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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.

 


Ammo Talwar MBE is UK Musics diversity taskforce chair and Punch Records CEO. This article originally appeared on the Punch Records website.

Music business steps up after Black Out Tuesday

After the events of Black Out Tuesday, which saw music companies worldwide down tools on 2 June in solidarity with anti-racism protestors, a number of firms have announced details of follow-up initiatives intended to deliver lasting change in both their companies and across the wider music business.

As previously reported, both Live Nation, which donated to the Equal Justice Initiative, and Warner Music Group, which established a US$100 million fund to donate to charitable causes, are backing up their words with concrete actions – but they’re far from alone, with other live and recorded music businesses similarly making good on Tuesday’s promises.

ATC Live
London-based booking agency ATC Live, whose roster includes Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, Johnny Marr and Metronomy, on Wednesday published a list of eight changes it is making to ensure its agents “do better as a team” in future.

They include committing to improving diversity among its staff and artist roster; matching donations made towards charitable causes by employees; and encouraging artists to use their public platforms as a means of promoting “positive change”.

Universal Music Group
Recorded music giant UMG, which also owns a number of festivals through its U-Live division, has announced plans for a ‘taskforce for meaningful change’ that will increase the company’s “efforts in areas such as inclusion and social justice”.

In a letter to employees, the group’s co-chairs, UMG chief counsel Jeff Harleston and Motown Records president Ethiopia Habtemariam, explain that the $25m ‘change fund’ will focus on six main areas: ‘aid/charitable giving’; ‘global’ (initiatives to increase equality and inclusion across UMG worldwide); ‘internal/institutional change’; ‘legislative/public policy’ (ie lobbying for political change); ‘partners’ (working with); and ‘programming/curation’ celebrating the achievements of black creators.

“We know our community, colleagues, artists and partners are suffering. We feel it and we’re living it, but we’re also energized [sic] to fight for change,” say Harleston and Habtemariam. “We’re asking for you to lock arms with us – we want to hear your voice. Now is the time to be heard!”

CAA
Creative Artists Agency has made a new appointment to its company board, in a move it says – along with its participation in Black Out Tuesday and the return this year of its Amplify leadership summit, which “inspires and connects multicultural leaders” – underscores its “commitment to diversity and inclusion”.

Lisa Joseph Metelus, CAA Sports’ head of basketball marketing and servicing, is the latest addition to the agency’s new leadership structure, the CAA Board, which was established earlier this year.

“It is critical that our board better reflects the real world,” says CAA president Richard Lovett. “Lisa is a force. Beyond being a proven leader in one of the most successful divisions of CAA Sports, she is among the most accomplished and respected executives in the industry. She has a powerful voice, both smart and visionary, and we look forward to further amplifying her insights and perspective across the agency.”

“It is critical that our board better reflects the real world”

Spotify
In addition to its symbolic actions on Black Out Tuesday, music streaming service Spotify says it is matching all financial donations made by its employees to organisations “focused on the fight against racism, injustice, inequity, and [for] driving meaningful change.”

Bandcamp
This 19 June (or Juneteenth, the holiday marking the end of slavery in the US), direct-to-fan music and merch platform Bandcamp will donate 100% of its cut of sales to civil rights organisation the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

The company will also provide a further $30,000 annually to organisations campaigning for racial justice and creating opportunities for people of colour.

“The current moment is part of a long-standing, widespread and entrenched system of structural oppression of people of color [sic], and real progress requires a sustained and sincere commitment to political, social, and economic racial justice and change,” reads a blog post announcing the measures. “We’ll continue to promote diversity and opportunity through our mission to support artists, the products we build to empower them, […] how we operate as a team, and who and how we hire.”

YouTube
Google’s YouTube says it has made a $1 million donation to the Center for Policing Equity, a think tank that works with police forces across the US to address discriminatory behaviour.

“We stand in solidarity against racism and injustice and are pledging $1m in support of efforts to stop it,” says the company.


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Live music companies back Black Out Tuesday

Live Nation, AEG and all major international booking agencies have declared their solidarity with the African-American community, with widespread planned shutdowns across the business planned for tomorrow. The Black Out Tuesday campaign was launched amid ongoing protests sparked by the death of George Floyd last week.

Using the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused, the shuttering is described as chance to “disconnect from work and reconnect with our community.”



Floyd, a black man, died after being arrested and handcuffed by a white police officer in Powderhorn, Minneapolis, on Monday 25 May. Eyewitness video appears to show the officer, Derek Chauvin, with his knee on Floyd’s neck while Floyd – who had been arrested after a nearby delicatessen reported he had tried to pay with a counterfeit $20 note – lay face down on the ground. Officials say Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes – including for nearly three minutes after he became unresponsive.

Floyd later died in hospital. Chauvin was sacked by the Minneapolis Police Department and is now being charged with both the murder and manslaughter of Floyd.

“We need to stop the racists that are literally killing culture”

The death of Floyd sparked protests in Minneapolis and across the US, well as demonstrations in Canada, Europe, Israel and Japan. In addition to seeking justice for Floyd, many of the protests – which began peacefully but in many cases turned violent – support the wider Black Lives Matter movement, while many of the international demos are also focused on local race-relations issues.

“There are great injustices impacting our brothers and sisters, and we are striving to be part of the solution,” reads a statement from Live Nation. “We need to stop the racists that are literally killing culture. We must take action.”

The company says it has also donated to the Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based nonprofit that provides legal support to prisoners who lack effective legal representation, particularly those of colour.

AEG says it, too “stands with communities of color [sic] against bigotry, racism and violence” and “will not stay silent” on the issue.

“Enough is enough. We’ve seen this. We’ve felt this. We will not be silent,” reads a forceful statement from CAA. “The racial injustice and violence suffered within black communities needs to stop. We will stand up, speak up, and stand alongside our CAA family.”

ICM Partners says it “stand[s] in solidarity with the families of George Floyd” and other slain African Americans “Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery”, and WME with its “black colleagues, clients, partners and allies today and every day.”

Also sending messages of support are UTA, which has prepared a list of companies “taking action nationwide to fight for justice”, and Paradigm Talent Agency, which similarly provides links to the campaign for justice for Floyd, as well as several anti-racist resources.

 

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#BlackoutTuesday #TheShowMustBePaused

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In the recorded music industry, the big three labels – Universal, Warner and Sony Music – have also confirmed their participation in Black Out Tuesday, announcing they will suspend all business operations tomorrow as a statement of solidarity, with some cancelling the scheduled release of all music this week.

The Black Out Tuesday campaign will also be acknowledged by IQ and ILMC, which will suspend all operations for 24 hours.

 


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