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#BlackOutTuesday began as a call to the music industry - one which we cannot ignore

Last week the #BlackoutTuesday campaign dominated social media around the world. Originating in the music industry, the idea was co-opted by thousands and morphed into a much broader action (or inaction). The idea began as #TheShowMustBePaused, started by music executives Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang (Atlantic Records) and was intended to be a day of reflection and consideration from major industry figures “who benefit from the efforts, struggles and successes of black people”.

Despite having an enormous and powerful platform to inspire and enact change, we know that the music industry mostly fails to grasp that opportunity and often falls far short of its potential. As a music writer, even in just the last five years the news pieces and op-eds I’ve contributed include issues around representation of women in the industry, transparent pay, fair streaming royalties, abuse and mental health within the industry, environmental sustainability and representation of languages in popular music. But the exploitation and repression of Black artists and writers goes so much further back, it is so entrenched (as it is across innumerable aspects of our society) that regardless of where #BlackoutTuesday ended up, it’s important not to miss Thomas and Agyemang’s call. 

One of the biggest problems with systemic issues is that it is too easy not to see them unless you are the one suffering. That system has been in place so long that we don’t question it, which is why we can’t let this moment pass by the industry even as it becomes a part of a bigger movement. For anyone asking what they can do, Black communities have repeatedly asked us to hold our own communities accountable. To educate ourselves and others, and to face the uncomfortable conversations - which are undoubtedly far more comfortable than being the target for racism. The music industry is our community, and it’s one that needs our attention.

Systemic derives from the word system, and it implies affecting the whole of something. To make meaningful change we do need to dismantle that system - we can’t just build annexes and bypasses to try and weave in support for those whom the system is failing. For the music community that means acting consciously and making decisions that won’t feel easy.  We need to recognise that we will not effect change without continuing to examine and question, this will not be an organic process. Major corporations have already pledged financial support and change, but we need to also look at what this looks like for those at a grass roots level.

Really look at your artist community. Who do you support, who supports you and what voices do you listen to from the other artists around you? It isn’t tokenistic to actively seek out diverse networks, but it will take conscious effort to ensure that Black voices are amplified because the system normalises keeping them on mute. It is tokenistic - and disrespectful - to choose to support someone purely to achieve diversity; take the time to seek out Black voices and evaluate them with the same criteria. And do not accept that just because they are underrepresented or hard to find, that they do not exist.

Effecting real change also sometimes demands that we give up our place at the table. It is a difficult prospect as no one is denying that the music industry is tough place to be for anyone - but it is immeasurably harder for POC. You might think that once you have a seat at the table, you can use your voice to make changes then. But by that time you will already have been lifted up by the same old system - and your voice will be stifled by being indebted to it. This is why grass roots action is important. Look to the line ups on the shows and festivals you’re playing, look at the staffing and transparency in the organisations who seek to work with you. Demand change at every stage and be active in seeking solutions rather than simply refusing to play.

Education is always one of the strongest tools at our disposal for helping enact change and progression. If you acknowledge one musical influence, take the time to understand the history and influences behind them, and those behind them as well. This age of shared content and syndication has already sparked a drive to credit creators and authors; understand who you are indebted to as well. Not just in terms of musical inspiration, but also in building the industry we are part of. Really understanding how the industry works is our number one piece of advice for any growing artist, and that knowledge includes where the industry has failed and where it goes wrong.

Within our creative community who support the music industry, we also need to consciously expand our networks. Ultimately we are looking for the best person for the job, but at the moment we aren’t really seeing all the talent out there. We need to ensure that every time we are looking out for photographers, videographers, graphic designers and artists, that we don’t just look in the same places. To actively bring those creators to the table, and recognise that to be judged solely on your portfolio is an enormous privilege.

If you want to read more about Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, or how these issues manifest in the industry, here's a few places to start;

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