Equality In The Music Industry: Can This Ever Be Achieved?
Updated: Mar 23
The music industry is a nuanced place where nothing is really as it seems, similar to may other professions around the world but music, as one of the most powerful forces in our lives, is not always presented to us based on being organic or being authentic but through systems of control and opportunity to the right people at the right time. For decades it has been known that equal opportunity has never been the case for some of the most renowned artists in various minority communities. A famous example is the Chitlin Circuit, The Chitlin' Circuit was a collection of performance venues throughout the eastern, southern, and upper midwest areas of the United States that provided commercial and cultural acceptance for African-American musicians, comedians, and other entertainers during the era of racial segregation in the United States. Due to the racial tensions at this time, white artists would get the larger venues and more accommodating modes of transportation and promotion for their events.
Genre inequality is also a key element of this discussion as for decades new genres have seen scrutiny and misrepresentation from Award shows and the mainstream for years. The latest example of this is the Tyler the Creator and his latest Grammy speech, expressing his feelings on being awarded the Grammy for Best Rap Album, although his project mainly featured an alternative sound. The inequality even extends to the point of showcasing traditional categories and not others even though the genres that are ignored are some of the most popular in today's current musical climate. the voters for these awards also are very unequal due to the protected structure of being involved in the process.
Gender Inequality has also been a large topic of discussion in the music industry as Label Executives and overall music industry officials are 70% male and 30% female til this day. In 2018, Spotify’s top 5 most streamed artists featured no women on the list, even in the face of tremendous success by female artists like Cardi B, Ariana Grande, and Taylor Swift. The percentage split between male and female artists is also a shocking one as in 2017, 83.2 percent of artists were men and only 16.8 percent were women. The year marked a 6 year low for female artists in popular content. In songwriting of 2767 credited songwriters, 87.7 percent were male and 12.3 percent were female. One could say women are thriving in music, but the data seems to prove otherwise. Even when it comes to touring, out of the top 10 highest-grossing tours in 2019 only feature 1 female artist, Pink. Some may argue that many heavy-hitting female acts did not tour that year but this highlights the huge gap in visibility and opportunity for female artists.
Another key concept that brings a lot of inequality of opportunity in the music industry is nepotism and friendships. Us as human beings always prefer to work with or give the opportunity to people that we love or would like to succeed, sometimes regardless of their ability to do the task at hand. Regardless of if someone put in position is capable or not, proximity is something that is often overlooked but can be the most powerful tool. The music industry is one of the few corporate spaces where people can fly up the ranks and be in the right place at the right time will get you that opportunity faster than someone with little to no connections or experience within the system. There are many examples of how nepotism is practiced, even in the indie space, for example, your best friend becoming a new artist's manager over a much more experienced individual due to comfortability and trust.
Now that we have laid out a few of the factors that cause the music industry to be so unequal. How can we change that and is that even possible? There are going to be multiple answers to that question but we believe that the music industry is just a microcosm of the world and the lack of equality in politics, religion, class, and location is a larger version of what we see in music and all we can do to continue working towards change is by having conversation and raising awareness.
Urban Development is an award-winning music development organisation who has held a number of seminars bridging the gap between underground musicians and industry professionals. They provide support programs and work experience opportunities for young people that will equip them with the relevant skills and knowledge to further or help begin their careers in music.
Yesterday we were invited to their second Industry Take Over seminar, in partnership with SheSaidSo, titled ‘Equal Ops or Nah’. The panel included artist manager Ella Bonai, Metropolis Music and Live Nation UK promoter Alexander Ampofo and North London rising rapper and producer Louis VI. During this panel, they explored the lack of representation in the music industry and the ways in which we could make space for more diversity.
It is important to create spaces where these topics are discussed and opinions are shared to not only educate ourselves as creatives but to open up opportunities to meet and network with industry professionals.
Head over to their Instagram @urbandevelopment to catch clips of the panel talk and keep a lookout for some more events to come.