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The Black Tour Directory: “You can’t just talk the talk”

Jenifer Smith, co-founder of Live Nation Urban's new Black Tour Directory, talks to IQ about diversity, accountability and next steps in the industry

By IQ on 11 Nov 2020

Jenifer Smith co-founded The Black Tour Directory with NyAsia Burris

Jenifer Smith co-founded The Black Tour Directory with NyAsia Burris

The Black Tour Directory arrives at a time when actionable work to promote inclusion and oust racial inequalities is more crucial than ever.

The database, launched last month by Live Nation Urban, lists hundreds of qualified Black touring professionals in the US – from tour managers to caterers – with the intention to bolster inclusivity and expand opportunities for Black professionals and Black-owned companies in the live music industry.

The new initiative is the result of a collaboration between NyAsia Burris, head of marketing for Live Nation Urban and Jenifer Smith, director of US concerts tour marketing at Live Nation, who tells IQ why her employer was the right company with which to launch the directory, how the it has been received, and what the global expansion of the resource will look like.

IQ: How did this year’s events – the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, the Black Lives Matter protests, as well as the pandemic – inform and facilitate The Black Tour Directory (TBTD)?

JS: These issues are complex and cannot be solved in one day. There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done by educating, decompressing, healing, and still having those necessary conversations even if they’re uncomfortable or hard to relate to. It’s been going on for so long, you become numb to it – but when George Floyd and Breonna Taylor died, it was like ripping a band-aid off an old wound that has never healed.

NyAsia and I created TBTD to help change that narrative and to inspire inclusion within our industry as there’s underrepresentation in the live industry for people of colour (PoC). I believe the question for us both was: what can we do to create change? NyAsia and I worked on TBTD together as a collaborative team effort that resulted in brainstorming an idea, fleshing out the concept and presenting it to Shawn Gee (president of Live Nation Urban), who loved it and was supportive throughout the process.

I believe this is our way of showing up, aligning our values through a resource of this stature, reflecting the change we want to see, and striving to create better opportunities for PoC. It’s important to diversify resources that create pipelines of opportunity.

You previously held positions at ICM Partners and AEG Presents. Why was Live Nation the right company with which to launch the directory?

Right now, we’re in a different climate based on the events that have transpired this year. I believe leadership starts at the top. When upper management at Live Nation shared their short- and long-term goals with the company, it showed the importance of leading by example, a key component in a leadership position. You can’t just talk the talk; you have to walk the walk and actually do the work to advocate real change and inclusion. We still have a lot of work to do, but we’re moving in the right direction.

“This is us showing up, aligning our values, reflecting the change we want to see, and striving to create better opportunities”

Are you collaborating with existing directories like Roadies of ColourDiversify The StageBlack Promoters Collective at all?

Each one of those organisations is great and amazing! We truly value, respect and appreciate the work that they’re doing. We support them in their efforts, as they support us in ours. We collectively want change, and the opportunity of inclusion. We all share a unified goal of providing an ecosystem that highlights talented and qualified individuals in our field and creating the resource for the industry to hire great candidates from who have the experience and skillset that’s needed.

Was there a conversation about whether to include other underrepresented groups in the directory too?

It’s all about diversity and inclusion. There was an initial overwhelming response to TBTD, however, we think it would be great to open it up and include other underrepresented groups and continue to build the candidate pool for live events, concerts, touring and festivals to increase representation within live events as whole.

Currently, TBTD only compiles US-based Black professionals and businesses, are there plans to roll out similar initiatives worldwide?

As TBTD grows and expands its international footprint, the ideal goal is to include other professionals and businesses from around the world, as live events aren’t just US-based, it’s a global initiative as well. As professionals continue to discover, enquire and sign up, we will vet them and add them based on country, state, city and so on.

“We must make sure that the gatekeepers doing the hiring [after the pandemic] are aware of the directory”

How will you develop the directory over time and ensure the initiative continues to grow?

TBTD offers companies who are seeking to diversify their staff an additional resource to pool new, diversified and qualified candidates. One of our main goals is to communicate that music is universal. If a candidate has a professional skill set in one particular genre of music, that doesn’t negate the functionality of the job and their experience can be applied across all platforms, no matter the genre.

It’s also about doing actionable work, where we’re partnering with schools, organisations and foundations to educate the next generation under us about the opportunities behind the scenes in live events.

What kind of feedback in the resource have you received from the live industry, and Black professionals, so far?

We received positive feedback and support from the live community. Industry colleagues have been encouraging and helpful in more ways than one, from offering mentorship to the upcoming generations, creating pipelines for paid apprenticeship to people providing additional resources, individuals and companies that should be included, and more.

The live sector is fairly dormant due to the pandemic, how can the industry take advantage of this downtime to take action and further diversity and inclusion? What would you like to see happen next?

Once the pandemic is over and live events are back to scale, these jobs will reopen quickly and there will be a need to fill these positions. So first we must make sure that the gatekeepers and the people doing the hiring are aware of TBTD and are able to explore this list of qualified candidates.

Directories of this nature are a great tool to ensure and offer possibilities to talented and experienced groups of people that are sometimes overlooked or not even on companies or crews’ radars.

Visit The Black Tour Directory here.


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