On Wednesday, indie-pop group Ex Cops announced on their Facebook page that they had received a request from McDonald's. The $97 billion corporation asked this small band to perform at their South by Southwest showcase, a pretty normal request for bands playing at the Austin, Texas-based music and tech festival. What's less normal, though, was McDonald's condition — that the band play for free.
"There isn't a budget for an artist fee (unfortunately)," McDonald's wrote to the band, according to Ex Cops' Facebook page. The fast-food chain said that the showcase would be "a great opportunity for additional exposure." The band responded with this scathing and on-point post, highlighting the blatant falsehood and utter hypocrisy of the request:
Here's the problem. When a huge corporation like McDonald's asks a small, up-and-coming band to perform for free, they're setting an unsustainable standard. Making music takes time and commitment, and mere exposure (assuming Ex Cops even want the exposure of a McDonald's showcase crowd) isn't enough. McDonald's is feeding into the absurd paradigm of denying artists what they deserve for their work. And even after the backlash, they didn't learn.
When news of the Facebook post hit the web, Rolling Stone contacted McDonald's for a response. The corporation's Global Media Relations Director Becca Hary told the magazine, "We follow the same standard protocol as other brands and sponsors by inviting talented and emerging musicians to join us at the SXSW Festival. We look forward to serving McDonald's food, drinks and fun in Austin. #slownewsday"
How's that for a slap in the face?
After hearing McDonald's response, Ex Cops member Amalie Bruun told Rolling Stone, "They're not following any guidelines because everyone else is offering money. They'll have to take that up with South by Southwest if they think they're following the guidelines. ... Other, much smaller corporations are offering us money."
You wouldn't ask a fast-food worker for free labor. Even though the estimated $9.15 an hour a McDonald's employee earns on average is pretty close to nothing, the company should be well aware of the fact that people need money to survive. Being a serious musician is a full-time job, not a hobby. Even Congress can agree with that: As of Wednesday, the Songwriter Equity Act, legislation designed to ensure that musicians can earn a living wage, was reintroduced to the Senate and House.
"While most property rights are valued in a free market, songwriters have suffered under a system that devalues their work and takes away their most basic property rights," said National Music Publishers Association President David Israelite, according to Billboard.
The good news is that progressive media aren't about to accept McDonald's autocratic proclamation that musicians don't deserve pay or respect. Thanks to Ex Cops' bold stand, the world is finally paying attention to the challenges musicians face when corporations devalue their hard work. Being a musician is a job — not charity.