SXSW Proves It Isn’t About the Money!

Wealthy West at SXSW

Wealthy West at SXSW

So imagine yourself among tens of thousands of aspiring musicians, artists, industry experts, and enthusiasts as they gathered in Austin last week at the 25th anniversary of SXSW (South by Southwest).  My last count was over 3,000 music showcases, 100 presentations and panels, and more business meetings than this exhausted participant could even imagine.  Musicians were found playing in every corner of the city, traveling from across the world for the opportunity, the dream, to be heard.

But why?  It has become a foregone conclusion that today’s musician, at almost every level, should not expect riches from this crazy business.  Big paychecks from tour dates and CD sales are long gone.  The term starving musician now applies to even the elite.  Members of legendary rock star Duff McKagan’s band Loaded, a headline act at SXSW, struggle to make rent each month in their shared apartments.  Loaded bassist Jeff Rouse quipped, “This is my dream job and I love it.  Duff is a great guy and treats his bandmates like gold, but the gigs just don’t pay much, and CD sales barely cover costs.”  Duff himself comments, “The business model has changed.  Back in my G N’ R days, the tours were a loss leader for CD sales.  Now, bands need to make the best they can from tour proceeds, after paying the agents, managers, roadies, staging and all the travel expenses.  I’m doing fine because of past endeavors, but I wish we could get more for the guys.”

A local fan of Loaded stated after last Friday night’s gig, “Man I’d love to quit my job, join a band, live the life of a musician and make the kind of money these guys rack up!”  Turns out this fan was a top exec at a prominent Austin firm.  I advised that maybe he should keep his day job.

At Muzak I am surrounded by employees with a passion for music.  Producers, editors, programmers, songwriters, performers and the list goes on.  Some of them have spent a career in the industry and others are working their way up the ladder.  We are of the fortunate few in the music business who are actually making a living doing exactly what we love.  For most musicians at SXSW, it’s clearly not about the money… because in most cases there is very, very little to be made.  It’s all about the love and passion for their craft and the belief that perhaps one day their music will make a difference.  It’s a lifelong quest to articulate reality, dreams, anger, desperation, love and hope, creating a body of work that will resonate with someone else.  That’s why SXSW remains one of the most relevant music festivals today.

Contributed by Bruce McKagan

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Tagged as: Bruce McKagan, love of music, Music, music passion, Muzak, passion, SXSW

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