OVG: “We’ve been on a different ride to our peers”
While many live entertainment businesses have spent the pandemic stopping and starting, Oak View Group continued to fire on all cylinders. The global sports and entertainment company has forged ahead with constructing its new arenas and making the most of its unique position to respond to the ‘new normal’ in real-time…
What has the pandemic looked like so far for Oak View Group (OVG)?
JK: OVG is the largest sports and entertainment venue company in the world but none of our venues are open yet. So, we’ve been on a really different ride to our peers in the industry. They’ve been in batten-down-the-hatches mode whereas we’ve been in full-on construction mode on six buildings throughout this whole thing, and those processes haven’t stopped at all.
Has that put OVG in a unique position to respond to the pandemic in the design and build phase?
JK: Yes. We have been able to do a lot of thinking about what we need to change as a result of the pandemic. For example, speeding up the road to paperless. We were looking at it much more from an environmental standpoint but then we saw it from a sort of sanitation standpoint – customer touchpoints are really necessary now. We also looked at all of the catering and how we could minimise touch – and make food more grab and go.
“We’ve had the luxury of being able to react in real-time to [the pandemic]”
Also, readjusting the airflow and ventilation and making sure that our metrics are all in line with the new research that is coming out on airborne transmission. Making sure the materials are anti-bacterial, that doors that might have opened and shut maybe just stay open. We’ve had the luxury of being able to react in real-time to these things.
How has OVG supported its employees during this tumultuous time?
AJ: I’m really proud of the way OVG has decided to support the employees throughout the pandemic, not laying people off, letting them keep their benefits, bringing people back as things opened up and it became safe to do that. From an onboarding perspective, we’ve been trying to make employees in remote places feel like a part of it by, say, sending them swag because they’re just sat at their dining-room table, and not at an OVG office.
We’re hoping that we’re going to have 100% of employees back in the office by the fall, based on what’s going on with the pandemic. We want to make it a very festive environment that says we’re glad that we can spend time in each other’s real presence, but at the same time there’ll be protocols in place, not to prohibit or make anyone’s job more difficult, just to keep them safe.
“OVG is lightyears ahead of our competitors in terms of gender diversity”
As OVG expands internationally, what’s your strategy for creating diverse teams?
AJ: We’re making sure that we go about hiring with intention. Whether that’s reaching out to HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities) or diverse professional organisations to ensure that we have a larger slate of people that we can consider for the roles that we’re looking to fill. For example, we’re supporting diverse students to do an MBA in Sports and Entertainment Management at Seattle University’s Albers School of Business and Economics. So we can start building that pipeline to venues like our Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle and get people back into this industry to get a more diverse interview.
Why is making diverse hires good for business?
JK: OVG is lightyears ahead of our competitors in terms of gender diversity. One of the reasons it’s so important is to do with the fan experience. If there aren’t people designing a fan experience with everybody in mind, then it’s going to fall short for big chunks of the population and people aren’t going to feel welcome. It’s just as important from a customer service point of view too; if fans are being greeted by a wall of people who are different from them.
Just look at the UK’s events research programme that our almost completely white male government is putting forward. They’ve picked cricket, football, Formula One racing, Wimbledon and the snooker championships. There are virtually no women and virtually no people who aren’t white in any of the event research programmes and that kind of gender and racial data gap is what creates a crap experience for most of the population.
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Impala hires diversity trainers Vick Bain and Arit Eminue
Impala, the umbrella body which represents music companies and associations across Europe, has appointed UK-based equality campaigner Vick Bain and Arit Eminue to provide diversity and inclusion training to its members.
Bain, who has been confirmed for ILMC session Gender Equality: The Next Level, is a diversity trainer, campaigner and PhD researcher, as well as a qualified equality, diversity and inclusion consultant.
Last year, she officially launched the F-List, a directory of UK female and non-binary musicians to be used by promoters, festival bookers, commissioners, music supervisors.
“This is an exciting opportunity to spread awareness and knowledge on the benefits of diversity and inclusion in the music industry”
The pair have already held two training sessions for Impala’s diversity task force. The first training session for members is set for 27 January.
The appointments follow Impala’s Diversity and Inclusion Charter, published last October, which lays out 12 commitments towards promoting diversity and inclusion among independent music companies. This includes making diversity and conscious inclusion training available twice a year to all members.
“Working with Impala and its membership across Europe is an exciting opportunity to spread awareness and knowledge on the benefits of diversity and inclusion in the music industry,” says Bain.
Arit Eminue added: “I look forward to helping Imapala’s members achieve their diversity and inclusion goals and providing practical tips on how they can drive change. So much can be done by making simple changes to start with.”
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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.
UK Music reports progress with diversity in industry
Representation of Black, Asian and ethnic minorities and women has increased at almost every level in the industry since 2016, according to a new report by UK Music.
The trade body revealed the findings of its 2020 Workforce Diversity Survey in its UK Music Diversity Report, as well as a ten-point plan to tackle racism and boost diversity in Britain’s music industry.
The survey’s most notable findings include an increase in minority ethic employees between 16-24, up from 25.9% in 2018 to a record 30.6%.
The number of people from minority ethnic professionals at entry-level has also risen from 23.2% in 2018 to new high of 34.6% in 2020, though representation is worse in senior positions at just 19.9% – one in five posts.
Elsewhere, the proportion of women has increased from 45.3% in 2016 to new high of 49.6% in 2020. However, the number of women in the 45–64 age group has dropped from 38.7% in 2018 to 35% in 2020.
“Against a backdrop of global change the diversity taskforce has been carefully listening, challenging and working behind the scenes to help shape a transformational and game-changing ten-point plan,” says UK Music diversity taskforce chair Ammo Talwar MBE.
“If our music industry is to tell the story of modern-day Britain, then it needs to look like modern-day Britain too”
“This plan is data driven and evidence based with metrics and lived experience. It’s the accumulation of nine months’ work across the whole music industry to support yet hold the industry to account. No tokenistic statements, no short-term wins but a truly collaborative long term plan that reboots the sector and ensures diversity is front and centre of all major decisions.”
UK Music CEO Jamie Njoku-Goodwin says: “As an industry, we are united in our determination to lead the way on improving diversity and inclusion in our sector and across society. This report consists of a frank and candid analysis of the current situation our industry faces, and a bold and ambitious ten-point plan for how to achieve the positive change we all want to see. It’s relevant not just to the music industry, but to organisations everywhere.
“If our music industry is to tell the story of modern-day Britain, then it needs to look like modern-day Britain too. This ground-breaking report is an important step towards achieving that.”
The trade body’s ten-point plan to improve diversity makes a number of commitments including maintaining a database of people responsible for promoting diversity across UK Music; removing the word “urban” to describe music of black origin, using genre-specific terms like R&B or soul instead; and ending the use of the “offensive and outdated” term BAME in official communications.
UK Music has conducted a diversity study every two years since 2016, which collates data from across the music business including studios, management agencies, music publishers, major and independent record labels, music licensing companies and the live music sector.
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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.
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.”
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.
LN to boost exec diversity by 2025
Live Nation has committed to spending $10 million over the next two years to increase the diversity of its workforce, with plans to have 30% of its directors representing underserved groups by 2025.
In an open letter, which was sent to employees around the world last week, Live Nation president and CEO Michael Rapino wrote that the company must “address inequality and injustice at every level”, committing to increasing representation at director and leadership level; putting diversity centre stage at its events; increasing spend with Black and minority-owned vendors; amplifying social justice causes; and holding itself accountable.
The company is investing $10m in launching new programmes to develop, promote and hire people from underrepresented groups, aiming to bring its overall employee population to parity across race and gender in every country.
Rapino also pledges to increase diversity “at the very top”, with plans to nominate more women and Black, indigenous and other candidates of colour for the board of directors so that at least 30% of its directors are “diverse” by 2025.
For leadership level (director and above), Live Nation is setting country-specific representation goals “in order to acknowledge local dynamics and best serve each region”. In the United States, the company plans to double its Black leadership representation in the next five years, as well as increasing the overall diversity of leadership to 30% .
The company is also aiming to increase the diversity of the vendors and suppliers it works with, actively looking to support minority-owned businesses “wherever possible”.
“We spend over $2 billion each year on staging and sourcing for shows, with a supply chain that spans the globe,” writes Rapino. “We can use this spending power to drive economic empowerment and help grow small and disadvantaged businesses.”
“Our ultimate goal is to be as representative as the communities and artists we serve”
On stage, Live Nation commits to developing and investing in more music ventures, as well as festivals, tours and programmes, that “empower Black, Latin, female and other underserved groups as they continue to shape the future of music and culture.”
Once the live business is back up and running, line-ups at Live Nation festivals can also be expected to include more artists from underrepresented races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and genders.
To ensure it meets its diversity goals, Live Nation is implementing anti-bias education training; tracking its diversity data globallying facilitating ongoing pay equity analysis; tying its goals to leadership compensation; and establishing an Equity Accountability Board with input from leaders from across the business.
“With ongoing accountability, we believe we can become a more actively anti-racist organisation,” states Rapino.
“Our ultimate goal is to be as representative as the communities and artists we serve. The core of our business is promoting, and we are committed to improving our promotion of diversity within our company and the world at large.
“I am confident that this will make us an even stronger team.”
Rapino concludes by urging employees to “please continue to make your voices heard.”
Last month, a group of US industry executives formed advocacy group the Black Music Action Coalition (BMAC), addressing the heads of companies including Live Nation to “put a plan for change in place” to tackle systemic racism in the music business, following similar calls from Black music executives in the UK.
The letter is available to read in full here.
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.