Something that came through very clearly about last week’s #TheShowMustBePaused day when music companies of all kinds paused their regular work to respond to the protests about racism and police brutality was that it couldn’t just be about one day: it was about paving the way for a host of actions and changes over the coming weeks, months and years. That’s enhanced by the very public pressure on music companies to now announce what they’re doing, rather than simply posting the right hashtags and sentiments.
With that in mind, here’s some more news about actions. On Friday, Sony Music announced a $100m fund that will support social justice and anti-racist initiatives globally, promising that it will “immediately begin to donate to organisations that foster equal rights… with our community fully involevd in effectively using these funds”. The fund matches WMG and the Blavatnik Family Foundation’s $100m fund, which was announced last week, while Universal Music Group has announced a $25m fund as part of the “first phase” of further support.
One of UMG’s labels, Republic Records, has also thrown its weight behind one particular change that has been discussed before: stopping using the catch-all term ‘urban’ to describe music made by Black artists. “Over time the meaning and connotations of ‘urban’ have shifted and it developed into a generalization of Black people in many sectors of the music industry, including employees and music by Black artists,” explained Republic’s statement. “While this change will not and does not affect any of our staff structurally, it will remove the use of this antiquated term… We encourage the rest of the music industry to consider following suit.”
The range of voices being heard in and around these actions continues to include criticism of the traditional industry and its structures. Beyoncé, for example, offered her views during an address to students as part of YouTube’s ‘Dear Class of 2020’ livestream yesterday. “The entertainment business is still very sexist. It’s still very male-dominated, and as a woman, I did not see enough female role models given the opportunity to do what I knew I had to do,” she said.
“To run my label and management company, to direct my films and produce my tours, that meant ownership: owning my masters, owning my art, owning my future and writing my own story. Not enough black women had a seat at the table. So I had to go and chop down that wood and build my own table. Then I had to invite the best there was to have a seat.”
Meanwhile, veteran US industry lawyer Ronald E. Sweeney called for labels to address “the elephant in the room: Why is it that Black music generates millions and millions of dollars a year and yet none of the companies have a meaningful number of employees of color, let alone in the executive suite?” in a guest column for MBW.
He set out a 12-point plan for major music companies, including creating new companies “to be headed by minorities, give them their own budgets and let them run the companies like you currently do with other executives”; creating executive training programs focused on non-white staff; funding music industry business programs in Black colleges; and – another existing discussion that has come to the forefront in the past week – “With respect to Black artists signed to you prior to 2000, that are no longer signed to your companies, zero out their unrecouped royalty balances and let their royalties flow to them so they can support themselves”.
Alongside all this, there’s a new seven-day social-media campaign underway with a new hashtag, #ArtistsForBlackLives. Aimed at artists who are “not sure what to post right now” it draws together suggestions from Black anti-racism educators, organisers and activists to “drive a targeted windfall
of visibility and cashflow” towards Black-owned organisations, fundraisers and initiatives – complete with pre-prepared visual assets for social media. You can find the PDF with all the details here.