Warner Music Group is no longer sending its employees, including executives, to Austin’s South by Southwest music-tech festival, becoming one of the latest companies to pull out of the conference as the U.S. reports new coronavirus cases. It joins firms like Netflix, Intel, Amazon Studios, Tiktok, and Apple in canceling its plans. The other two major music labels, Sony and Universal, are advising employees against going as well.
In an internal memo sent Thursday and obtained by Rolling Stone, Warner Music Group’s chief human resources officer Masha Osherova told employees that “given the event draws in many people from around the world, we’ve decided to cancel WMG’s attendance at SXSW this year.” The company emphasized that this is a “precautionary measure,” saying only one case of coronavirus had been reported in Texas, and in a city other than Austin. (On Friday morning, though, Texas was at 16 cases.)
“SXSW is an important and productive event for our industry and we expect to be back there next year as usual,” Osherova wrote. “Many of our partners are reaching similar conclusions, which also means the benefits of attending would be much reduced.” Warner also told employees and executives to “feel free to share the decision we’ve made with artists and songwriters,” but did not mandate artists to cancel attendance. If employees feel strongly about traveling to Austin, they should seek approval from their department head, the company said. None of WMG’s artists have issued statements about the festival yet, and the company declined Rolling Stone‘s request for further comment.
Though Universal Music and Sony Music, the other two major labels, have not issued official statements about SXSW, sources close to the situation said Thursday night that Universal would likely pull out of the fest soon as well. On Friday, sources told Variety that Universal has advised its employees not to attend the festival.
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A spokesperson for Sony/ATV Music Publishing confirmed to Rolling Stone that chairman and CEO Jon Platt, the one Sony/ATV employee who was due to attend the conference, has canceled his plans to travel to SXSW and speak at a panel on the music track. A source close to the situation said Sony Music at large has advised its employees not to travel to large-scale conferences, whether SXSW or otherwise.
SXSW’s organizers said earlier this week that they are monitoring the situation and proceeding as planned with the help of local and national authorities. “As a result of this dialogue and the recommendations of Austin Public Health, we are proceeding with the 2020 event with the health and safety of our attendees, staff, and volunteers as our top priority,” organizers wrote on the event’s website. But an online petition asking the organizers to cancel the conference for health and safety has garnered more than 52,000 signatures.