A year on from the “Blackout Tuesday,” during which the music industry paused to take a look at its racial policies and plan to reform them, how is it doing? According to both last week’s USC-Annenberg “Inclusion in the Music Business” study and a “report card” released over the weekend by the Black Music Action Coalition — a 200-plus-member organization formed around this time last year — it’s doing fair-to-badly.
BMAC’s 37-page report takes a look at dozens of organizations in multiple categories — labels, streaming services, live-entertainment, the Recording Academy and more — to examine how much they have lived up to their multiple pledges, in particularly to elevate black employees and donate to racial justice initiatives.
Unlike the USC report, the BMAC report card graded individual companies, giving much of the industry B’s and C’s, with several — particularly in agencies and live-entertainment companies — coming in for stinging “needs improvement.”
The report says the companies’ donations and statements on their activities were largely positive, but the deeper transformation of lasting internal change has a long way to go — a criticism echoed by last week’s USC-Annenberg report.
“Companies did a fair job of visibly amplifying Black voices and causes and putting money back into Black communities and Black organizations over the last year,” the report’s introduction reads. “However, the point is to now hold companies to the task of sustained investment and change. Corporations in general, and entertainment specifically, have been overdue for a standard, public measurement of how their practices impact the Black lives, including executives, artists and the communities they come from.”
Citing the industry’s past history of racial-based reforms, the report was unsparing in its criticism. “Music companies readily chimed in with shows of support and solidarity” after Blackout Tuesday, the co-founders wrote. “Unfortunately, history suggested any change would be either superficial or short-lived.”
Contacted by Variety, reps for many of the companies singled out in the report either had no comment or did not respond to the request for comment.
“Overall, the report reveals that while companies took the generous and needed, but relatively easy lift of donating funds or matching employee donations — some with a devised giving strategy — few created mechanisms to tackle and change issues and systems such as talent and promotion pipelines internally,” Naima Cochrane, lead author of the report, wrote. “Only a handful had full, multi-tiered plans of action that covered both internal changes and community engagement and giving, and only two labels publicly addressed some form of revisiting and revising agreements for heritage artists — and that is a crucial aspect to working towards parity and equity. But music companies are still resistant to sharing info about artist contracts and pay rates, employee demographics and salaries, so transparency will be the most crucial element in progress.
“Our hope is that the MIA Report Card, especially coming on the heels of the Annenberg Study, will spur more conversations and efforts towards, in some cases, disruptive change,” the introduction concludes. “We’re applying pressure, and we challenge more companies to take that next step towards honest and transparent dialogue moving forward.”
The report then goes on to examine key sectors of the industry — labels, streaming services, live music, publishing, the Recording Academy — as well as detailed reports on individual companies. Surprisingly, the radio industry, which was singled out by the USC-Annenberg report as severely lacking in diversity, did not receive much analysis in the report.
Read the full report here.
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