks a continuation of UMAW’s Fair Pay at SXSW campaign, which began in February 2022 with an open letter. That letter has now been signed by over 2,500 artists, demanding that PMC better compensate artists who participate in its SXSW festival. UMAW held a series of protests in Austin during SXSW in March, where hundreds of music workers and fans joined the group in demanding fair pay.
“We rallied in Austin this March so that SXSW could hear our concerns, says UMAW organizer Joel Jerome Morales. “But the festival has still refused to make any changes. That’s why we’re taking the fight directly to the festival’s ownership at Penske Media.”
“Workers across the music industry are standing together in a common fight for respect and fair pay,” adds Bandcamp United Organizer Todd Derr. “Especially as corporations like Penske Media buy up festivals, magazines, websites, and more. It’s obvious that workers across this industry need to unite.”
Penske Media Corporation bought 50% of SXSW in 2021 and also owns a vast media empire of outlets dedicated to covering the music industry. They include Rolling Stone, Billboard, Hollywood Reporter, Variety Artforum, and many other publications. SXSW continues to offer artists a one-time payment of $250 for bands and $100 for solo artists, or a wristband to the festival—while international artists are offered no payment whatsoever.
UMAW points out that SXSW has increased its application fees by 37.5% in the last decade. It demands artist compensation be raised to $750 plus a wristband, not one or the other. It also demands that international artists be given the same compensation as U.S. artists.
“We know that Penske has the money to pay artists fairly,” adds MWA Organizer Phillip Golub. “It’s absurd that this billionaire family continues to pay poverty rates to the hard-working musicians who make this festival successful.”