Discrimination in the British music industry is
“serious, upfront and personal”,
the author of a new report about the experiences of black musicians says.
“Prejudice is here,” Roger Wilson of the Black Lives in Music initiative also says.
“There’s nothing stealthy about it.”
Reports shows that six out of 10 black music producers have experienced racism, at the same time 86% say they have faced obstacles to their career because of their ethnicity.
This explains why they also earn £299 less monthly, on average, than their white colleagues.
The report was from a compilation from the biggest-ever survey of black musicians and music industry professionals in the United Kingdom.
Altogether, 1,718 people responded, describing a range of act of Prejudice and
“sometimes hostile working environments”.
“having to repeatedly ask other artists to stop using the N-word”, while another faced “jokes about [my] skin color, Africa [and] persistent questioning about where I really come from”.
Their evidence echo recent findings and disclosure from supper stars like Alexandra Burke, who stated how she was advised to bleach her skin to “look whiter”.
The singer and winner of the X Factor in 2008, said she was later told she would
“have to work 10 times harder than a white artist, because of the color of [her] skin”.
Another X Factor winner, Little Mix star Leigh-Anne Pinnock, reported she was made to feel like the band’s “token black girl”; and that she usually felt “invisible” at public shows.
Rapper Tinie Tempah, Earlier this week, said black artists still received little or no support than their white colleagues.
“Once you’re part of a record label or a system, there are lots of complexities within that framework – what your budgets are versus someone else,”
he disclosed to the Press Association.
“‘You’re a rapper so this is your budget and you’re black, but this is a folk artist who’s from, like, Shropshire, and this is their budget and they haven’t sold as many records as you, but we think that they’re more viable, so we’re going to spend more’.
“I would say the internet has made it easier for anyone to be an artist,”
“But then, once you have success, and once you’re navigating the industry, the world is still a racist place, and people are still racist.”
The Black Lives in Music initiative was created in March early this year, proposing a data-driven mission to boost and empower black musicians and professionals.
The survey is its first major assignment, and will make uncomfortable reading for many in the music industry.
It shows that black musicians
“are victims of pay disparity and lack of opportunities to progress,” Wilson told the BBC.
“And we’re seeing that black women, in particular, are the worst off.”
The report discovered 31% of black music producers are of the opinion that their mental well-being had worsened since the commencement of their music career, increasing to 42% of black women.
Four in every 10 said they had been pigeon-holed into a genre
“which is not true to me”,
A similar number reported being pressurized to change their name or their outward appearance to meet record label’s expectations.
Only 8% of black creators declared feeling satisfied with the support they received so far. While three-quarters reported otherwise.
This discovery came in-spite of increasing diversity in the music industry. A recent survey by UK Music discovered that representation of black, Asian and other ethnically diverse people aged 16-24 was 30.6%, up from 25.9% in 2018.
Representation is also increasing at senior levels, despite the fact that black and ethnically diverse people only fill one in five (19.9%) of those positions.
‘Pushy and aggressive’
Up coming star Kima Otung, whose music has been highlighted on Love Island and been played on BBC Radio 1, disclosed she recognized many of the stories and experiences described in the report.
This 27-year-old says she’s experienced micro-aggression, like
“reaching out to people and being called pushy or aggressive because I was following up on an email I’d sent two weeks earlier, which is something that’s pretty standard”.
She has decided to go past the UK’s major labels and release her music unaided., after hearing shocking stories about the industry.
Otung declares she is fully aware of record labels who say
“there’s only room for one”
black artist on their roster.
“They’ll take a chance on one black R&B artist and that’s all they have space for” she says. “
And it almost feels very experimental in nature – so they get given a very short contract or a really unfavorable contract.
“It’s almost as if to say, ‘You should feel lucky to even be here, so take these terms or leave them – because there’s a whole line of black artists that will take your place immediately.'”
It’s her hope that the Black Lives in Music report will lead to a shift in think and understand.
“It’s not about ostracizing anyone or pointing the finger. It’s about inviting people into the conversation and saying, ‘Look, this kind of sucks, so what goals can we put in place for the next five years to make really sustainable change?'”
‘The industry wants to change’
Wilson, who has worked with James Brown and Dame Shirley Bassey among others, as a musician and teacher, says the aim of the Black Lives in Music strategy is to (MOH) hold the music industry to the
“fantastic, impassioned statements”
they carried out during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.
Sequel to George Floyd’s death, many labels and organisations pledged contributions, mentoring and charitable donations; as The Grammy dropped the discriminatory word “urban” as a term used to describe music by black artists.
Significant progress has been made since then, particularly in the form of new inventiveness like the PRS Foundation’s Power Up – which gives donations, mentoring and other forms of support to black artists and executives as they soar higher towards the next stage of their careers.
The record label and publisher BMG in addition undertook a review of its back catalog and found “significant differences” in the sum paid (royalty) rates given to black artists. It finally said it would take “measures to benefit the lowest-paid recording artists across all of its catalogs”.
Wilson says he remains hopeful about further progress.
“I happen to believe that the industry wants to make a change,” he says. “And, as a result, this report is going to, I hope, solicit some honesty in the industry, and [create] a desire to put put things right.”
“It will take us time. I don’t know that it’s going to turn around in the next six months. But I do believe that all of these discussions will help to bring about change.”