Every March thousands of bands, both independent and nationally known, flock to Austin, Texas, for the music portion of South By Southwest (SXSW). For those unfamiliar with SXSW, it’s an annual conference and showcase for some of the top work in film, interactive media and music. But it’s the music portion of SXSW that really gains the most notoriety and fills the streets of Austin with fans and musicians alike.
For most bands that perform at SXSW, it’s about getting booked on one of SXSW’s official showcases in the hopes of being “discovered” by national label reps, which might eventually lead to getting signed to a major label. As SXSW’s popularity increased, a number of independent bands not on official showcases still make their way to Austin to perform at unofficial parties simply for the experience. But independent bands from all over the country still hope to be a part of an official showcase as that’s where they’ll gain most exposure to music industry insiders from major labels. But for the indie band Ex Cops, their showcase experience was sullied before the music portion of SXSW 2015 was even officially underway.
On Wednesday March 4, Ex Cops posted a note to their Facebook page that detailed how they were asked to play a SXSW showcase sponsored by McDonald’s, a corporation currently, “valued at 90.3 billion dollars.” But when McDonalds asked the band to play at their SXSW showcase, they made it clear it was for exposure only and the corporation did not have the budget to pay performers. Ex Cops’ note went on to address the issue fully outlining how even at a DIY (do-it-yourself) venue in Brooklyn, NY, they were paid well for a show. The full note is quite a scathing critique on corporate attempts at being cool, and it absolutely should be. In an era where indie musicians can barely break even, it’s appalling that a large corporation such as McDonald’s would not compensate bands for playing at their official SXSW event.
To make matter worse, RollingStone.com printed the response from McDonald’s Global Media Relations Director Becca Hary:
We follow the same standard protocol as other brands and sponsors by inviting talented and emerging musicians to join us at the SXSW Festival,” McDonald’s Global Media Relations Director Becca Hary tells Rolling Stone. “We look forward to serving McDonald’s food, drinks and fun in Austin. #slownewsday”
Ex Cops singer Amalie Bruun immediately fired back with, “That’s not true. They’re not following any guidelines because everyone else is offering money. They’ll have to take that up with South by Southwest if they think they’re following the guidelines…Other, much smaller corporations are offering us money.”
This lead to much outcry from independent musicians worldwide, and McDonald’s getting criticized on social media:
— What Would Emer Do? (@emerpatten) March 6, 2015
— Katrina Woznicki (@katrinawoz) March 6, 2015
— Eric Houstoun (@ehoustoun) March 6, 2015
— April Kulcsar (@CbusApril) March 6, 2015
Then on March 10, McDonalds suddenly changed its tune. According to a Billboad.com article, McDonald’s agreed to compensate its SXSW showcase performers. Though Ex Cops will not be performing at McDonald’s SXSW event, their open letter started an important dialogue regarding an independent musicians’ fight for fair compensation.
*Top photo by Richard Giraldi