Monday, April 23, 2012

Why I boycott SXSW and Urge You do to the Same

As both a tech guy and a musician, I have made a decision to boycott SXSW.  They use an evil and monopolistic business practice to force bands to PAY MONEY to apply to play music using a service called Sonicbids.   If you are a musician, your trade (performing music) is your primary source of income hence it is your "work".   One year we (22nd Century) decided to apply to play given we had fairly good radio audience in Texas and also had lots of MySpace and other fans in the area. The tech/developer crowd is also one of our primary audiences.    We went to the SXSW website and it read something to the effect of:

"All artists interested in performing at SXSW must complete an online application through our exclusive online musical event submission platform Sonicbids." followed by the sentence "You'll only hear from us before that time if we encounter a problem or require more information.


To apply to work your trade, indie artists are forced to hand over $40.00.  The facts can be verified at this web page on Sonicbids.  Once you apply (yes we did this once even though it is morally offensive), it is not transparent.   You apply along with thousands of other artists and hear nothing back.   That's it.  They took your money and you got nothing in return.  There is no clear statement about how many SonicBids artists actually get to play at SXSW.  It says they are exclusive, but I find it hard to believe guys like Duff McKagan, a former music panelist at SXSW and good friends with my friends Randy Rampage and Zippy Pinhead, would pay this fee.   Is it possible that SXSW hires the bands they want anyways and maybe gives X remaining slots to SonicBids hires?  No one knows the truth other than SonicBids and SXSW.

All of a sudden you see an announcement like this one from NPR music saying that Fiona Apple, Bruce Springsteen and others are playing. Let me ask you some basic questions.

Do you think they (Bruce and Fiona) paid $40.00 to apply to work at SXSW?  Would you pay your boss $40.00 every day to ask him if you could work and the response might either be "yes" or complete silence?

I personally answer "no" to both of these questions.  Read the statement above again.  It says "exclusive".   Here is an open question to anyone.  Have you ever seen a band play at SXSW through another vehicle that SonicBids?  If so, please tell us about it.

So what is going on here?  Simple.  This is illegal in most countries.  We are musicians.  Granted I do not need to personally make money on music but many of my dear friends to.  This system is shameful and it is not conducive of fair trade.  SXSW should immediately to the right thing and move to a crowd sourced model which musicians are allowed to freely enter and the system is completely transparent.  This closed doors, money grab is a slap in the face to the artists, many of who are trying to simply survive while pursuing their passion in music.  Who loses?  Everyone except SonicBids.  You the music fans at SXSW do not get to vote on who you want to see, the musicians lose money and get noting in return and SXSW makes the ultimate choices. SXSW does not get the best customer experience from those who attend, hence also loses.  I am not sure if SonicBids kicks back any money to SXSW and would love to see the financial statements.  Oh, I guess they are not for public eyes.

Wait!  This gets worse.  As noted by Jeff Price, the founder of TuneCore:

"Who's benefiting from it? All the wrong people," stresses Jeff Price, founder and CEO of TuneCore, a digital music distribution service. "The traditional music industry now has a new income stream that is based on other people's music and copyrights being exploited and sold. It is the largest global scam that exists in the music industry today, depriving artists and songwriters of hundreds of millions of dollars."

Jeff nailed it (thank you Jeff).  Not only are the artists getting their music downloaded for free, they are forced to pay to apply to ply their trade, and the streams are also stolen and no money flows back.  This is morally offensive.  I write this blog post and ask you all to think about this.  I'm sure if you're planning to go to SXSW you will still go but if there is anything you can do to raise attention to this situation, my brothers and sisters, the artists of the music industry, the lowest rung on the ladder, would appreciate it.  You see, we no longer have power in this matter.  This is a plea to you to help us.

It's very simple.  If we do not have fair trade introduced into the mix, the arts suffer.  It becomes run by the mainstream media who decide for you what you will see.  All we ask for is an equal chance to perform.  All we ask is to be able to ply our trade without being robbed, used and actually get a fair compensation for our work.  We put in ten thousand hours of practice, buy our own instruments and gear, pay our own way to go to shows and perform.  Being preyed on by monopolistic business practices hurts us.

Dear SonicBids, if you ever try to come to British Columbia, you will be met with a swift response of getting the BC labour relations board immediately aware that you are violating several provincial statues around the labour market.  That is before the BC Gaming Commission looks at you for opening up a "lottery" and allowing bands with minors to place bets based on their believe they will be hired to money.  If you do manage to get by them, any gig you try in a major city will be met with swift and violent boycotts.  I will put myself on the front line as many of my Vancouver friends will do to stop you from migrating your business to British Columbia, Canada.  We will not let any musician play a gig in Vancouver if they had to pay SonicBids to apply to play!  It is that simple.  Stay out of our province.  There several hundred of us who will show up at such a gig to shut it down.

Dear people elsewhere, use this as a template.  Understand the system and realize by going to SXSW you are part of a system that takes advantage of indie musicians and artists, who are often the amongst the poorest of the system.  Help support them by demanding SXSW and other bars engage in fair trade practices and demand your right to crowd source music.  Bring this up at panels or ask the people on the music panel what they think about this.  Raise awareness.  Help us!

To SXSW - expect me to be a thorn in your side until you fix this.  I will personally offer to help you devise and implement a better system that treats musicians fairly.  If you show the courage to acknowledge this error and move forward to correct the situation, I am positive the crowds of people attending will be happy to help vote the bands they want to see play.  The ball is in your court to acknowledge an injustice and correct it.  Until then, you will not see me and I will be vocal in fighting what I and my local laws deem illegal.

SXSW - the next move is yours to fix this. I'm here to help if you want.

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