Diversity: Change is coming
Wow – what an incredible year it’s been. I vividly remember my first time going up to bat for UK Music’s Diversity Taskforce, as their new chair, feeling intimidated and overwhelmed in the Universal Music Group’s boardroom. The mighty UMG – home to Island Records, Polydor, Virgin – had agreed to host our inaugural session right where the big deals were done; the Rolling Stones, Sam Smith and Stefflon Don probably all inked deals or demo-ed LPs right here.
We’re in the same space discussing diversity in the music industry, with all the trade bodies and all the major labels around the table. I was nervous, even with vice-chair and veteran of the music world Paulette Long to back me up and keep me in check. But we didn’t know that when we left the room, the world was about to turn upside down.
This is March 2020. Parts of the UK are celebrating our exit from the EU with post-Brexit parties and a sense of euphoric win. Something else that’s in the air is Covid-19, but despite footage of super hospitals being built in China, it’s not yet being taken seriously here. Just a few months later; George Floyd is brutally killed beamed directly onto our phones.
The outcry over the murder of George Floyd once again highlighed injustices in the law, amplifying the voices of the Black Lives Matter movement. Theirs would soon become the strongest voice for global justice, equality and equity. It resonated with our UK youth like never before; modern, contemporary, organised and effective at all levels. Statues got dismantled, hashtags became “must”-focussed – #rhodesmustfall and #TheShowMustBePaused backed by the Black Music Coalition in the UK and black music executives globally. Furlough was introduced and the music industry began its journey into the abyss.
It’s not just “more brown faces in the board rooms”; it’s more diversity of thought and practice
Globally, the major labels moved quickly. New investment came in to support black talent, the term “urban” finally got thrown out and “white privilege”, “systemic racism” and “unconscious bias” were the new words in the music ecosystem. Letters were written to key UK music industry players, which had raked in profits from black artists and black culture for decades but had always overlooked the structural and systematic racism. “Enjoying the rhythm and ignoring the blues,” said BBC Radio 1 DJ Clara Amfo.
There were difficult debates, decisions and discussions for all of us. From the CEOs of major record labels to promoters and artists not from minority communities; questions of privilege (perhaps “white”, perhaps “gender”, perhaps “place”) were being asked. How much of their success in the music industry was down to privilege, family networks, not undiluted raw talent? More importantly, how do we create better opportunities and better representation for the rest of us? Modern day, diverse citizens should be everywhere across the music industry, not just as performers, not just as interns, but at executive and CEO level, smashing the glass ceilings of back rooms and boardrooms.
Black artists have always raised their voices for while others have stayed silent; Howlin Wolf spoke about the Mississippi Blues, Jazz and Be Bop defied Jim Crow’s America. James Brown post-Watts Uprising shouted “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud”, Hip Hop hit back at Reaganomics. In the UK Steel Pulse was talking about Handsworth Revolution, Bashy heralded serious emotions about Black Boys. Stormzy raps on Grenfell and Dave just echoes what James Brown knew all those years ago; Black is Beautiful.
Now was the time for the music industry to stand up and back a radical, sustainable plan to repair the diversity deficit and back our black artists, black workforce and a modern diverse music ecosystem. At UK Music, the taskforce was already nine months deep into our flagship workforce survey. Now, this could go out against the backdrop of #theshowmustbepaused and #blackouttuesday; receiving unprecedented support from all the trade bodies – BPI, MU, PPL, AIM, MMF, FAC, IVORS, MPG, MPA and PRS. The uptake surpassed the 2018 survey by over 33%.
If diversity without action is just a dream, action without evidence is a nightmare
This was and is the only survey to look this deeply into representation in the UK music workforce, auditing levels of diversity, social mobility, the protected characteristics, retention and access at all levels, right across the music business. This included studios, management agencies, music publishers, major and independent record labels, music licensing companies, the live music sector: the total UK music ecosystem.
But what can be done with just data? To really put evidence to work, codesign across the music industry is required to deliver an action plan that is respectfully collaborative, holds senior executives to account and changes the culture with visible metrics and targets. It’s not just “more brown faces in the board rooms”; it’s more diversity of thought and practice, with sustainable ways to move progress forward with pace.
If diversity without action is just a dream, action without evidence is a nightmare. Our ten-point plan is drawn from the 2020 survey, based on new metrics, fresh evidence and lived experience of diversity in the music industry today, here in the UK. It is the accumulation of months of work across the total industry ecosystem – we consulted, we watched, we listened, we gathered data and now there is a strategic plan that has been co-signed by every single major music trade body. And some of it is really simple, common sense stuff, ensuring ordinary people in the music industry are allowed to execute extraordinary work.
Dialogue with diverse voices – with people who don’t look like you, talk like you and hang out in places like you
As the chair of UK Music’s Diversity Taskforce, I know we are responsible to make change happen, and we must be held accountable to ensure actions are sanctioned, strategy is developed and systems change. The ten-point plan closely aligns with the demands of Black Music Coalition, Women in Ctrl, PRS Foundation and all the other campaigning music companies to ensure justice and equality with a sharp focus on race and gender.
The ten-point plan has some really simple stuff that some would say is just common sense. Advertise to a broader audience base for new recruitment, listen to diverse staff members, update and implement stronger diversity targets. There are also deep, long-term drivers around the gender and race pay gaps, around governance and ultimately putting new voices into key decision-making rooms. Some say follow the money, we say: dialogue with diverse voices – with people who don’t look like you, talk like you and hang out in places like you.
We want to bring people with us, because we know diversity is stronger, better, smarter and more sustainable when “done with”, rather than “done to”. But at the same time, there are some drivers, some values that are absolutely no compromise. The ten-point plan demands sharp actions at pace with respect. It’s going to be a long complex journey. Without the tragic death of George Floyd and the uprisings afterwards, without #TheShowMustBePausedUK, without #BlackOutTuesday, the UK music industry wouldn’t be at the watershed moment I believe it is today. Change is coming.
It’s simply time to act.
Beyond Rhetoric: BAME execs on boosting diversity in live
The latest IQ Focus virtual panel, Beyond Rhetoric: Race in Live Music, looked at the lack of racial diversity in the live music business, as well as practical steps the industry can take to begin turning the tide.
Hosted by Live Nation International diversity lead David Carrigan, the session welcomed UK Music’s Ammo Talwar, Metropolis Music promoter Kiarn Eslami, ICM agent Yves Pierre, ATC Management’s Sumit Bothra and Earth Agency’s Lucy Atkinson to discuss the overwhelming whiteness of the concert industry, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter and #TheShowMustBePaused campaigns for racial equality.
Talwar, who leads UK Music’s diversity and equality taskforce, said that while the industry’s front-facing components are hugely diverse, its workforce is not.
In London, for example, over 40% of the population are non-white, he said, compared to around 18% in the UK music industry. At the executive level, he added, companies are still overwhelmingly staffed by “middle-aged, white heterosexual males”.
Comparing her own path into the business, Atkinson said she speaks to a lot of white men “who say they just kind of fell into this job, and that hasn’t been my experience at all. Even now, I still feel like I have to fight to get taken seriously as an agent.”
“A lot of conversations get really overcomplicated, but there are some very simple things you can do”
On the artist side, Pierre pointed out that lot of artists aren’t allowed to “live” in traditionally white spaces – they have to start in a black/“urban” genre and then go pop or rock when they are already established. “We have to acknowledge that these artists exist and that there’s space for them,” she said.
Looking at practical measures to promote a more representative industry, Atkinson said: “A lot of conversations get really overcomplicated, but there are some very simple things you can do”: for example, the ‘Rooney rule’ in the NFL that requires at least one ethnic-minority candidate be interviewed for a job.
Speaking from a promoter’s point of view, Eslami described another simple change he has made on his shows – which, while not costing his employer any more, allows for greater investment in ethnic minority run businesses. “Every show we have has a budget, and one of those costs is catering,” he explained. “[I asked] why do we spend all our budget in supermarkets, when there are so many other caterers our there?
“It’s about looking at how we change the cash flow for these shows, whether it’s in catering, marketing or elsewhere.”
Pierre said it’s up to everyone in the industry to hold their own employers accountable when it comes to employing a diverse workforce.
“Accountability is up to everyone in that organisation. We have to make sure that the companies we’re working for live up to those standards when it comes to racial diversity and gender equality,” she explained. “A lot of the time nothing gets done because you think someone else is doing it.
“Accountability is up to everyone in that organisation”
“If I want to see the change, I have to be part of that change. I have to hold my colleagues, and my bosses and partners, accountable.”
“It’s time to do things differently,” agreed Eslami. “People often think, ‘If something’s not broken, why fix it?’, but we’ve all had a three-month time out and realised that now is the time to think about how we can do things differently in future.”
Bothra said ATC is looking at changes it can make to hiring processes to promote greater diversity. “For us as a management company, for example, we have to be aware that it’s incumbent on us to look in new places to find people,” he explained. “We can’t just go to the same recruitment agency, the same school, and do the usual thing, because that’s not going to make any difference at all.”
“The professionals are out there,” added Talwar. “We’re just not looking in the right places.”
“There are tons of kids who don’t know that an agent exists, or that there’s a management position, or a social media aspect of this,” said Pierre, emphasising the importance of getting the word out about the live industry to underrepresented groups.
“I think we have to expose people to these things, so they can understand there’s a whole workforce behind these artists and something for them to do beyond just being an artist or a producer or writer.”
“The professionals are out there. We’re just not looking in the right places”
“Before I started at Metropolis I didn’t even know a promoter was a job,” added Eslami. His advice, he said, is that “it doesn’t take long” to offer advice and mentorship to young people from disadvantaged groups. “There are 365 days in a year, and if you spare one or two” of them you can really make a difference, he said.
While the current zeitgeist feels like a “watershed moment” for diversity, real change needs to be about more than words – it’s got to be a “root-and-branch approach” that tackles “systemic” issues, said Talwar.
He added that he’s “just as interested in the block in the middle” – the one that stops industry professionals of colour attaining leadership positions – as the one that stops ethnic minorities getting into live music in the first place. “Where are the next CEOs, the next chairmen?” he asked.
Carrigan concluded by saying the conversation had been “a long time coming” and expressed his wish that debate will go on in future. “These conversations about race in the live music industry are not common, which illustrates the need to continue the conversation,” he explained.
Given the importance of the conversation continuing, future IQ Focus panels will revisit the topic in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, you can watch back yesterday’s session on YouTube or Facebook now.
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UK Music launches diversity survey
Industry umbrella body UK Music today (16 June) launched a music industry workforce diversity survey to help bring about “major change at pace” within the sector.
The survey will track progress made to boost diversity and inclusion in the UK’s music industry and will be lead by UK Music’s diversity taskforce and its chair Ammo Talwar MBE, who has stressed the need for concrete action following on from the Black Out Tuesday initiative.
Launched in 2016 and published every two years, the findings of the survey give the music industry, government and other stakeholders insight into where improvements are needed regarding diversity and inclusion, as well as where positive change is already under way.
Using data from the live music sector, management agencies, licensing companies, publishers, record labels and studios, UK Music will publish the results of the survey later this year.
“Our diversity is the source of our greatest strength. Help us shape the new voices in the music industry by being part of the change”
“Now is not the time for silence. We need major change at pace with impact in the music industry,” comments Talwar. “This survey helps to kickstart the change we all want and deserve.
“Our diversity is the source of our greatest strength. Help us shape the new voices in the music industry by being part of the change.”
UK Music’s head of diversity Rachel Bolland adds that the survey is “a crucial part” of ensuring diversity within the industry.
“Government and parliament are listening and we will be working with them to ensure the policy landscape is fit for purpose so diversity in our sector can flourish.”
The music industry workforce diversity survey can be found here.
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UK Music hires new diversity taskforce chairman
UK Music has announced Ammo Talwar, founder of touring and artist management firm Punch, as the new chair of its equality and diversity taskforce.
Talwar replaces Keith Harris, who has chaired the body for the last three years. The co-chair of the taskforce remains Paulette Long.
Established in 2015, the quality and diversity taskforce works with the music business, the British government and other stakeholders to boost inclusion and diversity across the industry. It includes representatives from the UK live music industry, as well as major and indie record labels, music publishers, trade organisations and collection societies.
In 2016, UK Music undertook the first industry wide workforce diversity survey, focusing on gender and ethnicity. The latest survey was published in 2018.
“I feel hugely privileged to chair this taskforce”
“I feel hugely privileged to chair this taskforce,” says Talwar. “UK Music has made real inroads around diversity and inclusion. We are global leaders in music-making and I’m confident that the UK’s music sector will continue to move at pace, reflecting the ever-changing landscape of community, music and genres.”
Outgoing chair Keith Harris adds: “Having headed the UK Music equality and diversity taskforce for three years, during which time we have seen the industry inching towards a more balanced and diverse workforce, I am delighted to be handing over to Ammo Talwar.
“His energy and enthusiasm will help to make sure that the momentum is not lost and his perspective from outside the London environment will drive the new initiatives needed make sure that we have an industry which fairly represents the whole music community.”
In a further change, UK Music’s Rachel Bolland will succeed Felicity Oliver as the umbrella organisation’s head of diversity.