US, UK music industries are seeking ways to boost diversity

·4-min read
YouTube honors 21 black artists through its initiative '#YouTubeBlackVoices Artist Class of 2021.'

The music industry is looking to change tracks. After the shockwaves of the protest movement #TheShowMustBePaused, professionals in the sector are launching numerous initiatives to support musicians from ethnic minorities.

British organizations Sound City, Youth Music, sm-mgmt and CAPLL LTD recently launched "Rip It Up" , a scholarship program to promote diversity and welcome a new generation of talent to the industry. Ten young people of black, Asian or another ethnic minority will be selected to follow six months of professional training to help them carve out a place for themselves in the industry. And all this with the help of mentors such as Seye Adelekan from Gorillaz, Nova Twins, Vanessa Bakewell from Facebook, Liam James Ward from Be-Hookd Digital and Achal Dhillon from Killing Moon Records.

This initiative, supported by the Youth Music Incubator Fund, hopes to encourage greater diversity and inclusiveness in the UK music sector. "Diversity (or lack thereof) issues are all around us - I don't think anyone who has a fully functional brain and has borne witness to the events of the last twelve months in particular (of course, the issue is as old as civilisation itself) needs a reminder or much convincing that racial prejudice is very real. Music being at the forefront of cultural expression therefore suffers from these issues more acutely, or indeed benefits from them when diversity is at the forefront of music businesses' strategy ," outlined Achal Dhillon of the label Killing Moon Records.

The organization UK Music addressed these issues in a recent report , in which 3,670 industry professionals were surveyed. Nearly 22% of them are black, Asian or from other ethnic minorities, compared to only 17.8% in 2018. Despite this encouraging increase, professionals from an ethnic minority often struggle to move up the ladder in the industry. They account for 42.1% of apprentices or trainees, but only 19.9% of senior managers.

Continuing on from #TheShowMustBePaused

In the United States, these disparities were at the center of the protest initiative #TheShowMustBePaused, which Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang launched last June in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery. The two women presented it as a call to the music industry, which has "profited predominantly from Black art," to protect and value the black community. Many artists and industry giants such as Warner, Sony and Universal joined the movement by symbolically pausing their activities for a day.

Eight months later, some players are continuing their efforts to promote more diversity in the industry. This is the case of the American Association of Independent Music ( A2IM ), which recently launched a new program to boost independent music businesses run by African Americans. They will join the A2IM network for free and receive tickets to attend networking events such as Indie Week and the A2IM annual conference.

For its part, YouTube recently announced the creation of a grant program for black creators on its platform. It follows the launch of a $100 million fund, #YouTubeBlack, last October. More than 130 creators have been selected as part of the "#YouTubeBlack Voices Class of 2021" initiative, and will receive financial support to increase their influence on the platform. "These creators and artists have been doing this work already and are known by their communities, but we're really excited to invest in them, and we believe that they can and will become household names with this support," declared Malik Ducard, YouTube's VP of Responsibility, during a press conference.

A double whammy for minorities

Among them are about 20 black artists, including nine women such as MC Carol, Yung Baby Tate and Tkay Maidza. Their position in the music industry is even more precarious than that of their peers, according to a study by the University of Southern California. While more and more women of ethnic minorities are making their way into the music charts as singer-songwriters, they are struggling to appear in the charts as producers. Only eight of them had that chance between 2012 and 2019.

"The music industry has virtually erased female producers, particularly women of color, from the popular charts. As producers fill a leading creative role, it's essential to ensure that women from all backgrounds are being considered and hired throughout the industry," according to Stacy L. Smith, USC professor and author of the study.