The cancellation of SXSW last week matters for many reasons. It matters because the City of Austin depends on the money the conference brings with it — over $350 million by 2019’s count. It matters because SXSW is a vital part of our music culture — whether the general music-consuming public realizes it or not.
Indie artists depend on the exposure that comes with playing SXSW. I am intimately aware of this fact; I played at SXSW many times, and was signed there 25 years ago. So yes, for me, it’s personal.
I agree with the City of Austin and its decision to put a stop to the event; I’m glad that health is a priority. But beyond my own myopic view, canceling SXSW this year should matter to all music lovers because it could present a harbinger of things to come: the slowdown of touring. Many musicians depend on playing live to make a living. No tours, festivals, trade shows or conferences means no income.
Consider how bad musicians are at asking for album sales; how we often feel like we can’t come out and say, “My music costs money.” We are told we can sell the experience of going to our shows, or the opportunity to have our songs in commercials or TV, and we can “leverage our personal brands” to launch product lines — why yes, that is my eyewear line at Costco — but if we ask directly to spend your money, it’s seen as gauche.
This has become even more difficult with our society’s widespread adoption of streaming. Now some of us feel like we have to dance around the subject and say things like “check out my new album” or “hope you listen” or “I have new music.” More often than not, what’s left unsaid is: “I would really appreciate if you listen to the songs, and if you like the album, buy it.”
We need to stop pretending that we’re not trying to make a living. We need to make it OK to ask music lovers to support the music they love, directly. By buying an album in a physical or digital format, not just streaming (but stream it too!), the artist is more likely to see direct benefits through better profit margins, a higher profile with DSPs, retailers and labels, and increased chart potential.
The cancellation of SXSW is like a spear to the heart of artists — and of Austin. If you’re thinking, “What can I do?” I have some ideas!
– Donate to Austin charities that benefit the people, musicians and businesses of the city. They are already profoundly feeling the effect of the cancellation and are missing out on much-needed funds usually raised during SXSW. Here are a few upstanding organizations: Stand with Austin (Austin Community Fund has created a unified place for people to donate to support the individuals and small businesses impacted by the cancellation of this year’s SXSW); Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM, low cost or free health care for musicians); Housing Opportunities for Musicians and Entertainers (HOME, financial assistance for housing and musicians over 55); SIMS Foundation (Mental health and addiction care for musicians).
– Support the musicians you love by buying their music and merch. Consider this a call to action. Musicians are just trying to make a living, like you.
– Musicians of all genres, record video of a song or a set and post it to your socials and YouTube with the hashtag #songorset. This way, virtual South By attendees can still check out your music and meet other fans in the comments.
If we can’t bring the people to the venue, let’s bring the experience of sharing our music to the people. Let’s make something good with our digital culture.
Just remember, millions of people are about to miss out on going to their first concert. Some people might be missing out on meeting someone who could change their life. Exposure to the arts opens our minds and has the potential to make us better as a society; it is our responsibility as human beings to protect art and the people who make it. I hope that, like washing our hands, we make engaging with and supporting music a regular habit.
And let’s stop pretending we are not trying to make a living, go ahead and include links to your shop. Go ahead and say,” I love playing music for you and would appreciate your support.” The support of music lovers helps us continue making music, making art, sharing ourselves, connecting with each other, meeting new people, growing community.
Dallas native Lisa Loeb is a Grammy Award-winning singer songwriter, touring musician and philanthropist. She recently released her 15th album, “A Simple Trick to Happiness.”