In Brief

Artists Hired by Apple Are Being Paid in AirPods and Apple Watches

The United States’s first trillion-dollar company asks artists participating in its Today at Apple event series to take their pick of gadgets in lieu of a paycheck.

Apple AirPods (via Wikimedia Commons)

Yesterday, March 14, Nastia Voynovskaya reported for KQED that artists hired by Apple to perform at Today at Apple event series are going without monetary compensation. The series has taken place at Apple stores across the US since 2017; Apple proudly markets as a platform for “world-class creators.”

KQED spoke with 11 artists who confirmed that in lieu of a paycheck for these performances, panels, and workshops, participants are instead offered to take their pick of Apple products: the Apple Watch Series 3 (starting at $279), AirPods ($159), or an Apple TV (starting at $179). In August 2018, Fortune reported that Apple had become the first trillion-dollar company in the United States; in 2018, Apple took in its highest-ever yearly revenue: 265.6 billion.

This February, a group of artists gathered in San Francisco’s Union Square for the event series for a Black History Month edition. One of the artists invited was Oakland playwright Ayodele Nzinga, who spoke to the crowd of two dozen onlookers about Oakland’s artistic history.

Nzinga says all she received in exchange for her words was an Apple Watch 3. She tells Voynovskaya that the company did not hire a photographer to document the panel and poetry reading, nor did they link her project for Black History Month, BAMBDFest, on their website to further support her artistic endeavors.

Voynovskaya reports that the disparity in marketing the event as a progressive stage for increased diversity in tech is a veiled attempt to hide the minimal administrative diversity at the company, and bolsters the ability of tech giants to lure artists on the basis of “exposure” rather than proper wages.

Victor Valle, the founder of the creative agency Counter Culture Group, told KQED, “This may feel like it’s going to be the break for you, like, ‘Oh man, we’re doing something with Apple!’”

Valle represents two artists who performed at the San Francisco Union Square Apple store in 2017 in exchange for Apple Watches. However, the talent agent declined follow-up offers from Apple to book his clients, saying there’s “no return” for the time spent preparing and planning the events. “The only digital assets artists receive from Today at Apple are Instagram-ready flyers that use artists’ existing promotional photos,” Voynovskaya writes. Valle adds that Apple does little to no promotion on its booming social media to make the time spent by participating, unpaid artists worthwhile.

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