McDonald's about-face: It will pay bands to play SXSW showcase

McDonald's about-face: It will pay bands to play SXSW showcase
McDonald's has reversed itself, saying it will pay bands that play its showcase stage at the South By Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, rather than just providing musicians with free food. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

After taking a major hit on social media for offering musicians free food instead of a paycheck, McDonald’s has turned about-face on its policy toward the bands that play its showcase stage at this year’s South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas.

The issue arose last week when Brooklyn band Ex Cops took to its Facebook page to complain that the fast-food giant had informed the group there would be no money for a performance on McDonald's first sponsored showcase stage at the massive music-industry event.


"SXSW started as a conference and festival for the music industry, related press and up-and-coming musicians bringing the community together to showcase their talents," a McDonald's spokesperson told Billboard in the wake of the Ex Cops' message going viral. "We are excited to expand our support of music at our SXSW activation where the lineup features a great assortment of more than 20 bands, honoring the spirit of the festival. To further support these artists, all bands performing at our showcase will be compensated."

Billboard also quotes an unnamed source saying that Ex Cops will not be playing the showcase performance referenced by the spokesperson, and that the group's appearance had never been confirmed.

But the band quickly went back on its Facebook page claiming victory.

"We our thrilled that our letter made a difference," the group wrote. "Thank YOU for helping us. Artists should be paid for their work."

The band's original letter quickly gained national attention and got the little-known group exposure on CNN, the New York Times, Rolling Stone and other media outlets.

That letter stated that the group had been invited by McDonald's to perform at SXSW with the promise of "a great opportunity for digital exposure," with the caveat that "There isn't a budget for an artist fee (unfortunately)."

Ex Cops said McDonald's invitation went on to say that, in lieu of pay, the group would "be featured on screens throughout the event, as well as possibly mentioned on McDonald's social media accounts like Facebook (57MM likes)!" The musicians were also told that "McDonald's will have their global digital team on site to meet with the bands, help with cross promotion, etc." and that "McDonald's will offer free food to all audience members."

McDonald's first foray to SXSW, according to AdWeek, is the latest effort by the corporation to promote itself to millennials, a target demographic it has had trouble reaching with previous campaigns.

Of the change in policy, SXSW's sponsors executive Scott McNearny told Billboard he was pleased that the company had chosen to pay artists as well as "offering an added-value of exposure for the artists."

SXSW runs March 17-22 in Austin.

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