Artists' Rights at SXSW

Newspaper Clipping, Do Away With 'Pay to Play' Say SXSW Attendees

Newspaper clipping critiquing artists' pay at South by Southwest

South by Southwest has to balance functioning as a business and as an advocate for artists. It is a fine line between balancing their own profits and highlighting artist profiles. Since SXSW was founded with the intention of functioning as a starting ground for artists, many advocate that artists should be paid for their work. Others advocate that artists should pay to have access to the crowds that are attracted to South by Southwest. This remains to be a point of controversy today. 

With the expanding reputation and influence of SXSW, a lot of credibility has accrued over the years. This leads artists to come to Austin during the festival, even if they are not officially affiliated with the festival. At the 2004 festival, there were over a thousand musical acts playing at the festival while dozens of bands played for free exposure at none-SXSW sponsored events. Since SXSW takes place all over Austin, many local establishments will host bands to draw in anyone walking by. While not officially a part of SXSW, businesses still benefit from the festival. 

Today, there is a screening process for musicians to be selected as official participants of SXSW. If a domestic group is selected to perform for the festival, each member of the act receives an artist wristband as compensation. They do have the option to receive money instead of the wristband, although it is not the default. If the money is chosen instead, the group as a whole is paid, not each member. They are also only compensated for one showcase, despite how many performances they may complete for the festival. If an international group is selected to perform, they can only be compensated with the wristband as there is no monetary option. SXSW also does not cover any of the costs for groups to travel to or stay in Austin for the festival. Some acts are able to find sponsors while others pay completely out of pocket. Although not ideal, hundreds of performers still agree to these terms because of the exposure they receive through the festival. SXSW is about discovering artists, whether it is by potential fans or record labels.