In early September, Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, founders of #TheShowMustBePaused campaign, announced a set of demands for music industry organizations. The original social media campaign came after the death of George Floyd and charged that the record industry needed a reckoning with issues of racial inequality that’s long permeated the business. This early fall charge was given a thirty day deadline for a sense of urgency but without a clear articulation of what might occur if no progress was made. The call asked for
more equitable pay, less reliance on contract workers, increased diversity initiatives, increased corporate transparency, budget allocation towards programs targeted at black employees, and improving talent pipelines. My June critiques back
of the initial campaign were that it prioritized already-successful black professionals rather than all
workers within the industry. Still, if
a company were to follow through on all these demands, it’d make for an improved, and accountable,corporate culture. Apparently, the record industry missed the memo.
Nearly ninety days since the demand and no companies within the record industry appears to have publicly addressed the demands set for by the women. What’s not too clear is by what means such actions were meant to take place or how exactly these corporate reforms would be enforced. Were these initiatives for a company’s employees, management, or respective human resources departments? The demand never made that explicitly clear. Perhaps at best these conversations are still happening in the background and in private, but considering the thirty day ultimatum, the lack of official response must’ve been a little disappointing. But that didn’t mean companies weren’t doing any self-reflection.
In October, Billboard reported
that IMPALA (Independent Music Companies Association), a trade association of European independent labels, released its own twelve-point charter
to address diversity and inclusion. Nearly all of the initiatives proposed can be boiled down to sending an email about diversity and making sure to keep diversity in the subject matter of said emails. I’m sure there are a few people excited that IMPALA will be setting up awards specifically around the topic of diversity and inclusion but it’s hard to fathom what exactly that’ll do to address more foundational issues, which the initiative is reportedly designed to address. However, what raised the biggest question for me was the eleventh commitment: “Speak out where we support specific issues and use our voice in Brussels to encourage the EU to take the lead.” This is likely a recommitment to its Covid relief recommendations
, still the vagueness of the phrasing made me wonder how exactly this related to issues of diversity. So, IMPALA wasn’t alone in giving some more concrete steps.
After the George Floyd protests, Universal Music Group announced a renewal of its research initiative
with the University of Southern California to research diversity within the record industry. This appeared to be one of many collaborations between UMG and USC, slotting UMG executives on the USC board seats. The proposals were full of pablum about better hiring practices and diversifying leadership ranks, so again, very little to directly help the employees of these firms.
These efforts fall mostly within the framework of sending some nicer emails and saying one is committed to anti-racism without changing anything core to their business. IMPALA even mentioned that these twelve initiatives were suggestions and that it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect all of their various members to execute full commitment to such efforts. If that’s the case, then the creation of a well-designed website almost feels almost more important than the project. I shouldn’t forget about the newly-formed Black Music Action Coalition
with a list of partners longer than a movie closing credit sequence but its activism appeared wrapped up in ‘get out the vote’ efforts rather than continue tackling industry-specific issues. So, if this is what top down projects achieve, what about more grassroots efforts.