After a nasty back-and-forth that threatened to overshadow the mutually beneficial, comprehensive brand integration that SXSW is all about, McDonald’s has relented and agreed to pay the artists at its sponsored showcase—if money is really all that matters to you. SXSW used to be about the music, man, and the co-opting of that music by corporations who are desperately looking to reverse a decline in millennial consumers.
But after Brooklyn band Ex Cops publicly chastised the company for offering payment in the form of “exposure” and proximity to French fries—and after McDonald’s tried brushing the story off as a “#slownewsday,” like any hip, savvy fast-food chain would who’s passably familiar with Twitter—McDonald’s has come to the same sobering realization as every other SXSW attendee. The days of cool indie bands and cool indie companies like McDonald’s coming together for a week of rockin’, uncompensated cross-promotion are over. It’s changed, you know?
“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 spokesman tells Billboard, wistfully lamenting the days when you could wander into any Austin club and catch some exciting new underground band lending their art to a company’s image for free, then stay up late into the night, crowdsourcing ideas for digitally hucking hamburgers. “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,” they added. The McDonald’s showcase will not only continue that SXSW tradition, but the McDonald’s tradition of supporting tomorrow’s biggest music stars, like Mac Tonight.
But as McDonald’s acknowledges, those times and that spirit have changed. “To further support these artists, all bands performing at our showcase will be compensated,” McDonald’s says grudgingly, having realized that some people treat the act of performing their services in the name of advertising as a job. (And unfortunately for McDonald’s, not everyone accepts love as payment.) Indeed, if it wants to be part of SXSW in 2015, it seems McDonald’s will have to compromise its art and approach this whole thing like a business.
Those showcasing bands it’s now forced to support won’t include Ex Cops, though the group did post another statement saying it was “thrilled that our letter made a difference…. Artists should be paid for their work.” And yes, their letter will go down as a defining moment for SXSW, marking the year when the festival suddenly changed from a haven for independent music champions like McDonald’s, and started becoming all about money.
Meanwhile, to make ends meet while these rock bands suck them dry, McDonald’s has also been forced to sue the city of Seattle, attempting to block a minimum wage hike for its employees by invoking a constitutional amendment that was designed to protect newly freed slaves. After all, McDonald’s has to do something to guard itself against all these greedy indie musicians and fast-food workers trying to oppress it.