UK organisation Black Lives in Music is preparing to launch an anti-racism code of conduct for the music industry, and also a report examining the challenges faced by Black people with disabilities in the industry.
Chief executive Charisse Beaumont talked about the plans during her appearance at the FastForward conference in London this week, where she was interviewed by AudienceNet’s head of research Sania Haq for a session on the importance of visibility and representation.
“We’re announcing an industry-wide anti-racism code of conduct. What do you need that for? If you saw my emails, you would see the necessity for it – we need it!” said Beaumont, who had earlier explained that she receives at least a dozen emails or calls a week from Black professionals or creators relating new cases of discrimination.
In October 2021, Black Lives in Music published a report – Being Black in the UK Music Industry – based on a survey of nearly 2,000 Black musicians and professionals. It revealed that 73% of Black music professionals have experienced direct/indirect racism in the music industry.
“We now need people to become anti-racist or become allies, and understand the impacts of racism” she added. “I don’t want to fluff it up, because it’s not a fluffy issue! It’s simple: be kind to one another. There’s going to be an education series that will accompany it… to learn about the Black experience in the music industry, how we can all treat each other a little more kindly and work together to eradicate racism in the music industry.”
Earlier in the session, Beaumont set out the challenges she sees for the music industry, following its initial reaction to the murder of George Floyd, and the protests that followed.
“In the last couple of years, we’ve seen a lot of talking. A LOT of talking. Movement but no change!” she said. ”The work to champion diversity in the music industry has been going on for 40 years, and we have only got to this point.
“Some organisations are making investments. Some organisations realising ‘oh, actually we don’t have diversity within our organisation’, and are trying to do solve that problem.”
“They’ve been reaching out to organisations like Black Lives in Music, and we’ve been able to help. That’s what we’re here for, we now have over 80 partners across the music industry and so we’re seeing some positive movement in that regards,” continued Beaumont.
She referred back to the 2021 report, and its additional findings that 88% of professionals and 86% of creators agreed that there were barriers to their career progression – and for the professionals, 56% of those people said it was due to experiencing racism.
“We’ve had our protests. That was really great for the reckoning, but just because the protests have finished, it doesn’t mean racism has gone. Racism is prevalent in the music industry,” she said. The manifestations of that range from Black professionals being overlooked for promotions through to Black artists being pigeonholed or restricted in their music-making.
“Imagine being told to do a genre that isn’t authentic to who you are or the music you want to make. Especially if you’re a Black woman and the first thing they think is: R&B vocalists. We do all genres of music. And by the way, most of the genres we enjoy came from Black people!”
Beaumont talked about the way the South Asian community has created a parallel music industry (with Punjabi music for example) to create space for its artists to reach a global audience, and questioned whether this has been an option for Black musicians.
“Black culture IS culture, but we do not get the opportunity to create a parallel industry. Most of our music – songwriters, genres, production – invested into artists that do not look like us, just to make it more palatable.“
“Investment is not made into Black artists.. Where’s the investment into Black artists? Not music: artists. That’s something we need to look at… It’s not ultimately begging for a place, it’s just highlighting and creating awareness that we need a equal and fair music industry.”
“This is all we’re trying to say. We want a music industry that’s level and fair for everyone. Not just for Black people: for LGBTQI+ people, for disabled people.”
The latter will be the focus for Black Lives in Music’s new report, which will be published in the next couple of weeks and outline the barriers faced by Black people with disabilities.
Beaumont stressed the importance of intersectionality – considering how discrimination affects people across various (and often multiple) aspects, including gender, race, sexual orientation, class and neurodiversity.
“If you’re Black, that’s a barrier. If you’re a woman, that’s an additional barrier, If you identify as LGBTIQi+ that’s a barrier but if you’re [also] disabled? You are met with barriers the industry is not willing to accommodate for and the chances of an artist being able to fulfil their aspirations is low. We need to do something about it.” she said, promising that the report will set out the issues that Black disabled musicians face.
During her session, Beaumont also talked about the work Black Lives in Music has been doing in the classical music sector, working to improve the opportunities for Black musicians there, particularly those that did not grow up with easy access to instruments and/or music lessons.
“Even if you manage to get some lessons somehow, somewhere, or you’ve picked up a cello and are phenomenal at it and you get to go to a distinguished music school, you’re faced with discrimination there, whether it’s your name, how you’re treated, how you’re taught,” she said.
“And then if you’re able to even make it out there, to get a job in an orchestra? You’ve seen what the Proms look like! It’s damn near impossible. We’ve got Chineke. One orchestra. That’s embarrassing! We’ve got to do something about that.”
Black Lives in Music has already partnered with the Royal Opera House on a mentorship scheme for young musicians, and also teamed up with four leading British orchestras on a series of auditions this autumn. Both schemes will focus on musicians from Black, Asian and ethnically traditionally underepresented groups.
Elsewhere in her session, Beaumont talked about the impact that streaming services have had on Black musicians and music, with qualified praise but an eye on some of the inequities that arise.
“If it wasn’t for DSPs and for streaming, the Black artists and music as we enjoy it right now you would never know about and the music industry wouldn’t be reaping the profits – Drill artists going to number one, Afrobeats etc – Black artists have been able to carve a career which previously would have never been possible because in the model before [streaming] the investment all went into other genres ” she said.
“Now we get to enjoy this culture of music, and it’s more accessible to us. However, we’re still not seeing the financial investment being made into artists in particular who are Black, Asian or ethnically diverse. That’s what we need to see.”
Beaumont also called for the increased diversity that the music industry has seen at entry levels spread upwards into middle management, C-suites and boardrooms.
“Some Black women are taking 15-20 years to get to middle management, that’s nonsense! But that’s our experience…”