Workers of the Music World Are Uniting—and Winning – best news


In 2017, America’s most exciting punk band was scraping by. Downtown Boys, a Providence, R.I.-based act, had a cult following, a Coachella performance under their belt, and glowing reviews in every major music outlet.

Despite their accolades, “a band like us…could barely get by, busting our ass, touring half the year, and live off that,” says Joey La Neve DeFrancesco, the band’s drummer.

A few short years later, Covid-19 struck, and what had been a precarious but doable situation became impossible. Passive income for all but the biggest superstar acts had already disappeared thanks to the economic upheaval that accompanied streaming. Then, as lockdown restrictions set in, touring—which, in the Spotify era, is where bands actually make most of their money—shut down, shattering the glass that kept the scrappy existence musicians know they’re signing up for separated from sheer destitution. The pain didn’t stop when live music returned; instead, artists found that the industry was even less profitable for them than before. DeFrancesco believes there’s no going back. “Even that would be impossible,” he says, “that very meager existence.”

This turmoil has created acute hardship for musicians. But it has also generated something else: the will to fight back against the hyper-consolidated, increasingly tech-run industry that appears determined to rob musicians of a sustainable career. Since 2020, a small but powerful labor movement has emerged within the industry, uniting musicians, industry workers, and organizers in an attempt to get back a slice of the pie. “People realized: ‘Oh, this is not getting better. This is only getting worse,’” says DeFrancesco.

This movement is still in its nascent stages, but it has notched a significant number of victories. The record label Secretly unionized in October. After a strike, YouTube Music became the first officially recognized union of workers at Google in April. United Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW), a group of music workers founded in 2020, collaborated with Rashida Tlaib on legislation that would force streamers to pay royalties comparable to physical record sales—and is gearing up to take on the South by Southwest conference, the industry’s biggest yearly event.

The latest win came on Friday, when around 40 designers, engineers, data analysts, support staff, and journalists at the music marketplace and publication Bandcamp voted to form a union, with over 80 percent support. The stakes of this election are higher than they seem.

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