Universal Music, Annenberg Inclusion Initiative Expand Partnership to Study Racial Inequality in Music

USC Annenberg
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USC Annenberg

Universal Music Group (UMG) and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative are expanding their partnership to study systemic racial inequality in the music business, and how to create much-needed change.

Over the next several months, the partners plan to examine all facets of the industry -- major and independent music companies, labels and publishers, digital platforms, radio and live promoters; as well as artists' teams (including managers, agents, attorneys and publicists) -- to determine the extent to which people of color are excluded from leadership positions. Annenberg will issue a report of the findings, providing recommendations for how the music industry can  those inequalities.

"There are currently gaps in access and opportunity for people of color, especially Black executives, in the music business” said Dr. Carmen Lee, an affiliated faculty member with the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and the lead researcher for this project. "Beyond placing a spotlight on these discrepancies, we must illuminate how the lack of people of color in key roles thwarts inclusion throughout the industry. I am eager to lead the charge, flanked by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, and in partnership with Universal Music Group, a company with a proven track record for change."

UMG first partnered with the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which was founded more than a decade ago by Dr. Stacy L. Smith, in 2017 to study how women are underrepresented across recorded music. The initiative's bombshell first report the following year included the finding that only 22.4% of all performers across the 600 most popular songs from 2012 to 2017 were female; that report is now annual.

Universal Music Publishing Group chairman/CEO Jody Gerson was named to the Initiative's advisory board, and the partners have additionally worked together to support the nonprofit She Is The Music, of which Billboard is also a partner.

Meanwhile, amid sweeping Black Lives Matter protests across the country, UMG recently announced its own Task Force for Meaningful Change to fight for equality, justice and inclusion, co-chaired by Jeff Harleston (UMG executive VP/general counsel, and Def Jam interim chairman/CEO) and Ethiopia Habtemariam (Motown Records president and Capitol Music Group EVP).

"We look forward to our continued work with the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative as we work to advance diversity and inclusion in all corners of the music business," Harleston and Habtemariam said in a joint statement. "We are committed not only to improving UMG’s performance, but also to fostering real and sustainable change across the entire music ecosystem. We know that music can do better and believe that, informed by research and data, change can be most meaningful and constructive."