Business

On Racial Diversity Test, BMAC Says Industry Is Barely Passing: 'Average Isn't Good Enough'

Black Music Action Coalition
Courtesy Photo

Black Music Action Coalition releases first annual Music Industry Action Report Card, assessing industry's progress in advancing racial diversity

When the Black Music Action Coalition (BMAC) was established last June, joining #TheShowMustBePaused to advance racial diversity, equity and inclusion in the music industry, the organization's membership of Black artists, managers, attorneys and allies released an open letter. It stated in part, "BMAC intends to hold you accountable and will keep track of the music industry's efforts to clean up its own house."

BMAC has made good on that promise with its first annual Music Industry Action Report Card. Arriving on the heels of a new diversity study conducted by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, BMAC’s 37-page report has been released in full following an overview presented during the National Museum of African American Music’s State of Black Music Summit (June 18) in Nashville.

Overall, the industry was given passing grades in such areas as establishing funds to donate to various Black community organizations; supporting Black employees and executives who are advocating for change on the inside; hiring Black diversity, equity and inclusion officers; and initiatives made by companies like Sony and BMG to cancel recoupments and fix inequities in royalty payments to legacy artists.

However, BMAC co-president Binta N. Brown tells Billboard there's major concern "that many of the changes appear to be surface. They appear to be just enough as opposed to manifesting a deep, internal churning and transformational change leading toward true equity. And so many of the grades are merely passing. When it comes to justice, average isn’t good enough."

Comprised of five major sections, the BMAC MIA Report opens with a forward by Brown and her fellow co-president Willie "Prophet" Stiggers. It then segues into a history of the "cycles of progression and regression" that have marginalized Black artists and executives for many years before assessing the status of R&B/hip-hop as the industry’s leading genre in  MRC Data/Billboard's 2020 year-end report.

Section four reveals the grades that BMAC assigned to the major labels, publishing companies, Recording Academy, DSPs, live music firms and talent agencies in assessing their efforts to foster sustainable change between June 2020 and June 2021. Factoring into those scores are assessments that BMAC made in four areas: (1) initial corporate statements and commitment; (2) company representation on a senior executive level; (3) executive and follow-up on commitments and pledges; (4) additional actions and/or plans that lead to sustainable, impactful change in structures and systems.

Among the major label groups, not one received an A in any of the four areas. For instance, Sony Music earned B’s for representation, execution/follow-up and additional actions (including forgiving un-recouped accounts of artists signed before 2009) but a C in initial corporate statement and commitment for lack of “public news about earlier disbursements by Sony U.S." through its global justice fund prior to the company’s announced third round of giving in May.

Despite Black executive vps and presidents at its Warner Records and Atlantic divisions, Warner Music Group scored a D in company representation. Noted BMAC, "According to Warner’s corporate structure included on its website, there are no Black executives at the company who report directly to WMG chairman Stephen Cooper, and none with ultimate authority and discretion."

BMAC rated DSPs/streaming firms, live music companies and talent agencies as excellent (E), satisfactory (S), needs improvement (N) or unsatisfactory (U) in their efforts to institute change. While AEG scored a U, Live Nation received an S while being cited for initiatives such as its multi-point diversity plan and ultimate 2025 goal plus Live Nation Urban's launch of The Black Tour Directory, featuring Black tour professionals and companies. On the agency front, UTA, ICM and CAA and WME all earned N’s; Paradigm's music division received a U with a footnote to watch what transpires following its recent acquisition by Casey Wasserman and being renamed Wasserman Music.

"As important as it is to hire Black DEI executives, and as happy as we are to see these executives supported, it is not enough," emphasizes Brown. "Where are the Black COOs, CFOs? Where are the Black executives with genuine autonomy and discretion? We must add more Black people to company boards and corporate governance. Live got off a bit easy because in a year with no touring there wasn't adequate data. So we will be looking to ensure there are Black headliners especially Black women, increases in the number of Black promoters and venue operators and the list goes on."

Written by Naima Cochrane, the BMAC Music in Action Report used independent research (trade publications, company announcements, websites, etc.) to analyze its findings. To provide an objective and unbiased report, the BMAC states it "did not include information gleaned from conversations our leadership has had with various companies if it wasn’t also a matter of public record and/or shared in survey replies."

Speaking of the latter, BMAC did send out surveys to more than 60 executives at 20 different companies across the industry. However, only five executives from three companies responded to the survey. And one wanted to remain anonymous and not have their submitted information included in the report, according to BMAC.

"The music industry must embrace transparency," says Brown. "What are the companies hiding and of what are they afraid? Our efforts to obtain good quality information so that we might heal and progress have been met with resistance. Fear is hobbling the inevitable march toward equity and progress."

Beyond the need for more transparency and focus on company structure and executive representation, the report's conclusions call for radio to join the conversation and more due diligence devoted to agency music divisions. Moving forward, BMAC plans to annually expand the report until it "represents a 360-degree view of the industry and is acknowledged and respected as a standard and official tool of accountability."

To read BMAC’s first annual Music Industry Action Report Card, visit here.