by Author tonyereira

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Is The Music Industry Truly Inclusive?

Human beings are intrinsically hierarchical. Through years of practice we’ve developed from parent/child hierarchy to tribal leaders, headteachers, CEOs, MPs, and governing bodies. However, alongside our growing population and increasing technological advancements, the idea that one person, one city, one country or eventually one world holds more significance and power over another, is becoming increasingly dangerous to uphold. Our norms and values have led to societies whereby discrimination based on gender, religion, class, ethnicity and sexuality is unfortunately extremely common. As a consequence discriminatory words and actions have seeped into every aspect of our society, including the music industry. Recent UK music studies analysed the industry's food chain, highlighting its unhealthy fixation on hierarchy and devastating lack of representation throughout the music industry. However, is this also the case for nonprofits and social enterprises like Come Play With Me? 

It’s clear that the music and entertainment industry still has a very long way to go when it comes to equal representation and inclusivity. Similar to society, the music industry is disproportionately made up of white, straight males, who are carelessly controlling both behind the scenes as engineers, producers, booking agents, publicists, Music PR’s, artist and tour managers, composers and songwriters, as well as in the spotlight as singers, musicians, DJs and MCs. This overwhelming bias is no coincidence and it’s certainly not a testament to the skill, intellect, and talents of white, straight males over all other music professionals throughout the field. For example, although black, trans women are represented least throughout the music industry, this doesn’t mean that they are incapable musicians, engineers, or tour managers, it simply means that they are given fewer opportunities to succeed, often being pushed aside in lieu of a white man. This is the result of our elitist, discriminatory society, which works to create an unfair advantage for a specific group of people, giving this group a helping hand throughout all fields of life. Which is not only affecting the music industry but as we’ve seen in recent events, largely impacting all members of the world. So perhaps we should begin giving our seat up to people who are not often seen on stage, in rehearsal rooms, on panels, or in the seat of a CEO or governing body and ask ourselves why we see so few and in many cases no black, female, non-binary, trans, disabled, working-class or queer prime ministers and presidents? Is that truly so radical, or is it that we’ve been brainwashed to believe that cis-males are the only people within society who should hold positions of power? Tony Ereira, the founder of Come Play With Me goes on to say, ‘I think the idea of platforming other people is important… Even as a white (almost) 50s male, I roll my eyes when I see a panel chaired by a white 50s male……not to say my demographic doesn’t have lots to say - but we’ve had plenty of platforms to say it over the last few hundred years, whereas others haven’t!!’. 

The most recent 2020 USC Annenberg music report reiterates the music industry's troubling gender imbalance. Analysing artists, producers, songwriters, and other creators across 900 top songs in the last nine years and reporting that ‘across 2012 to 2020, women comprised a total of 21.6% of all artists, 12.6% of all songwriters, and 2.6% of all producers’. The report also addressed the latest decline of female presence in the music industry, showing that between 2019 and 2020 ‘female artists fell from 22.5% to 20.2%; female songwriters decreased from 14.4% to 12.9%; and female producers declined from 5% to just 2%’. However, as bigotry sweeps through most of the music industry, not everyone is happy to comply with these statistical declines in inclusivity. Many social enterprises push for more diversity in the workplace and thus throughout wider society. Since their 2015 launch, Tony Ereira has strongly believed that ‘everyone deserves the same access to opportunities’, as said in a recent interview, ‘’We all know that is not true in life…..and life chances are hugely shaped by the family you are born into, along with your own protected characteristics. But as the world seemingly becomes less tolerant and hate/intolerance becomes more prevalent (LGB Alliance, #alllivesmatter, #notallmen) - usually through poor education - I am convinced more than ever that what we do at CPWM, along with many excellent partners, is vitally important.’’  

Whereas, for Black, Asian and minority ethnic music industry professionals we saw an increase of 11.4% throughout entry-level music positions, as shown in the UK Music Diversity report. However, despite the increase, Black, Asian and minority ethnic musicians and industry professionals continue to be overrepresented throughout lower career levels and underrepresented in senior positions. This means that they are much less likely to work in higher career levels with better wages, making up ‘42.1% of apprentices or interns, but only 19.9% of senior-level executives’ according to the 2020 UK Music Diversity report. This begs the question, is employing minority groups and ensuring they work in lower regarded positions merely a front to seem inclusive without tackling the real issues? Unimpressed by the lack of opportunities for people of marginalised genders and ethnicities, the founder of Annenberg Initiative and leader of the annual music report, Stacy Smith, said in an interview, “Women producers — and particularly women of color — are virtually erased from the music industry”. This is especially true when researching female producers from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, as across the nine-year study they found a ‘180:1 ratio of non-white female producers to white male producers’. These startling statistics are drastically affecting the younger generation, as girls are continually deterred from ever stepping foot into the music industry (also known as the 'boys club'), especially throughout the music tech, instrumental, and management world. This is mostly due to peer pressure and lack of representation. 

These industry statistics on race and gender are unsurprisingly affecting all aspects of the music industry, with well-known festivals such as Reading and Leeds, Wireless, Glastonbury, Green Man, Coachella, and Slam Dunk all being criticised for the lack of women representation on stage. Shockingly the 2021 Reading and Leeds festival lineup featured only 20% of female artists on the whole bill, whilst Glastonbury festival has had only two women headliners since 2007, Adele and Beyoncé, and the 2018 Wireless festival line-up featured only three female acts across the whole three-day festival. This is despite female artists not only drawing in some of the largest festival crowds, as Billie Eilish displayed at Glastonbury 2019 whilst performing to around 40,000 audience members. Well-known female artists such as Nicki Minaj and Rihanna are also securing more hit songs than their well-known male counterparts like Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran. Which is enough evidence to believe that the lack of female representation on festival line-ups is not talent-driven but gender-driven. Therefore, it is no surprise that all of the previously mentioned festivals are either owned or organised by white males.

Alongside the industry’s issues surrounding race and gender, many argue that the music industry can be an oppressive place for the queer community, "The music industry was hugely, violently homophobic. It just was never about the music. It was about trying to fix myself so other people would feel comfortable around me," said by the 51-year-old Billy Porter about their earlier music career. Though sadly it seems that not much has changed since Porter’s music career, as musicians Hayley Kiyoko, Sam Smith, Lady Leshurr, and many more speak out about their struggles with the music industry as queer artists. During an interview with i-D, Hayley Kiyoko spoke about past chats she’s had with record labels, saying that they asked her to ‘Tone down’ her queerness, to which she replied, “There’s no toning that down because this is who I am and this is what I experience. I can’t change that.” Unfortunately, record labels have a long history of not supporting the LGBTQ+ community, often valuing profit over the artist's well-being. It’s often the case that if an artist isn’t going to ‘pull in this many fans because they’re gay, the record label is less likely to support them’, as said by Lance Bass. Along with industry homophobia, many LGBTQ+ artists struggle with audience bigotry, whether in live concerts or online abuse. Regularly fearing it will deter listeners and pigeonhole them as a queer artist, as Kevin Abstract pointed out in an interview,  ‘I don’t want to be a queer icon – I want to be an icon’.

Touring as a queer artist can also be both dangerous and life-threatening, especially when performing in countries with anti-gay legislation and beliefs. It’s no coincidence that two out of three queer artists on Come Play With Me’s upcoming podcast, Connected Sounds, have said that it’s not always safe to perform songs about being queer, even whilst performing in supposedly liberal countries. Many queer musicians and industry professionals are still being targeted by homophobic hate groups. Tragically, this was the case for the Russian singer, Zelim Bakaev, who is said to be the victim of Chechnya’s gay purge. A growing number of Chechen people are being abducted, imprisoned, tortured, and murdered due to their sexual orientation. Sadly Zelim has been missing for 3 and a half years. 

These ongoing and horrific examples of homophobia are the reasons Come Play With Me feel so strongly about organising LGBTQ+ events, to celebrate, humanise and create a platform for censored voices, experiences, and songs. Our queer CPWM events include Colour Me In, an all-day festival celebrating a completely queer line-up, LGBTQ+ The Music, a series of queer panels which have previously featured John Grant, Amy Lamé, Mykki Blanco, Debbie Googe, Emmanuel Vass, Sadie Sinner, and many more talented queer artists and industry professionals. Our most recent queer event includes the upcoming CPWM podcast, Connected Sounds, featuring queer musicians from around the world speaking about whatever the heck they want to. Coming soon…

‘’The NME once called me 'blue-eyed soul' when I'm mixed-race Indian’’

Come Play With Me is also in the process of launching Come Platform Me, a series of events to develop and support women, people of marginalised genders and LGBTQIA+ promoters, and is releasing their Side By Side compilation with five out of the twelve artists identifying as queer. We are also planning a similar compilation album later this year to showcase some of the most exciting Creatives of Colour making music regionally. As well as continuing the week-long event, Women and People of Marginalised Genders in Music and CPWM’s singles club which has recently released the track, Limón, by the non-binary artist, Straight Girl and ‘Love's A Joke, I’m The Butt Of It’ by the queer, Mancunian artist Jamaal Monarch. All of which are mentioned in the CPWM magazine, where you’ll read articles written by musicians for musicians (and music industry professionals). Throughout CPWM’s magazine, writers and musicians speak openly about music, race, gender, regional music, mental health, queerness, environmentalism, disabilities and so much more.  

Written by Maya Kally, Come Play With Me 

April 2021