Together, can we build a diverse music industry?
Does it matter when you consider that it’s totally unrepresentative of the music scene’s artist’s, promoter’s, record label’s worker’s and fan’s? It does matter. The music industry here in the UK is one of the last areas that up until 2012 didn’t have an active organization that champion’s equality within this world.
This past week a group of music industry leaders and key influencers came together at the House Of Commons to discuss how they could make a change in the national statistics, of the number of black and minority ethnic (BAME) people working within the music industry.
The event put on by Diaspora – Equality in Music, by their CEO Rose Nunu, saw a full room of passionate key influencers that wanted to unite to make a change in the shocking stats about BAME workers in the music industry.
Attendees included John Whittingdale OBE MP Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, Ed Vaizey Minister for UK Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B, former SonyBMG head honcho Mervyn Lyn, AEG Live’s President of international touring Rob Hallet, former SonyBMG Head of Press Jodie Dalmeda, BBC marketing / former Def Jam/ Radio1Xtra key influencer Jay Davidson, Debbie ‘’Cookie’’ Pryce (Cookie from female hip hop Cookie Crew) and many more that are passionate about this issue. The round table was titled ‘‘together we can build a diverse music industry’’.
The round table was hosted and chaired by Rt Hon David Lammy MP for Tottenham, who revealed that he was often called upon to facilitate debates about diversity in many areas.
In the past few years there has been a huge focus on diversity within many organisations. These include the police force, the broadcast industry and the film industry to name a few. However, the figures for the music industry are much worse.
This becomes more of an imbalance when you consider that we now have a healthier number of British BAME faces in our charts than ever with the UK grime, hip hop, hip pop and other genres being the pop music of todays British generation.
Whereas once upon a time only American BAME talent reined the UK charts, now we have names like Dizzee Rascal, Tinie Tempah, Ms Dynamite, JLS, Leona Lewis, Estelle, Chip, Alexandra Burke, Tinchy Stryder and more making their marks. So the BAME community has a healthy representation front of house, but behind the scenes it’s a very different story. In fact, you will find that when we have more BAME staffers backstage in the industry, we have more BAME chart stars and vica versa.
There are still scarily low numbers of BAME workers behind the scenes. In the past two decades I have witnessed countless young BAME movers and shakers enter the industry to an underlying fanfare of celebratory trumpets (as its so rare for ‘’one of us’’ to make it in this corporate world). These tastemakers are bandied about as ‘’the new young bucks on the scene to look out for’’, but unless they keep their heads down and don’t rock the boat, their time is always limited and a few years down the line it’s the predictable case of ‘where are they now?’
Between us all we could only think of two prominent BAME heads in our industry. Darcus Beese, co-president of one of the UK’s most successful record labels, Island Records. The Guardian called him ‘the tea boy that became the boss – says it all really. The second – Sonny Takhar, Simon Cowell’s right hand man at Syco Music is the Managing Director.
Kicking off the roundtable speakers was Beverley Mason FRSA, who made the business case for increasing workforce diversity in the UK music scene. She stated what we know to be obvious. That inclusivity has an economical benefit. That black culture has always played a central part in growing trends in many areas.
We all agreed that in our own experience, thousands of organisations have initiatives that help young BAME people gain work experience or internships within huge music cooperation’s, to help open doors for BAME workers, but the legacy of progression to keep them within companies doesn’t exist. Even worse, I have seen many of my BAME peers find, break and make superstars for record labels, but there is no sign of these same behind the scenes taste makers after a few years. They’ve either been lost to redundancy, or lack of promotion has left them disillusioned with the game, and so they leave.
One attendee suggested that senior management simply did not trust young black males that looked like him, and this underlying racism would never leave the sector without a massive positive discrimination push.
Professor Monder Ram OBE, from the University of Birmingham, talked to us about enterprise and access to finance. He also spoke about strengthening the entrepreneurial prowess of diverse music industry business owners and entrepreneurs. Something powerful that stuck in my mind for hours afterwards was his observation that
‘’the music is diverse but the money and power behind it isn’t’’
He added that there were numerous unhealthy BAME stereotypes, like the corner shop owner or market stall trader, which media and onscreen dramas made worse. Surprisingly, he noted that in reality more Asians own pharmaceutical businesses than corner shops.
Nii Sackey, CEO of Bigga Fish, a not-for-profit events organisation who provide a performance platform for young creative and Advisor to The National Music Manifesto initiative, noted that much funding went to classical music projects as opposed to non classical. Jazzie B reminded us that there were countless projects existent across the UK but that the government needed to know about them all. He urged
‘’as a taxpayer, I don’t want anything new. Look at things that have already been going for 20 years and help support them to being bigger’’
Paulette Long (PRS for Music), said that making change had to happen from the inside’’. The BBC’s Jay Davidson noted that the intern and entry-level system was healthy, but the downfall was promotion and retention specifically with senior management positions.
We all noted that those sitting in the room were stalwart supporters of the cause and we were simply continuing to preach to the choir, as all the industry big hitters weren’t present for various reasons. Rob Hallet agreed,
‘’it’s simple! Get to people like me, and show me how diverse staff help make my business better’’
and plugged ‘Small Green Shoots’, an organisation that produces music projects, supporting creatives across London as well as providing platforms and opportunities for unsigned and emerging artists.
There has already been much work within the music industry to champion equality and diversity. The Equality & Diversity Charter for Music (launched in Feb 2012), is the industry’s own plan for extending this work in order to actively improve equality and diversity, and to benefit creatively and commercially from the inclusion of a diverse range of innovative creative and business talent.
We debated whether quotas for staff and diversity needed to be more thoroughly policed in music as they are in media sectors. David Lammy highlighted that there was no point in having charters if there are no targets and evaluation processes.
Ed Vaizey made closing comments and we were reminded that it takes a united society to ensure equality in all areas. For this, the second phase of Diaspora’s movement, they stated that they wish to receive the support and contributions of the music sector to continue to lead and sustain change over a ten-year plan to 2020.
In 1963 Sam Cooke told us ‘A Change Gonna Come’’. Equality changes have been big and small across this past century but with this challenge let’s hope it doesn’t take another 50 years.