The music industry has been facing some difficult, and essential, self-analysis these past few weeks.
In the wake of Black Out Tuesday, and foreshadowed by protests against racial injustice taking place across the world, many in the business have been thinking hard about what the future shape of the industry could – and should – look like.
At the heart of the matter: ensuring that talented black executives already in the workforce of the industry are given every rightful and deserved opportunity to progress in their careers.
While the industry has been busy examining the macro, we mustn’t also forget the individual stories that can help the industry do better, and be better.
In the past few weeks, a collection of (now anonymised) black executives in the British music industry – working across radio, streaming services, record labels and beyond – have been jointly collating short anecdotes from their time in the business, reflecting what they see as instances of everything from “overtly racist comments and microaggressions to silencing, lack of recognition and pigeonholing”.
This group has asked MBW to publish a number of these anecdotes, in the hope that they might help further shine a light on the experiences of black executives worldwide.
Here are 15 of them.
- A music head at a radio station told me that two different black artists — one created afrobeat and the other dancehall — were “basically the same thing”. When I argued that they were from opposite parts of the world and also had distinctive differences musically, they said: “You know what I mean — it’s the same audience.”
- I was told, “I don’t want any of these rappers who’ve been to prison on this record, but I need the urban audience to embrace this artist.”
- On one occasion I showed interest in a singer-songwriter from Ireland and my boss asked me in front of the whole A&R team: “Are you the right type of person to be doing that sort of artist?” I told HR straight away and got a mild apology the following day, then nothing else happened.
- When an order of around 20 plaques was made because a song had been awarded a Gold certification, I was not given one. This was despite my strategy and ideas being used to push the song. I was told I could order and pay for my own plaque if I wanted.
- I have often been invited to pitch meetings as a prop for black artists the label wanted to sign. They did this knowing full well I wouldn’t be working with the artist.
- When I first started in my new department, I was tasked with obtaining a clean edit of a US track. All the ‘fucks’ were taken out, but the N-word wasn’t. My colleague then shouted “we need to get n*gga’ taken out” while looking me directly in the face. I confronted them saying “you know you shouldn’t be using that word”. I told her that if she continued to use it, that I’d report her to HR. I looked to my boss for support — he pretended he didn’t hear anything. Another colleague had to step in to support me and asked her to apologise. Eventually, I took the advice from my black colleagues to leave it alone.
- I’ve been asked to get other people weed numerous times.
- I constantly deal with raps being removed from radio edits with regional radio. Why should we cater to them to make it more ‘regional’ friendly?
- I’ve seen black managers regularly mistaken for their black artists when they arrive in the building.
- I was called “unreasonable” and “aggressive” for questioning decisions and standing up for myself.
- I was told: “Please for the next few weeks, no more urban. Every week we get so much self-congratulatory urban.”
- I was told after a meeting with a mixed race artist by a senior member of staff, they were “the best of both worlds, right?”
- A senior person at a label, when running an A&R meeting, once said that there is currently “black privilege” in music because of the existence of certain specialist radio stations & streaming playlists.
- I had once been plugging a particular artist and then heard that another plugger, was trying to utilise my radio contacts about the same record. When I inquired about what was happening, I was told: “We thought you should just stick with specialist radio on this one and get this other person to plug to national radio because you know it’s always better received coming from a white plugger.”
- I was sometimes the only member of staff that turned up to support a black artist at a gig. My entire floor would typically turn up to the opening of an envelope and have no problem showing up to the pub after work though.
Music Business Worldwide