The Black Music Action Coalition (BMAC) was launched earlier this week by executives in the music industry, a hallmark move to demonstrate the music industry’s commitment to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. It is, finally, a recognition that simply showing support to the black artists and the overall black community is not enough – it must be matched by active efforts in the industry on a consistent and long-term basis.
The coalition is formed by black artists, producers, songwriters, managers, attorneys and music industry professionals, and is partnered with some big names in the industry, like Jeffrey Azoff and Danny Rukasin, to name a few. In an open letter penned to the music industry and chief executives, BMAC made their mission known: “to address long standing racial inequities in the business, the financial impact of those inequities for both Black artists and executives, and ways we can work with you urgently to solve these problems.”
The creation of BMAC stems from a movement called #TheShowMustNotBePaused, in which black music professionals Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas to protect and empower black communities, after exploitation by the music industry, which has led to financial inequality between black artists and their white counterparts. Of course, the coalition was also launched the week following Juneteenth – a day to celebrate the end of slavery in the US – which saw some music companies showing support by honoring it as a holiday for their employees.
Record labels have already pledged big donations: Warner Music Group announced that it would donate $100 million to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and Universal Music Group has announced a $25 million “Change Fund” to develop social justice initiatives in-house. In the wake of these donations, BMAC has said that they aim to work with the CEOs and executives of these industry giants to ensure that funds are allocated in the most meaningful way for the black community. In their letter, the coalition makes it clear that systemic racism is present in the music industry, and we need a complete restructuring from the operation of top executives to the treatment of up-and-coming artists.
The music industry has benefited the most off of black culture and black voices, and yet, inequality runs rampant. Historically dominated by black artists, the genres of rap and hip-hop have experienced a meteoric growth in popularity over the last few years, and their influences can be felt in all corners of the music industry. This is not reflected in the people at the top, however – black executives in the music industry are still outnumbered by white executives. Only last year did we see black executives finally getting a seat at the table, when black industry professionals took over 20 top executive positions. The result is a discrepancy between the talent and the people managing them, resulting in a lack of understanding and a professionally distant relationship. When black artists were asked what needs to change in the industry, many of them said amending contracts is needed: without understanding between management and talent, it’s easy for young talent to fall into exploitative, exclusionary contracts.
While visibility has increased, struggles for black artists remain. Black women face a constant slew of social criticism, whether that be for their appearances, oversexualisation, or simply pitting them against other women. It’s been a great year for black women – Nicki Minaj, Doja Cat, Megan thee Stallion and Beyoncé reigned on the charts earlier this year – but the journey for smaller black artists is often brutal and tumultous.
Black male artists, on the other hand, are often pigeonholed and labelled into a category called ‘urban’, which has been at the center of discourse after the black music executives in the UK to stop using the word as a music genre. As an executive put it: “‘Urban’ doesn’t support the advancement of people’s understanding of the layers of black music.” It echoes the sentiments of Tyler the Creator’s speech at the Grammys earlier this year, where the acclaimed artist called out the tendency to label the music of black men as urban, even if it is “genre-bending” and saying that it felt like a backhanded compliment.
The establishment of the Black Music Action Coalition has been a long-time coming: the contribution that the black creative community had on not only music, but our overall pop culture is immense, and yet, their voices are only being heard now. Let’s hope that establishment of the coalition will lead to lasting change, and industry executives continue to be held accountable for their actions.
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