City support for better SXSW pay has faded, music unions say

Local music unions say the push for better pay for SXSW artists is ongoing despite city-toted support last year.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Local musician’s unions say the effort to get higher pay for SXSW artists is ongoing and that city-lead support has dwindled after a big push last year. That push included recommendations from the city’s Parks and Recreation Department that would change the fest’s access to city-owned venues.

This week, the Austin for Palestine Coalition partnered with United Musicians and Allied Workers for a rally demanding fair wages for SXSW performers and criticizing event sponsors with ties to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Last June, members of the Austin Parks and Recreation voted unanimously to start charging the festival to use city venues if wages were not increased.

At a meeting of Austin’s Downtown Commission, Special Events Program Manager Bill Manna was asked to provide the total amount of fees waived for SXSW.

“I don’t have the numbers with me, although I was looking at him earlier. To include all the city departments, the amount of fees waived – this includes the police overtime. It’s just it’s over a million, probably a million a half,” Manna said.

Music advisers and unions say city support has faded

According to the SXSW website, artists not compensated with a festival badge can choose to be paid instead. Bands will be paid $350, solo artists will be paid $150.

The Music Commission, people appointed by Austin city council members to advise on music-related matters, considered backing those changes with their support last July.

A member of the commission we spoke to declined an on-camera interview, but said things have stalled since the big push for change last year.

Aaron Lack, president of the Austin Federation of Musicians, said his union has continued advocating for better artist pay alongside the previously mentioned organizations. He agrees that city-lead support has stalled.

“Not much has changed since last year,” Lack said.

Lack said members of his union and other have been using their time this week to connect with musicians attending or performing at the festival. He said while these powerful messages have struck a chord with the public, Lack said he’s unsure if they’re reaching city or festival management.

“We don’t have a structure right now to have meaningful conversation with them [SXSW]. And that’s, that’s what we want to create,” Lack said.

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