Rapper ScHoolboy Q had a great time at his first South By Southwest a few years ago,
but found himself getting angry this year as he played a series of shows at the annual
music conference and festival.\Everywhere he turned, his fans were standing outside
venues festooned with corporate branding, unable to enter because they didn't have a
"It's stupid. They changed it all up. It's corporate," he said as he prepared for a show
Saturday. "I don't ever want to come back unless they change it to where the fans are in.
I'm tired of performing and seeing my fans outside the gate. ... That's not fair. It's not about
the fans no more, it's all about money, who can give you the best look."
As South By Southwest shuttered its 28th year Sunday, participants debated the growing
corporate influence on the conference. Critics say SXSW has evolved past its core mission:
to help new bands get discovered. Instead, they say, the media focus has shifted to already
established stars such as Jay Z, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Coldplay, CeeLo Green, Rick Ross,
Keith Urban and many more whose heavily promoted appearances are underwritten by
It's poor vs. the 1 percent in miniature, and this change in vibe is relatively new. Even those
who've found the spotlight before say it's getting harder to break through. We Were Promised
Jetpacks' experience was far different from the major pop stars, who starred at some of Austin's
nicest venues with state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems. James Minor, general manager
of the music portion of the festival, says he still thinks the focus is aimed at discovery, and that
organizers are sensitive to groups most music fans have yet to hear about.
"I feel incredibly responsible for all these acts that we invite because it costs a lot of money to
get here," Minor said. "If somebody's going to travel to Austin, you want to make sure that they're
playing in front of people, that they're going to get something out of South By Southwest. We invite
acts we feel have already gained some kind of momentum that could kind of use the festival as
a platform to help them up to the next level."
The initial hurdle is the festival's sheer popularity. It has grown exponentially since it first started
in 1987 with 177 acts appearing on 15 stages. This year more than 2,300 acts performed on 111
stages. Lady Gaga, who played a Doritos-sponsored event that required entrants to perform certain
acts and post them to social media, bristled at the idea that corporate sponsorship is a bad thing,
dismissing the complaints with an expletive. She said critics were ignorant of the current state of
the music business.
"The truth is without sponsorship, without these companies coming together to help us, we won't
have any more artists in Austin, we won't have any festivals because record labels don't have any
(expletive) money," she said. The new, corporate-fueled reality at SXSW has many rethinking the
approach. Jim Merlis, a publicist who represents several bands in attendance, counsels managers
to skip the conference unless they have something worth paying attention to. "My advice is what you
can't do is start a spark at South By Southwest," he said. "You better have the spark already there,
and if you pour a little gasoline on it the spark will make a fire. If you have nothing going on, if you're
between albums, if you're about to release an album and you're a brand new band and you've never
really been written up anywhere, then don't go."