Discussions around the subject of diversity are nothing new in the music industry, but this year has seen a definite escalation in its efforts to create a more representative marketplace.
But cast your minds back to the start of the year and the signs weren’t quite so encouraging. First of all there was the ‘Oscars so white’ controversy, which saw the awards feature an all-white list of 20 nominated actors. The BRIT Awards then became embroiled in a similar ‘BRITs so white’ scandal due to the lack of diversity among the shortlisted artists and the notable absence of grime. Even Music Week itself came under fire for its annual 30 Under 30 round-up of influential young people working in the industry.
Around summertime, UK Music announced its first ever music industry diversity summit and survey. The summit drew attention to the distinct lack of diversity, particularly in the upper echelons, of the music industry, while the survey sought to provide a platform upon which to build a more representative and inclusive future.
For Keith Harris, chair of UK Music’s Diversity Taskforce, the events of 2016 have tapped into a widely held sentiment that the time for platitudes is over and that real action needs to be taken.
“The industry needs to wake up and realise that, superficially, things look quite good,” Harris tells Music Week. “That’s been part of the problem. Because the outward facing industry seems to have a reasonable mix of women and ethnic minorities, it’s seen as an open industry. That’s allowed an uneven situation to go on too long, especially at the upper levels. At grassroots levels it looks not bad, but as you rise through the ranks it becomes very uneven.
“The Oscars so white, followed by BRITs so white thing seemed to touch a chord, especially at a time when grime has come to the fore,” he continues. “And apart from anything else, the industry may have realised that it is potentially missing out on revenue streams which it can scarcely afford to do at the moment, because it’s not diverse enough to pick up on what’s going on and what kind of music the public at large are interested in.”
In a move to shake things up at the BRITs for 2017, BPI chairman Ged Doherty spearheaded a comprehensive overhaul of the awards’ voting academy. As a result, the voting body has upped the percentage of female members from 30% to 48% year-on-year. The number of BAME invitees is also up on last year from 15% to 17%.
“We wanted to make sure there’s a much greater gender balance as well as a BAME (black Asian and minority ethnic) representation,” Doherty says. “So in terms of how it will affect the nominations remains to be seen. I think it will make it more reflective of what’s going on in Britain musically, that’s certainly our hope. But until everybody votes I have no idea. And that’s how it should be.”
This year also saw Radio 3 take measures to tackle the lack of diversity in the classical sector. In addition to hosting its own diversity conference, it has already begun making practical changes to its commissioning and programming processes to instigate change.
“Our goals were not to just raise awareness of the issue; there has been a lot of awareness recently, but it has been brushed under the carpet,” Radio 3 controller Alan Davey tells Music Week. “One thing that came up at the conference was that there are lots of black, classical composers who we don’t hear of anymore; that were working in the classical music field, whose works got performed at the time and then became forgotten. So we want to do what we’ve done with female composers, which is publish the lists of material and commit to broadcasting them.
“If [the music] is there, we’ll broadcast it, and if there is no recorded material we’ll get our orchestra to make the recordings. When we list the composers we are playing on Radio 3, it’s going to include those BAME composers who history has forgotten. There is a lot of good music there we are hoping to shine a light on.”
Steps have also been taken at Radio 3 to increase the amount of new music being produced by BAME composers and performers. “We’re trying to make our commissioning process more transparent,” Davey continues. “I want to open that up and have a non-BBC person on the committee to decide what we commission every year.
“We have also announced an orchestra which features only black and minority ethnic players. We’ve been broadcasting them and we’ve given them a commission to have a new composer who’s going to be part of their repertoire going forward. The big thing is to provide people with role models.”
Initiatives such as those launched by the likes of the BRITs, UK Music and Radio 3 are certainly commendable and have helped ensure that the subject of diversity remains firmly under the spotlight. But the biggest task facing the industry is transforming those initiatives and bringing about real change across areas of the business.
Kanya King, founder of the MOBO Awards and winner of the 2016 Music Week Women In Music Media Pioneer award, says these changes need to come from the top in order to set the tone the rest of the industry.
“It is no surprise that leadership and organisational culture play key roles in creating both the obstacles and the solutions to individual success” King says. “It is critical that support for building an inclusive business comes from the top – success here requires broad executive support to filter all the way through organisations until it becomes part of their DNA. Build strategies that link diversity with the organisation’s business objectives.
“Clearly articulate to stakeholders how diversity and inclusion will work to improve the success of the business’ other strategic initiatives. Establish accountability measures for senior leaders to deliver these strategies and make sure they are achieved.
“Gone is the 20th century way of thinking where companies are closed shops and minimal information is divulged externally. In the increasingly fast, changing world of the 21st century collaboration, transparency and inclusivity are imperative to success.”
Jasmine Dotiwala, former head of MTV Base and producer, broadcaster and director with the likes of Channel 4, BBC and Sky, believes that, while there is still a long way to go, the outlook for diversity in the music business is a positive one.
“The BRITs Academy is a great example of people forcing a change,” Dotiwala tells Music Week. “Whether it does change the overall outlook is still to be seen. But whereas in the past we’ve grumbled behind closed doors, powerless to make change on a major level, we are making gains now.
“And it’s all due to the power of being given a unified voice by the internet.”
Harris concurs, offering his view that industry leaders are the ones holding the cards when it comes to overhauling recruitment policies and establishing a more representative work force.
“It’s all about starting with a mind set,” Harris explains. “You have to start to advertise more widely and think about different possibilities, rather than hiring the way you always have done.
“Try to bring a different skill set to the table. It starts with realising that everything isn’t perfect, but also, apart from hiring people, it’s about mentoring people through to the upper levels. It has to be done in the right way and it is going to take a long time. It’s not easy to change the board of an organisation, and that’s what needs to happen. But you can’t just boot a load of people out and bring a load of new people in.“
To what degree things will change over the coming months and years is impossible to predict. No one is kidding themselves that the introduction of a new conference here and a new survey there is going to solve such a deep-seated problem. But keeping the subject and the practices of the music industry – especially its biggest institutions – firmly under the microscope is a good place to start.