Rolling Stone – Fighting Racism in the Music Industry

Rolling Stone – Fighting Racism in the Music Industry

The Music Industry Was Built on Racism. Changing It Will Take More Than Donations On Tuesday, the major labels protested police brutality with a “blackout.” Executives and artists say industry-wide racial equality is still a long way away In September 1978, soul producer extraordinaire Kenneth Gamble helped launch the Black Music Association, an advocacy group set on pushing the music industry to “recognize and celebrate the economic and cultural power of black music as well as those who made and promoted it.” “It was time for something new and more inclusive of all black music industry professionals,” Gamble said in 2015. The BMA was addressed to both artists and executives, linking two groups that both faced music industry racism but were often on opposite sides of negotiating tables. The BMA’s slogan? “Black Music Is Green.” The BMA eventually faded from prominence, “[un]able to withstand splintered agendas in the leadership.” But several executives referenced the organization’s history of advocacy this week in the aftermath of Blackout Tuesday, which saw work stoppages across the major labels. “I feel like we need that [to come back],” says one manager who participated in Blackout Tuesday events.  Amid nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, record labels decided to use Tuesday for a rare industry-wide reckoning. Two related conversations have unfolded in parallel. First, can the music industry use its vast resources and wide influence to help reduce police brutality and combat systemic racism? Second, can the music industry finally face down its own history of racism and build a more equitable future? Some saw the industry’s navel-gazing as a distraction from the fierce urgency of the protests around Floyd’s death. “If I don’t want to be exploited by the music business, I know how to not be exploited by the music business — I don’t sign a contract,” says another manager who participated in Blackout Tuesday events. “I still don’t know how not to be killed by a police officer.” But this week’s conversation about the ways “the record industry does a very good job of keeping black people out of the room,” as one A&R puts it, is accelerating discussions that have been in progress for decades and were already becoming more public in recent years. These concern the wildly uneven contracts that continue to earn the music business millions of dollars while passing on only a small amount of that wealth to artists, the...

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