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Black Lives in Music's survey notes that 88% of Black music industry professionals have faced significant racism—and sexism—in their careers.
By Veronika Kailich
BLiM released a survey revealing the lived experiences of Black music creators and industry professionals, covering issues including gender and ethnic pay gaps and mental health.
The UK-based organisation—which promotes diversity and inclusion in the music industry—surveyed 1,718 industry professionals spanning from grassroots to signed artists. The report reinforces race and ethnicity as the leading grounds for discrimination, with gender as a close secondary factor.
The report highlights that the majority (88%) of respondents have experienced barriers to progression due to the lack of access to equal opportunities as their white counterparts. Black professionals, particularly women, are consequently pressured to create coping strategies for navigating negative workplaces. One respondent highlights code-switching as their primary mechanism: “I have felt the need to make myself more palpable for my non-Black counterparts in order to be taken seriously or offered the same opportunities as my white peers.” According to the report, Black women are far more likely to be forced into altering both their behavior (48%) and their appearance (44%), while Black men are likely to change their speech (52%). Singer-songwriter Estée Blu (pictured) also points to colorism and the industry's preference for lighter-skinned, mixed-race female artists as a grave concern.
The report underscores how the intersectional nature of structural racism and sexism results in a stark gender and ethnic pay disparity. Compared to 73% of white music professionals, only 40% of Black female professionals earn 100% of their income from music, leaving them with no alternatives but to work outside of the industry to make ends meet. One respondent remarks, “We aren’t paid proportionately to the value we add to the culture and business of music.” The average wage of Black industry professionals is £1,964 and Black female industry professionals is £1,811, while white industry professionals earn £2,459.
Education and funding have a vast potential to provide essential resources supporting career development but remain equally rife with implicit and structural prejudice. Lavender Rodriguez comments on the early onset of these issues, originating from music education’s “traditional atmosphere,” where learning “music theory and then Mozart, Beethoven, and all the classics” is required. Music education consultant Nate Holder adds how music education fails to consider the informal ways in which talent forms in Black communities, often in churches or homes.
Further, while Black professionals (40%) are more likely to apply for financial assistance than their white counterparts (26%), they are 35% less likely to have at least one successful application. Oftentimes, Black industry professionals are not given any information about funding possibilities or deadlines. This failed system grants labels the power to exploit and capitalise on Black music through avenues such as advertisements without returning a single penny back to the artists. Law consultant Kienda Hoji emphasises this discrepancy in the contracting of masters as labels assume ownership of Black artists’ materials “in perpetuity.”
These horrifying statistics have caused the plummeting mental health of over one-third of Black music professionals since the beginning of their music career. This figure is 10% higher for Black female professionals.
Holding the industry accountable for their promises is the next crucial step. The music industry must implement strategic actions and resources to tackle the effects of race and gender-based discrimination, such as targeted mentorship programmes, mental health programmes, diversity and inclusion training, and partnering with organisations to offer financial investments into grassroots education and safer spaces. Initiatives such as Black Music Coalition, PRS Foundation’s Power Up, Music MITC, Music Therapy, Black Minds Matter, Music Support, Music Minds Matter, and UK Music Diversity Taskforce’s 10 Point Plan play a vital role in creating transformative change in the industry.