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Musicians performing at SXSW seeking fair pay

The Union for Musicians & Allied Workers said the offer musicians get to play at SXSW has been stagnant for at least a decade.

AUSTIN, Texas — South by Southwest (SXSW) draws hundreds of thousands of people to Austin and brings in millions of dollars to the City, with musicians serving as the backbone of the annual festival. 

However, festival organizers have come under scrutiny for how those musical artists are being compensated.

"We, as musicians, actually love playing South by Southwest. But we look around, see all the money here and say, 'Why can't they also give us our fair share as the people are actually building this thing?'," said Joey DeFrancesco, a musician and an organizer for the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW).

DeFrancesco said the pay has been "stagnant" for more than a decade and he believes there should be an increase.

"The offer they have been offering artists for over 10 years is either you get a wristband to attend the festival you're performing at or, instead of the wristband, you get $100 if you're a solo artist or duo or $250 if you're a band," DeFrancesco said.

According to an analysis put out by the festival, the economic impact SXSW had in Austin totaled $280.7 million in 2022.

Tmbata Orchestra, based in Armenia, are among the many musicians honored to perform at the festival. According to band members, they're the second band from their country to receive an invitation.

"It took us four months, and we are really happy to be here finally," said Lili, one of Tmbata Orchestra's nine members.

Lili explained she hadn't talked to anyone about the pay disparity but mentioned how the band got a sponsorship just to get to make it to the festival.

"We came from Armenia with three different flights," Lili said. "So it was very important for us to get this sponsorship to be able to be here because our band is so big."

"I think it's worth it. Worth it, yeah, But of course, better pay could make everything easier and a bit less stressful," she added.

The alleged pay issue has also caught the attention of city council members. Councilmember Zo Qadri said he heard through social media and articles about what musicians were demanding and felt he – not only as a local politician, but an Austinite – could step up.

"I think as a city and as city council members, we can uplift those voices," Qadri said. "I'm looking forward to the fight to make sure that the City works for them."

KVUE reached out to SXSW about the pay dispute. Organizers with the festival released the following statement:

"SXSW is honored to host over 1,400 showcasing acts every March. We are committed to creating professional opportunities by bringing emerging artists together with media, the global music industry, and influential audiences. We appreciate the feedback from the UMAW and will be doing our policy review after the event."

Qadri said his next step is to set up a meeting with organizers at SXSW and to bridge a gap between them and the union to hopefully give musicians better pay by next year.

Kelsey Sanchez on social media: Facebook | Twitter

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