Slava Communication SL

Jorja Smith

Promoting diversity in the music industry

Music so often provides the backdrop to great social movements that bring about fundamental changes to our world. It has the power to profoundly impact culture and represent change. And yet, within the music industry itself, diversity is still lacking, with much yet to be done to promote inclusivity and justice for all. 

BAME and LGBT communities are still severely underrepresented across the board, from entry-level jobs to the boardrooms of major labels and the headliners on the global touring circuit. And industry insiders are aware that there is still a long way to go to address the gender imbalance. As the organisers of Barcelona’s Primavera Sound festival said in December 2019: “If half of our audience is female, why shouldn’t half of our line-up be so too?”  

The issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry are nothing new. In 2019, the Music Industry Investigation Report, which surveyed 298 musicians and industry professionals about equality and inclusivity painted the stark picture of an industry that hasn’t made any systemic changes –  despite a surge in marketing around building a more inclusive environment. According to the report, 64% of musicians and 70% of industry professionals could not afford to pursue a career in music due to “insufficient earnings”. Additionally, 83% of industry professionals reported that more than three-quarters of their company’s leadership positions were held by white people.

Speaking to Adhoc, one of the co-authors of this study, René Kladzyk said:

“It’s not okay for people to passively accept the current state of the music industry if you work in it. I’m looking forward to being part of a whole big movement for changing it for the better. I made a choice to approach talking about the music industry from the position of hope, but I certainly also feel dread if we don’t do anything about the very serious problems we face.” 

The music industry is also held back by a lack of diversity behind the scenes. Indeed, a first-of-its-kind report carried out by USC Annenberg studied 700 songs in Billboard’s annual Hot 100 charts between 2012 and 2018, and discovered that female representation among artists was 22%, 12% among songwriters and just 2% among producers. Encouragingly, it did show progress in racial and ethnic diversity. Of the study’s 1,239 performing artists, 42 per cent were from minority groups, above the United States Census figure of 38.7 per cent.

The impact of the streaming industry 

So, where do we go from here? For starters, PR and communication services within the industry need to take into account how much the music scene has changed since the rise of streaming platforms. For much of the 2010s, pop radio playlists dictated the shape of the industry, as electro-pop dominated the charts while R&B and hip-hop were pushed aside. But the popularity of hip-hop on streaming services, combined with the increasing importance of streaming to the overall chart landscape, has forced the charts to embrace new genres and artists.  

As streaming continues to shift music consumption, it also plays an ever-growing role in how listeners, especially younger ones, discover new music and artists. This can be a double-edged sword. Based on the studies cited above, 22% of musicians believe the lack of diversity in algorithmically curated content is one of the top barriers keeping the music industry from being more inclusive. They even argue that the unfairness inherent in streaming services’ payment models and content curation perpetuates the inequity. Many respondents suggested that putting collective pressure on services to pay artists fairly, and investing in more cooperative models for distributing music, would help. 

This is particularly important for independent artists. Even though the digital era has made music distribution available to everyone, it is harder than ever for indie performers to breakthrough. The overwhelming majority of global streaming revenues go to the major labels while independent artists suffer from a lack of visibility and revenue. For new music to thrive, the status quo needs to be challenged.  

The power of media

Now, more than ever, artists need to harness the power of effective media communication, not only to raise their profile on the various social media channels but to mutually promote those streaming platforms whose ethos is to nurture new, creative artists whose innovation and synchronicity with society keep the music industry fresh and relevant to each upcoming generation. By offering fair and transparent compensation to artists, they aim to ensure that they are all heard, not just those with heavyweight labels or an established following behind them.

Even with such new developments, prejudice and discrimination are still rife in far too many areas of the music business but there is evidence that things are changing. After the backlash in 2018 against how white and male the Grammy Awards were, the Recording Academy formed a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, which rolled out a list of measures aimed at decreasing the inequities identified. In the UK, the recent Music Industry Workforce Diversity Survey suggested that the country’s representation of women and minorities had improved upon previous years. It is expected that the next report will indicate further improvements in the imbalance. Even more visibly, 100 music festivals and conferences globally have pledged to fight the gender gap by creating a 50/50 gender balance on their line-ups by 2022

When the worldwide pandemic forced the pause button to be pressed on festivals, concerts and club nights across a large portion of the globe, it provided an opportunity to confront and address the issues of diversity and inclusivity that have been bubbling underneath the surface for so many years. Now, as the lights come up and crowds once again fill stadiums, festival sites, concert halls and nightclubs, it’s up to everyone in the industry to make a difference, from organisers to promoters and the artists themselves. And it’s up to communication professionals to shout about those changes and help the new horizon that’s taking shape to become a firm reality.

Can the music industry finally become an environment where minorities feel equal and valued? In the indomitable words of Sam Cooke, a change is gonna come. And at Slava Communication we’re proud to be part of it.  

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