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.
The Black Tour Directory: “You can’t just talk the talk”
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”
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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Diversity: ‘Change needs to come from the top’
Black music professionals are calling on the industry’s behemoths to help diversify the industry from the top down.
In IQ‘s recent feature, Opening Doors, several key industry figures called on the industry’s power brokers to reflect on their responsibility to effect change.
“We have to hold companies and senior management accountable. It takes a long time to change culture, but that can be accelerated if the desire for change also comes from the top,” says Natalie Williams, former head of research for UK Music.
“If you’re a senior executive, then maybe you should look at yourself and the friendship circle that you have – if that’s not diverse, then you could be part of the problem.
“Ninety per cent of people do not think they are part of the problem, so they end up passing the buck to their HR department,” she added.
While ICM Partners agent Yves C Pierre says “The pool of people put in power need a diversity check from within, because we can see they’re great at buying IP but I think that’s the easy route.
“The power brokers need to step out of their comfort zone and confront the task of changing what’s become the norm internally from the inception of the business model.”
Read the entire feature here.
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Opening Doors: The fight for a more diverse industry
On 2 June, many people, organisations and companies paused their normal activities to take part in the Blackout Tuesday campaign – an initiative launched by the collective music industry to protest racial inequality in society.
Three months on, IQ talks to some black professionals working in the live music sector to gauge where the industry is doing well, and where there is room for improvement…
Prompted by the 23 February racist shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, Georgia; the 13 March police shooting of Breonna Taylor in her own home in Louisville, Kentucky; and the 25 May murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Blackout Tuesday was organised by the music industry to protest racism and police brutality.
The movement sprung from #TheShowMustBePaused initiative, set up by record label executives Jamila Thomas (Atlantic Records) and Brianna Agyemang (Platoon), but evolved into Blackout Tuesday as momentum grew.
While numerous media organisations marked the occasion by placing black tiles on website home pages and across social media, displaying the #blackouttuesday hashtag, many also opted to give staff the day off to allow them to reflect on racism in society by reading relevant literature; discussing issues with friends and colleagues; and watching documentaries, films and other educational material.
For their part, Agyemang and Thomas noted, “This is not just a 24-hour initiative. We are and will be in this fight for the long haul.”
Thankfully, that sentiment appears widespread. In the quarter year since, countless companies throughout live entertainment have made pledges in an effort to drive change, but as the industry endures the quietest period in its history, redundancies and lay-offs are more likely than people of colour being welcomed as new employees.
“Would you be proud to money from the talents of black people but also choose not to include them in your workplace?”
That’s no excuse not to try to address the issues, according to Echo Location boss Obi Asika. “It’s not racist if you don’t have a diverse workplace.
“However, in a sector that takes so much from black culture, would you be proud to tell your loved ones you make money from the talents of black people but also choose not to include them in your workplace?” he asks.
“There’s next to no data or statistics about diversity and employment in our industry, and as a result there’s not much transparency. So, we’re pushing for the data to be published annually.”
One person familiar with collating such data is Natalie Williams, former head of research for UK Music. She observes that unless requirements are brought in to make participation mandatory, companies have a habit of being wary about divulging stats.
“When racial pay gap reporting is implemented by the government, that could be a big catalyst for change,” says Williams. “But I know from experience that certain companies simply would not fill in the data for gender pay gap research because they knew it would not look very good, so we need some kind of mandate.”
Nonetheless, Blackout Tuesday has acted as a catalyst for change, with operations, small and monolithic, eager to make their voices heard among the calls for greater diversity.
David Carrigan, Live Nation’s London-based head of diversity says, “Blackout Tuesday was incredibly symbolic, as it showed that people feel something needs to change. We’re very keen that this should develop as a movement, rather than just being a moment, and I think that people are now really expecting some progress.”
“It takes a long time to change culture, but that can be accelerated if the desire for change also comes from the top”
Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino recently set aside a US$10million war chest to spend over the next two years to increase the diversity of the company’s workforce, while by 2025, 30% of Live Nation’s directors will represent underserved groups.
“Live Nation has made some very public commitments about what it wants to achieve. How we best accomplish that is what the conversations are now about, but we are absolutely determined to achieve them,” says Carrigan.
Williams contends that such pronouncements, although welcome, are only part of the solution.
“Unless people are constantly questioning company policy, across the board, then it’s not going to change,” she says.
“We have to hold companies and senior management accountable. It takes a long time to change culture, but that can be accelerated if the desire for change also comes from the top.”
New York-based ICM Partners agent Yves C Pierre goes further. “It’s great that funds have been pledged toward diversity, but there needs to be a high degree of transparency so that we can see exactly where that funding money goes. The importance of the dollar amount is not as important as where each dollar is put to work,” she says.
“Blackout Tuesday was a moment that said, ‘the buck stops here,’ and people realised that they have to do better. If people can bring about change in their individual spaces, that can give power to overall systematic change.”
Taking record labels as a case in point, Pierre observes, “People in individual buildings are pushing to change the agenda. If their label says they are committing to a five-step programme, then those individuals are going to make sure they stick to that commitment.
“But we also need to encourage people at labels to talk to each other, so that there can be a united front. The same is true with the live sector and everywhere else across music and society.”
“The importance of the dollar amount is not as important as where each dollar is put to work”
On the west coast, CAA’s Joe Hadley is confident the building blocks are being put in place to allow such inter-corporate communication.
“Post Blackout Tuesday, we’ve seen a number of cross-industry think tanks emerging, where people can talk openly about how to make our industry better. From my point of view, it’s great to see people using their competitive spirit for good and collectively pushing for change,” says Hadley.
“The Black Music Action Coalition, in particular, is doing some great work to identify ways in which the entertainment industry can be more inclusive.”
Assessing the impact of Blackout Tuesday, Raye Cosbert, managing director of London-based Metropolis Music, says, “I’m not young, so I’ve seen similar movements in other guises over the years. But the power of social media and the connectivity that has with people makes this feel different.
“Blackout Tuesday has allowed people as individuals to reflect on how we all can move forward from this point. This time, it hasn’t been an exercise in finger-pointing, but more about highlighting what is wrong in society.
“This has given us a place where we stand back and look at things and create the space where people can talk about a difficult and challenging subject. It’s got to be an ongoing process, however. We have a long way to go yet.”
Williams contends that music industry data does not make for great reading and, fundamentally, the problems start at the top of the food chain.
“The live music industry, in particular, is behind the times”
“At grassroots level the numbers were good for female staff and other minority groups. But past the age of 30, that disappears, while in senior management roles, it’s pretty much non-existent. So a lot of talent gets lost and ends up working in different fields.”
She adds, “If you’re a senior executive, then maybe you should look at yourself and the friendship circle that you have – if that’s not diverse, then you could be part of the problem. Ninety per cent of people do not think they are part of the problem, so they end up passing the buck to their HR department.”
While the public perception may be that the music industry’s role in creating campaigns such as Blackout Tuesday places it at the forefront of the struggle, it’s not an accolade that Asika believes has been earned.
“The live music industry, in particular, is behind the times – it’s awful,” he states. “I’ve had really bad experiences over the years and that’s why I’ve chosen the path that I’ve taken. I’ve basically created my own safe space where I can control my own destiny.”
It’s a widely shared viewpoint. “When we look at other industries, we acknowledge there is a need to do better,” says Live Nation’s Carrigan. However, he believes the industry can learn quickly that casting its net wider will facilitate growth.
“Diversity is an opportunity and we literally have the ears of all the communities that we operate in, so we’re working hard to make sure there are no impediments to finding careers in the live entertainment business.
From her Barcelona base, Earth Agency’s Lucy Atkinson agrees. “A lot of white males in the industry who I’ve spoken to simply fell into the job. So we definitely need to let young people from minority backgrounds know about the careers that exist in music, outside of being an artist, as there is a huge pool of talent the industry is missing out on.”
“Making people aware that our industry is accessible should be a major goal”
Marlon Burton, at ATC Live, believes, fundamentally, that there’s a need to educate people about the music industry. “When I was 13 or 14, I didn’t know what an agent was,” he says.
“When I used to buy UK garage records, it would say on the back ‘to book this act call or email this person,’ so I did it and that’s how I got started as a promoter. What the equivalent of that is in 2020, I’m not sure.”
Cosbert agrees. “Making people aware that our industry is accessible should be a major goal. Many people think it’s a closed shop and you only get in through family connections or something, but that’s patently not the case. We need to engage more in community-based projects and neighbourhood initiatives to communicate that message.”
Burton says his employers are speaking to Sound School in Camden – the borough where ATC is headquartered – as part of an eight-point plan to try to foster greater diversity.
“We want to put the opportunities in front of a wider audience so people can see the range of jobs that are available in the music industry. As things stand, telling youngsters that there is such a job as a live sound engineer is a difficult proposal.”
As a result, ATC is one of the growing number of operations promising to instigate mentoring programmes to help with the education process that the live industry currently lacks.
“We want to do work placements with kids from Sound School so we can educate them about the business before they get to an age where we can’t help them,” says Burton.
ATC, he adds, is changing its recruitment strategy by engaging with agencies that have similar goals. “In the future, when hiring, we’d like to [work] with companies such as BAME Recruitment RARE, White Hat and the Prince’s Trust Get Hired scheme, which will allow us to look at a wider pool of people when we’re looking to employ new staff.”
“We work in a business full of black on-stage talent so pleading that you can’t find any black people to employ is rubbish”
Earth Agency, meanwhile, is partnering with a number of organisations to establish mentorship schemes and help with its diversity programme, with Atkinson naming Shadow to Shine, Thirty Pound Gentlemen, and Elevate.
She tells IQ, “When we’re able to hire people again, it’s actively going to be encouraged that people consider a more diverse pool of talent.”
Asika states. “It’s a great way to help take our industry to the next level. We work in a business full of black on-stage talent, so pleading that you can’t find any black people to employ within your organisation is rubbish,” he states.
And Carrigan cites the success of Silicon Valley’s recruitment model as a template. “The tech business has done really well to promote itself in schools and influence what kids want to do.
“Traditional career aspirations like doctors or dentists or lawyers or accountants are now expanding to include tech sector roles. That’s where we’re hoping jobs in the live entertainment sector can be soon, too.”
Not every aspect of Blackout Tuesday was universally welcomed and many sceptics believe that the current spirit of cooperation might quickly dissolve when shows and concerts start to become the norm once again.
“It seemed to me that companies thought they had to do something, but that amounted to someone in their digital department putting up a black tile on social media and everyone at the company getting a day off work,” says Williams, who left UK Music at the end of 2019 to pursue her dream to represent Great Britain in karate at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
“What’s more important is what happens in-between [campaigns]. Petitions are not enough if they do not come with action”
“If this is something that the industry will continue to do going forward, I wonder whether some people will treat it just like a holiday?!”
Despite such reservations – or perhaps because of those suspicions – an annual repeat of the campaign is gaining support, if it can help ensure that companies are standing by their public proclamations.
“Maybe we do need another similar event as a reminder to people that we need to keep moving,” says Asika. “But what’s more important is what happens in-between. Petitions are not enough if they do not come with action.”
Spreading the word about career opportunities in live music is, indeed, involving a communications revolution, with operators that are more used to dealing with each other as fierce rivals, enjoying unprecedented cooperation as the industry also collectively battles to get back to business.
However, conversations about white privilege, diversity and equality are not proving easy for some.
“People are scared to speak in case they make mistakes – there’s a fear of being destroyed if you say the wrong thing,” notes Asika.
“I’ve lost count of the number of times I get contacted by white friends asking, ‘Can I say this?’” He pauses, then adds, “Even as I say this, I think to myself, don’t forget my Asian friends. The whole thing is a depressing minefield.”
“Language changes and evolves constantly so there is definitely a fear of saying the wrong thing”
For his part, diversity professional Carrigan says, “Language changes and evolves constantly so there is definitely a fear of saying the wrong thing and using the wrong terminology.”
But Atkinson believes communication, no matter how uncomfortable, is critical if equality is to become the norm. “We need white people to be involved in these conversations if we seriously want things to change.
“Some of those conversations might be awkward, but it’s ok to ask what might be sensitive questions if it helps the dialogue and moves the conversation in the right direction.”
ICM’s Pierre echoes that sentiment. “Ultimately, we’re doing this for the people that come up behind us. If we want to achieve growth in the business, then we need to spend time preparing the next wave of folk to take the business forward.
“Just because we got treated shitty is no reason for us to treat the next generation shitty, too – that benefits nobody.”
However, Asika wants communication to be at all levels, rather than trying to zero in on specific targets. “The perception of black people is wrong – many programmes seem determined to concentrate on the ‘hard to reach,’ but not everyone in the black community is hard to reach – with many, it’s pretty easy,” he attests.
Meanwhile, Live Nation’s Carrigan points to the company’s Embrace Nation programme, launched more than a year ago in an effort to address diversity issues.
“Things are positive, but there is still a lot of change to be done before we can feel good about things”
“We’re not just focussing in one direction – we’re looking across gender, race, LGBTQ+ and other minority communities,” says Carrigan.
“Live Nation is also looking at the likes of artists and tours and the impact our spend can have on vendors. We can leverage that influence so we’re not just changing our own business practices but also those on a wider spectrum.”
Cosbert also lauds Embrace Nation as a forum where issues can be discussed, while CAA’s Hadley talks up a number of that organisation’s programmes, citing its Amplify platform, the CAA Foundation Community Fund, The Hubb, and the recently launched CAA Scholars scheme.
Hadley is genuinely excited about the gathering demand for greater diversity. “Change is happening from the top down at CAA and we are building on the momentum we’ve had here for the past decade.
“We’re holding our partners accountable, and we’re finding that’s a very honest two-way conversation, but it’s affirming to know that we’re all moving in the same direction.”
He adds, “Things are positive, but there is still a lot of change to be done before we can feel good about things.”
Another facet of the live music industry’s inequality issue is with the talent that gives the business its beating heart.
“Looking at festival line-ups in the UK, there needs to be more opportunities for black artists to perform, especially UK acts,” observes Asika.
“I’ve had to call promoters to tell them that my artists need the line-up to be more diverse before they agree to an offer”
“If you compare the festival line-ups to the music that is in the official singles charts, there’s a big difference. It’s better than it was but I still think black artists don’t get enough slots across the board. Looking at the two major festival promoters, one in particular has made major advances in giving black artists more opportunities and one sadly hasn’t.”
Pierre opines that outdated systems may be partially to blame for the disparity in the biggest selling acts not being offered what they consider to be fair deals for touring and festival appearances.
“Larger festivals want a piece of the hip-hop and R&B pie, but it can be a different game when it comes to the artist’s expectations,” she says.
“The way the business has been done, many promoters in the industry rely on Billboard or Pollstar metrics to gauge what the artist fee might be. But often those metrics don’t keep up with the times – lots of promoters don’t report their numbers, for instance. So people need to know how to pivot and evolve with the times.”
Earth Agency’s Atkinson reveals that she and her colleagues have drawn up a diversity and inclusion rider, which is already generating opportunities for minority artists.
“It allows us to have conversations with promoters to make them think more about their line-ups,” she says. “Certainly, I’ve already had to call promoters to tell them that my artists need the line-up to be more diverse before they think about agreeing to an offer.
“That message from the artists will be a great way to help bring about change. And from the artist point of view, I’ve spoken to everyone on my roster about diversity and I know that a lot of acts are now looking to do collaborations with black and other minority artists.”
“The visa system for African and Caribbean artists is ridiculous and it puts those musicians at a huge disadvantage”
Earth Agency, she adds, has a longstanding commitment to non-mainstream artists, but there is now an active drive to welcome more people of colour into genres such as house, techno, punk, folk, hyper pop and indie.
One early corporate adopter is Live Nation, which has already made commitments to work with more black and Latino artists and other under-served groups.
“Live Nation is examining its tours and festival line-ups, and Melvin Benn at Festival Republic is massively committed to the Rebalance campaign,” says Carrigan.
Asika tells IQ that a collective of companies in the live sector is working on documents to “identify pragmatic solutions for key areas where BAME are underrepresented” and they plan to share that information with the wider industry in September.
But while he understands that true diversity in the workplace will require long- term strategies, other aspects of cultural racism could – and should – be easier to tackle.
“The visa system for African and Caribbean artists is ridiculous and it puts those musicians at a huge disadvantage,” he says.
“That’s a small thing that key people in the industry could easily sort out with a little cooperation. There are a number of quick wins that we could definitely make happen in the next 12 months. Don’t forget, many of these countries are supposed to be a part of The Commonwealth so we should make it easier for their musicians.”
“The power brokers need to step out of their comfort zone and confront the task of changing what’s become the norm”
When it comes to tomorrow’s brave new world, Pierre is realistic in her ambitions. “In terms of the hierarchy handing over power to black people, then of course there isn’t going to be an overnight change in ownership.”
Pierre believes it’s time to forget historic business models and start afresh. While the record business has a history of giving young, inexperienced people opportunity through joint ventures or resurrecting defunct labels, that’s often down to nepotism or favouritism, she contends.
“That leads to a system where the majority of people in power/heads of labels are not people of colour. The result of that is those people are given the power to hire or buy their way into a culture that they are not truly vested in, and the cycle continues,” she says.
“The pool of people given those opportunities needs to diversify.”
As far as the live industry is concerned, Pierre adds, “The pool of people put in power need a diversity check from within, because we can see they’re great at buying IP but I think that’s the easy route.
“The power brokers need to step out of their comfort zone and confront the task of changing what’s become the norm internally from the inception of the business model.
“Now that we can see the business changing, we cannot put our heads in the sand and pretend it’s going to be the way it used to be. That’s what the record labels did and it’s taken them decades to recover.”
Ultimately, Atkinson believes it is down to individuals to pressurise for change.
“Accountability will be the most important part of all this,” she says. “I know from experience that many people have told me that things will inevitably change naturally, but we’ve waited too long for things to happen naturally.”
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Tackling music’s diversity problem: IQ 92 out now
IQ 92, the latest issue of the new monthly digital IQ Magazine, bangs the drum for diversity in live, urging concert professionals to use the Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity to build a more inclusive business with opportunities for all.
Three months on from Black Out Tuesday, our cover feature sees executives of colour talk about their determination to make sure diversity stays at the top of the agenda in the live music industry.
Leading figures including Metropolis Music’s Raye Cosbert, Echo Location boss Obi Asika, ICM agent Yves Pierre and Live Nation’s David Carrigan weigh in on where the industry is doing well – and where there is room for improvement – as well as practical steps every live music professional can take to effect change, both in their own lives and in wider corporate structures.
Elsewhere in the September issue of IQ is a guide to the Interactive Festival Forum (iFF), which begins this Wednesday (2 September). A temporary, virtual replacement for the International Festival Forum, the event will feature the most packed programme ever for a conference devoted to the festivals sector, with networking aspects invaluable for strengthening professional relationships ahead of the 2021 season.
Leading execs of colour weigh in on where the industry is doing well, and where there is room for improvement
Tickets to iFF will be available before, during and after the event, with video panel sessions recorded to allow absent delegates to catch up. Registration is available via the IFF website.
Plus, in the spirit of the post-Zoom world in which we find ourselves, the final feature profiles some of the best livestreaming platforms and services that are defying lockdown and social distancing restrictions to help artists connect with their fans.
As always, most content from the magazine – including the regular news analysis, comment, new agency signings and more – will appear online in some form in the next month.
However, if you can’t wait for your fix of essential live music industry features, opinion and analysis, click here to subscribe now.
UTA commits $1m to social justice causes
United Talent Agency (UTA) has announced a series of internal initiatives aimed at further increasing diversity and inclusion across the agency globally.
The actions – which are accompanied by a donation of US$1 million to organisations fighting for social justice – are the result of “efforts in recent weeks, led by leaders, colleagues of colour and allies across UTA, to have candid and thoughtful dialogue about the internal steps necessary to make meaningful and sustainable progress toward a more equitable community”, according to the agency, which has offices in Los Angeles, New York, London, Nashville and Miami.
Referencing the recent movement towards greater ethnic diversity in the music industry, UTA CEO Jeremy Zimmer explains: “The past few weeks have shown that we must address the pace in which we’ve approached our diversity and inclusion efforts. It’s our responsibility to move forward with immediacy to ensure change happens, as a company and as individuals.
“I am incredibly grateful to my colleagues who stepped up and spoke truth to power. They are making UTA an even better place to work and helping drive true and meaningful progress well beyond our four walls.”
The $1m financial commitment will be provided over four years, and overseen by the nonprofit UTA Foundation.
“We are putting our stake in the ground publicly to hold ourselves accountable”
The new internal initiatives, meanwhile, include:
- Observing ‘Juneteenth’ as an annual holiday and closing all US offices on that day
- Increasing representation of people of colour throughout UTA, including senior-level positions (as demonstrated by the recent promotion of agents Chelsea McKinnies and Emerson Davis to partners)
- Unconscious bias training for all UTA employees
- A commitment to increasing wages for assistants and other entry-level staff, to be implemented over time
- Actively pursuing and considering candidates of colour for every available position
- Creating a specialised, identity-based mentoring programme for employees of colour
- Reshaping the agent training programme to focus on increasing retention and promotion of employees of colour and other “underrepresented” colleagues
- Creation of an internal leadership council comprising a “diverse coalition of colleagues from all levels” to influence company culture and policy
Additionally, Project Impact, which sees the agency close for a ‘day of action’ on community projects, will this year focus solely on issues of social justice and racial inequality.
UTA’s executive director of inclusion, Shanique Bonelli-Moore, says: “We believe diverse backgrounds and life experiences influence positive perspectives and great storytelling, yielding broader opportunities for our clients. Much of this work is already underway.
“It won’t all happen overnight. But we are putting our stake in the ground publicly to hold ourselves accountable and are implementing systems to sustain urgency as we pursue lasting change.”
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.
Thank you, Black Out Tuesday
Black Out Tuesday was created by Jamila Thomas, senior director of marketing at Atlantic Records, and Brianna Agyemang, the senior artist campaign manager at Platoon. Tuesday 2 June 2020 saw business as usual halt in solidarity for black lives.
The entire world was shaken by the inhumane loss of George Floyd. Sadly he is not the only one whose life has been stolen at the hands of police brutality and racism – there are hundreds more, including recent cases Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. This had an effect on the black community I personally have never seen in my lifetime. Over the last week or so, I have seen and felt a sense of togetherness and support for black people, which we deserve… it is about time.
For me, Black Out Tuesday was a day of reflection and homage, and an opportunity to encourage a profound, uninterrupted level of education within our respective organisations. We used the opportunity to have an open dialogue, amplify black voices, address imperfections in our own policies, and discuss next steps towards tackling prejudice, discrimination and the outright racism black people are forced to endure.
Without this day, a lot of us wouldn’t have been able to gain the attention of our non-black counterparts; we wouldn’t have been able to open the dialogue with the same altitude of poise and tenacity.
Failure to address these key issues makes you complicit
So, what are the next steps?
The issues have been identified – now it’s time to present the facts. Where are your ethnicity pay gap and employee satisfaction reports? If they don’t exist, now is a good time to populate that data and work towards a safer space for black employees. Data is an extremely important tool and necessary for change.
If you have the capacity to roll out anti-racism training, do so. Educate where possible, and call out racist behaviour, because failure to address these key issues makes you complicit.
If you’re reading this and you’re an executive, a business owner, a manager, a CEO, a founder or anything in between, please ask yourself, “What can I do to spark change? What can I do to make sure my company policies reflect the black square I posted on Tuesday?”
This isn’t a gimmick: systemic and institutionalised racism affects people’s lives, and you have a duty of care.
This is a battle we have been fighting since the beginning of time and will continue to fight until there is real change. If Black Out Tuesday taught me anything, it’s that there is strength in numbers.
Jane Elliot: Blue-eyed/brown-eyed experiment
Jane Elliot, an anti-racist activist and educator, devised this experiment following the assassination of Martin Luther King.
BFI collection: Black Lives
Portraits of public and private lives against the shifting social climate of 20th-century Britain.
BBC documentary: Will Britain Ever Have a Black Prime Minister?
Unfiltered with James O’Brien: Akala deconstructs race and class
BBC documentary: The Secret Windrush Files
Afua Hirsh: Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging
Ibram X. Kendi: How to Be an Antiracist
Ijeoma Oluo: So You Want to Talk About Race
Michelle Alexander: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
A collective creating safer, all-inclusive spaces, good fortune and equal opportunities for women and non-binary folks in the creative industry.
Black Ticket Project
Award-winning initiative creating cultural access points for black young people.
This article originally appeared in issue 90 of IQ Magazine (July 2020). Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
Living the stream: IQ 90 out now
IQ 90, the latest, fully digital edition of IQ Magazine, focuses on the two biggest issues of the past few months – the continuing impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the growing momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement.
As most people continue to work from home due to the coronavirus crisis, IQ Magazine has moved to digital and will be delivered monthly for the time being, as a response to feedback on the need for more news, analysis and information.
In the midst of the first global pandemic of the 21st century, IQ editor Gordon Masson muses that, perhaps, the decade starting 2020 may be remembered for more noble reasons: the fight to root out and properly tackle systemic racism.
The new issue of the magazine includes analysis and expert commentary on the matter of racism in the music industry, as well as a list of educational resources and relevant organisations to support.
Readers are also reminded of the upcoming IQ Focus panel, Beyond Rhetoric: Race in Live Music, which airs at 4 p.m.BST/5 p.m. CET on Thursday (25 June), which will look at issues of racism within the live business.
IQ 90 focuses on the continuing impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the growing momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement
Although many nations are embarking on tentative reopening plans, live events as we know them have not yet returned and, in a move characteristic of the live industry’s creativity, new kinds of events have started to emerge. IQ 90 takes an in-depth look at Laura Marling’s recent behind-closed-doors concerts to talk about the mechanics, benefits and economics of audience-less gigs.
Other successful shutdown formats analysed in the magazine include BTS’ recent Bang Bang Con: The Live concert, which garnered upwards of 750,000 viewers, making it the most-attended paid virtual concert in history; Lewis Capaldi’s DICE TV home gig and Twitch’s extended-reality broadcast of Dutch DJ duo W&W.
Issue #90 also sees the launch of the Green Guardians Guide, an annual initiative that IQ is developing along with the Green Events and Innovations Conference (GEI) to shine a light on the companies, organisations and individuals working tirelessly to make touring and live entertainment a more sustainable place.
The live market in India is put under the microscope, too, as Adam Woods explains why the country has the greatest potential of any relatively untapped touring market in the world.
The issue also comes filled with some regular features, such as the New Signings page; Unsung Hero section, which looks at Viktor Trifu, technical director of Exit Festival, one of the only major festivals to go ahead this year; and an old favourite, Your Shout, with live event professionals sharing their most bizarre festival moment.
As always, most content from the magazine will appear online in some form over the next few months. However, if you can’t wait for your fix of essential live music industry features, opinion and analysis, click here to subscribe now.
Leading music execs launch Black Music Action Coalition
Over 30 top artist managers, agents and other US industry executives have formed a new advocacy group, the Black Music Action Coalition (BMAC), to address systemic racism within the music industry and in society at large.
The coalition was inspired by and formed in alliance with #TheShowMustBePaused initiative, which was started by Atlantic Record’s Jamila Thomas and Platoon’s Brianna Agyeman, and which prompted the Black Out Tuesday initiative.
BMAC is currently run by an executive committee that includes founding members Ashaunna Ayars (founder of the Ayars Agency), Binta Brown (founder and CEO of Fermata Entertainment), Jamil Davis (co-CEO of the Revels Group), Shawn Holiday (co-head of Urban Music at Columbia Records), Courtney Stewart (CEO, Right Hand Music Group) and Prophet (CEO of 50/50 Music Group Management).
The coalition is also guided by an advisory board consisting of industry veterans Clarence Avant, Quincy Jones, Irving Azoff and Ron Sweeney.
In a similar vein to the Black Music Coalition in the UK, which consists of leading Black promoters, managers and label executives, BMAC has sent an open letter to the heads of music companies, setting out a plan for change.
“We created BMAC to address long standing racial inequities in the business, the financial impact of those inequities for both Black artists and executives, and ways we can work with you urgently to solve these problems,” reads the letter.
“We created BMAC to address long standing racial inequities in the business”
“We are encouraged by recent efforts by Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, Sony Music, Apple, YouTube, BMG and other industry participants. However, we know that more needs to be done and we must do it together.”
The coalition states its highest priority is to meet with company CEOs “to mutually develop a plan to address the deeply rooted systemic racism in our industry”.
Another key issue is ensuring the coalition has “a voice in determining how funds designated to fight racism are allocated”, given that “so few companies in the music industry are run by Black people”.
“We must work together to put a plan for change in place with you within the next 30 days. BMAC intends to hold you accountable, and will keep track of the music industry’s efforts to clean up its own house. There is a lot of work for us to do, and we look forward to doing it together.”
Artists including Roddy Ricch, Lil Nas X, Mary J Blige, Lady Gaga, Cardi B, Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Pharell Williams, Travis Scott and Post Malone have shown their support for the letter.
This week’s IQ Focus panel, Beyond Rhetoric: Race in Live Music, will look at the problems of systemic racism within the live business and discuss what needs to be done to make the industry a more diverse place. To set a reminder for the session on Thursday head to the IQ Magazine page on Facebook or YouTube.
Photo: Frank Schwichtenberg/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0) (cropped)