LGBT Community's Close Connection to Music & Legislative Battles Addressed at Nashville Conference

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Members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities are more passionate about music than the general population, they spend more money on music, especially digital and streaming, and they’re more willing to invest in wireless devices that allow them to play music.

Combining industry data with new polling numbers, participants in the 2016 Music Business Association conference in Nashville, Tennessee, made a convincing argument that the LGBT community is a more powerful driver in the music industry than previously thought. And as such, the music community can be a powerful advocate for LGBT issues and rights.

Conversely, he noted the LGBT community is an under-marketed demographic for the music industry. LGBT fans spend $234 a year on music, 48 percent more than non-LGBT listeners. And 62 percent say they can’t imagine their life without music.

The presentation came during the panel Accelerating Acceptance: Music and the Importance of LGBT Fans, a response to legislation introduced in Tennessee and 28 other states that detractors believe are aimed at discriminating against the LGBT community.

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Music Business Association president Jim Donio, who is gay, encouraged music industry professionals to make a difference in a morning speech to attendees.

“As you know, when we planned this event in Nashville, there were no legislative issues with the state of Tennessee,” Donio said. “Even though that has changed, and not for the good, we’re here because this convention provides a perfect forum to highlight how music serves as a unifying force around the world. It brings people together, regardless of who they are. Our industry stands as a positive force for promoting understanding.”

Tennessee’s mostly Republican legislature introduced a bill earlier this year that would allow therapists and counselors with “sincerely held beliefs” to reject gay, transgender and other groups. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed the bill into law in April, denying it discriminates against members of the LGBT community because it requires referrals after a denial and treatment of anyone who is an imminent threat to themselves or others.

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Similar legislation in other states has led to boycotts and protests by sports organizations, major motion picture companies and musicians who disagree with laws that discriminate. Some, like Bruce Springsteen, have canceled appearances in states passing legislation. Others have taken different steps. Beyonce, for instance, recently pledged support for the LGBT community fighting legislation in North Carolina, though she did go ahead with a concert in Charlotte. 

A spokesman said the Music Business Association board of directors is still determining where next year’s conference will be held, and the legislation is just one of the many factors being discussed.

Donio’s assertion that the music industry is a powerful voice for promoting understanding in such issues is backed up by a recent Harris Poll, said Matt Yazge, of Nielsen Music. A poll of 1,400 people conducted last week shows that 60 percent of Americans are aware when a musician like Bruce Springsteen or Demi Lovato stages a protest, more than any other form of organized protest, including federal government legal intervention and sports boycotts.

Sixty percent of poll respondents say they support musicians who advocate for LGBT issues and 51 percent thought cancelations of concerts was an effective means of protest. Three-quarters said they were equally or more likely to listen to an artists’ music after such an act of protest.

“I think increasingly we’re seeing people are rewarding these musicians for standing up and lending their support,” Yazge said.