Noelle Scaggs is the founder of Diversify The Stage, the US organisation that launched an inclusivity pledge for the live music industry last year, signing up Live Nation, AEG and key talent agencies.
Scaggs explained where the idea for the organisation came from during last week’s NY:LON Connect conference, interviewed by Music Biz president Portia Sabin.
It was partly informed by her experience from more than 20 years as an artist, and partly spurred by the music industry’s response to the killing of George Floyd in 2020, and the campaigns to drive diversity, equity and inclusion in the music industry following it.
“Over the course of the pandemic, and all the things that were happening, especially those events that were really affecting communities of colour, I was really trying to identify areas of the music industry that bothered me,” she said.
“I really wanted to start having dialogue about my experience, and things that I didn’t really see happening with all of the black boxes that were being placed and all of the promises, and the companies really wanting to say something to be positive towards the event, and effecting change.”
“But I wasn’t hearing a lot of background noise when it came to the live industry, and because I spent so much time on the road, I had a real perspective of what I identified with, which was honestly being the only woman of colour on many of my tours, or even the only woman.”
‘Our entire business model is a word-of-mouth practice’
Diversify The Stage was Scaggs’ attempt to find out why this was the case, and to change it for current and future artists.
That change is coming through its Inclusion Initiative, and its stated aim to “to strengthen the industry’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility practices by creating a strong pipeline of professionals from historically excluded, and or underrepresented groups, and increasing the experience, diversity, and strength of the talent pool within this sector of the industry”.
“I really wanted to identify the chain of events that happens when picking a team. When thinking about a touring team, it’s not only just the tour manager or production manager that is doing all the initial work in finding folks,” said Scaggs.
“These people come out of referrals. Our entire business model is a word-of-mouth practice, and with that comes some limitation in widening the net of opportunities for people.”
Diversify The Stage aims to widen that pool through working with promoters and other live-industry companies, as well as helping more artists to realise that they can have a voice in changing the diversity of the crews working on their tours.
It will also work with its partner companies to identify measures that work well in this field, and share them with the rest of the industry.
“It’s about creating resources, it’s about creating awareness, self-assessment, and then a collective motion towards this change,” she said.
“There’s a lot of independent bodies doing stuff, but a lot of us are not talking to each other. If we have more widespread communication and activity, we’re going to get to a good place faster… a place where we can say this is not just lip service.”
‘We really want to engage with young people…’
The next steps for Diversify The Stage will be bringing its partners together to agree “what the accountability measures are going to look like” globally and to sketch out the approach if efforts “are hitting an obstacle with a venue, or with a union for that matter”.
“The first step is getting the message spread. Really encouraging every single company to push the inclusion initiative to all of their clients, not just a few,” added Scaggs.
Diversify The Stage has also launched a program offering mentorship, paid apprenticeship and shadowing placements, and masterclasses, in partnership with the Music Forward Foundation, She Is The Music, SoundGirls and Women in Music.
It began with a 25-person cohort focusing on women of colour. “Our efforts moving forward is youth of colour and underrepresented communities that are of college age,” said Scaggs.
“You do not have to be in school in order to be a part of the program, but you do need to have a focus within our four pillars of education, which is looking at production; we’re looking at management from the tour, production and stage management practice; we’re looking at marketing and promotions.”
“We really want to engage with young people that are looking to throw their own festivals or concert experiences, and really help and support them in that space,” she continued.
“And then we are also looking at other alternative careers: we’re looking at our vendor suppliers. All of those wonderful industries that support our tours and also offer staffing. So we’re looking at a lot of different spaces, but we really want to connect with young people that are interested in behind-the-scenes, more so than being on the stage as the star.”
Noelle Scaggs’ session was part of the ‘Values-Based Music Economy’ track at NY:LON Connect, which was sponsored by MQA and Family in Music. You can read our full NY:LON Connect 2022 coverage here.
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