An Open Letter from Santa Cruz Music Festival


 | August 14, 2019

Originally posted on the SCFM website and written by the SCMF staff.

Recently there has been a series of allegations pertaining to our relations with local artists that deeply affect and concern us here at Santa Cruz Music Festival. It is incredibly important to us that the information around these allegations is truthful, accurate, and seen from all sides of the issue. For this reason, we are making a complete statement about the facts surrounding how SCMF manages talent and the overarching realities of the music industry that creates situations such as these. We feel it is important to open a forum for the community to speak freely on this issue. Our hope is that we can collectively come together amicably to get a clear view of where everyone is coming from, and determine the best course of action moving forward.

Each year, we send out industry standard offers to hundreds of up-and-coming artists to see if they have an interest in playing SCMF. This is an offer, not a contract or agreement, and we aim to make this point clear in our initial outreach. We do this annually because we want to give these artists a platform that they may not otherwise have to showcase their talent, and the community a chance to connect with them.
We were saddened to learn that recently an artist who received one of these took exception to the nature of the offer and has taken matters into their own hands. They began by writing messages on several public boards across the internet, then contacted many news outlets in the area to see if anyone would share their side of the story. picked up the story, and we have shared this article below for transparency.

The first thing we want to acknowledge here is just how challenging it is to be an artist. We have friends and family who have devoted their entire lives to supporting their livelihood with their art, which can feel like an impossible feat at times. SCMF was the product of two founders who found themselves in the midst of the very same struggle – trying to gain a local band that they managed, Eliquate, real exposure in an increasingly competitive music scene.

The term “struggling artist” exists because it is terribly hard to make a living as a creative person in a capitalist society. We know and empathize with how frustrating that is. We love music, we love art, and we want people to be able to thrive in their creative and expressive pursuits.
That said, this industry is extremely difficult for everyone. It can feel at times like there just isn’t enough to go around. Venues are operating a business that has a surprisingly high failure rate, and their goal is to negotiate the best deals they can to keep their heads above water. Artists (rightfully) want to be compensated fairly for their contributions. The community expects to receive the lowest ticket price possible, and often times will base their purchase decision on the value of the ticket as it relates to their own budget and challenges.

This delicate ecosystem leaves a small margin for promoters to continue pursuing their passion of bringing together a vibrant music community. Throwing events of any size always comes with its own set of unique risks, and it shows that everyone involved in this industry is here because of their passion for it.

Santa Cruz Music Festival is a small, independently run company with no significant corporate backing. Our number one goal is to support the community, giving musicians and artists a platform to share their gifts with the public. To this day, the partners of this festival have happily worked over 35,000 collective hours, and have taken no salary or payment of any form. Any profit made from this event has gone back into making the festival a unique, memorable and successful experience for all. It often takes large events like this over a decade to reach financial viability, and many never do.

We’d like to make it clear that SCMF pays for artists. We spend over 70% of our entire budget on talent, which is one of the deciding factors into why our team invests any profit back into the event. All of these paid artists, many of which are local performers and friends, play our stages that require wristbands to get in. In an attempt to better serve the community and the artists, we also have 8 free stages that showcase up-and-coming talent and require no wristband. These stages take expenses to operate, as we provide the backline equipment, the sound system if needed, labor/organizers, hospitality, promotion and of course many of our own man hours. We take no profit from these stages, and we expect no payment from the fans who choose to enjoy music at these venues. Because you do not need a wristband to see these artists, these free shows welcome anyone who wishes to come out and enjoy good music, without the need to purchase a festival pass. It is a way we put out our own energy to give back to the community. We’re proud to say SCMF brings in a substantial amount of profit to local businesses. Hotels and Airbnbs sell out while bars, restaurants and retail stores often have some of their best days of the year with the influx of excited people romping through the streets of Santa Cruz. It brings us a lot of pride to know we have been able to make this kind of impact on the community.

The magic behind festivals is sparked by a group of people with passion and verve who join together to deliver an incredible experience. From volunteers and street teams to artists, performers and photographers – each and every one of us donates our time and energy to bring this to life. This spirit brings the community together in a meaningful way. We’re fortunate to be surrounded by a team of individuals who love the scene so much, they willingly volunteer their time to help make SCMF succeed. This isn’t unique to SCMF: behind almost every major festival in the world is a team of passionate volunteers. With that said, we’d love to be part of a movement to change this, and further support everyone who supports us. We welcome your ideas on how we can improve moving forward to better serve our amazing community.

Our offer to play SCMF is an opportunity that artists can choose to accept, refuse, or negotiate. It affords great publicity, and artists can sell merchandise to make an additional profit at an otherwise free event. All talent receives access to VIP lounges with food and drinks, as well as most of the stages at the festival. This is an offer many artists do not want, while others are eager for the opportunity to play for the community. We let everyone know why we think there is good potential in trying it out, but we do not coerce anyone. Almost every offer we have sent has been met with either enthusiasm, negotiation, a “No, thank you” or sometimes no reply at all. This is the first time we’ve encountered such a negative response, and as a longtime part of the Santa Cruz community, we are concerned to have our offer mistaken in a negative light.

This artist, who’s band was recommended to us by a friend that saw them live and was impressed by their performance, did not respond to the offer as incorrectly stated in the article. They chose to take their grievances to an online platform, the first step in their goal to raise awareness to what they consider to be the “wrongdoings” of our festival. Along with their angry post to a massive online group of local musicians and music enthusiasts, they included the full name, email, and a photograph of one of the founders of SCMF who had sent them the email offer, effectively “doxxing” him, a form of cyberbullying. The resulting avalanche of harassment and threats he has received has been dispiriting and hurtful. This nasty practice is incredibly unprofessional and ultimately illegal.

After reaching out to several newsgroups with their complaints, decided to print something on it. We were disappointed to see that the article was heavily biased and poorly researched. We would have greatly appreciated an opportunity to have a healthy dialogue not only for the article, but moreover with the artist personally. As it is, we believe this situation speaks to our “outrage culture” and the way it consumes and responds to media.

At the end of the day, we understand that this is a unique case of a frustrated musician’s mislead efforts to support the artist community. In the last six years we’ve produced SCMF, we’re the first to admit that we haven’t always made perfect decisions. As the festival continues to evolve, we are constantly working hard and trying our best to grow something the community can gather around and enjoy together. Our hope is to continually offer more to the community and it’s artists.

Our personal frustrations aside, we are taking this situation as a lesson to be learned so that we can continue our goal of improving. We welcome any and all feedback from the community, whether it is critique or praise. This incident has motivated us to find more ways to open up forums with the public to receive input on ways that we can better serve our fans and the community of Santa Cruz, as well as pull back the curtain on the challenges and joys of creating an event like this.

We are starting with this response. Please reply and let us know what you like about this festival but more importantly: what we can do better. Tell us what you think about the nuances and challenges of the issues discussed here, and let us know what your feelings are on the subject.
Thank you so much for all of your support, we look forward to continuing to bring this special event to Santa Cruz for many years.

– The Santa Cruz Music Festival Team

For more info about the 2019 SCMF go to:

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  1. Thank you for sharing your side of the story. For me, I don’t feel it exonerates your policies toward performers. Restricting them from performing locally is not ever okay. My mind isn’t changed by this letter.

  2. Restricting performers is not your right. Neglecting to pay them is one thing, but asking them to refuse other opportunities to play their music that don’t conflict with your stage, well that’s just not supporting local artists. Period.

    As an actor, I get paid a joke of a stipend for the time and work I put in to my performances. But it’s a gesture. The paycheck, be it incredibly small, is a symbol of respect for the companies I work for.

    You want a full day of music on your stages without paying musicians, then call it open mic night and stop expecting professionals to do work for free just because it’s not something you accounted for in your budget. The term “starving artist” is an unintelligible stamp that venues, festivals and labels ride the cost tails of to judge exploiting their artists. Stop it.

  3. Would love for the organizers to address this aspect of their contract with local performers, as reported in SF Gate: The festival includes “a “radius clause,” asking that performers not play any shows in Santa Cruz for the two months preceding the festival.” I can see up-and-coming artists performing for free for the exposure, but to not play other venues for 2 months is asking too much. It’s not sufficient to state here that artists can accept, reject, or negotiate the offer if that language is not included in the invitation. Bands may not realize that they are able to negotiate better terms. That said, I agree that it’s far too easy to stoop into outrage mode these days. I appreciate the fest, attended last year, and hope that it finds the magic sauce that helps it grow into a local institution that provides fair opportunities for all performers.

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