#TheShowMustBePaused: The Successes and Shortcomings of the Music Industry Black Out

#TheShowMustBePaused: The Successes and Shortcomings of the Music Industry Black Out

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June 2nd marked a day of industry-wide silence and reflection following a call to action under the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused. Alongside black tiles and donation pledges, the reaction to the movement brought about scrutiny surrounding underlying racial inadequacies within music and what constitutes a performative response. 

In the face of a movement poised to alter the course of history, we as allies are confronted with finding the most effective method to voice our solidarity with those impacted by racism/racial discrimination/injustice, an issue perpetuated through hundreds of years of institutionalized biases and complacency. As a white person, I will never fully understand the struggles a person of color living in America faces on a daily basis, nor will I pretend that the words I’m attempting to put on paper will come even remotely close to examining this issue to the extent that it demands. From my attempts to consistently broaden my education and empathy, I’ve become attuned to the importance of achieving a balance between being vocal and silent; vocal in the context of sharing information, educating others, donating monetary resources, and signing my name; and silent in the context of creating space for POC voices and how those voices choose to enact forms of protest. Along with this understanding I have to recognize the institutions I contribute to and the ways that my associates and I can make strides within that scope. This thought process manifested in a giant red flag over the music industry. 

In my eyes, music has always been the supreme platform for social reform. Lyricism has the capacity to create songs anthemic for unity and protest, and the faces of their human creators have become symbols of justice. It has been my highest objective and greatest privilege to dedicate my life’s work to the music industry and its effort to provide platforms to those messages and creators – but above all else this situation has highlighted the areas in which we continue to fall short and desperately need to call attention to.

To understand the need for progression within the music industry we must first become aware of all areas where Black art and its creators are being exploited. In the words of scholar Josh Kun, “If the music industry wants to support Black lives, labels and platforms can start with amending contracts, distributing royalties, diversifying boardrooms, and retroactively paying back all the Black artists, and their families, they have built their empires on”.

On Tuesday, June 2nd, thousands of companies and individuals rallied around an initiative to observe a day of pause and reflection alongside the internet-wide Black Out campaign. This included industry giants like Live Nation, Warner Music Group, Sony/ATV, Universal Music Group, Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, and Amazon Music. The initiative was brought to life by two black women in music, Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang (senior director of marketing at Atlantic and senior artist campaign manager at Platoon, respectively) using the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused. Following the abhorrent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others, Thomas and Agyemang recognized the need for action on the part of an industry that has directly benefited from Black art and culture. The objective of the movement was to create an interruption in the normal operations of the industry, allowing space for reflection, conversation, and action. Countless other individuals within the entertainment industry personally opted to “mute” their own promotional content and rather promote POC-created content under the hashtag #amplifymelanatedvoices.

According to Variety, “Warner Music Group and the Family Foundation of its primary owner, Len Blavatnik, have announced a $100 million fund to support charitable causes unrelated to the music industry, social justice and campaigns against violence and racism”. Specific organization names were not indicated.

Universal Music Publishing Group chairman and CEO Jody Gerson said in a statement, “UMPG will support and contribute to initiatives chosen by our Black creatives that will make lasting change”. A six-step plan of action included a legal push for reform, the adoption of inclusion efforts at all UMG offices, reform of recruitment and retention practices for a diverse workforce, collaboration with current partnerships for similar efforts, facilitation of progressive conversations, and grants to eleven different social justice organizations. The statement did not include selected organization names or donation amount.

Sony Music chairman and CEO Jon Platt (the only Black CEO of a global major music company) said in an open letter, “We must create a platform that provides each and every colleague the encouragement for true self-expression.” The letter did not indicate a donation commitment, although Sony Music Group later announced a “$100 million fund to support social justice and anti-racist initiatives around the world”. 

In a statement, Live Nation announced it will “show its support by donating to the Equal Justice Initiative”. The statement did not pledge a donation amount.

TuneCore (the world’s leading digital music aggregator) donated $20,000 to Color Of Change, with a promise to “continue to build programs and initiatives to support these values”. The platform itself was launched as a way for artists to independently release music while keeping 100% of sales revenue, bypassing the need for a label and in many ways backing their assurance to support black artists.

 

It’s difficult, in cases like these, to measure the success of a standalone initiative. No amount of Black squares and public statements by label executives can come close to reversing decades of abuse and exploitation of the Black art that signs their paychecks. My goal in highlighting several company responses is to exhibit an unfortunate deficiency in either monetary commitment or long-term reform, specifically amongst the giants that govern the majority of the industry. The reality of the situation is that there is always more to be done – from including organization names and donation sums in these statements to restructuring the foundations of a system that has historically disproportionately inhibited artists of color. I encourage a hyper-awareness among all of us as music fans surrounding which practices are performative versus impactful. As long as we exist within a multi-billion dollar industry, we must cease to accept an action that isn’t backed by monetary support as action. As a very first step.

 

Please follow @pausetheshow on Twitter and @theshowmustbepaused on Instagram for updates and additional phases of the initiative to be announced.

The following means of aiding the Black Lives Matter movement are resources selected by Thomas and Agyemang and shared via the #TheShowMustBePaused website.

  • Help the family of George Floyd HERE.
  • Fight for Breonna Taylor HERE.
  • Help the family of Ahmaud Arbery HERE.
  • Want to help protesters? Donate to one or more community bail funds HERE.
  • Visit Movement For Black Lives for additional ways you can help the cause.
  • Want to connect with leaders building grass roots campaigns? Click HERE.

Are you an ally and want to learn more? Here are some anti-racism resources.

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