The Queer Ally Guide to Making the Studio More Inclusive

ISSUE 19 2019 - DO NOT REUSE
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MNEK

A handful of new, queer artist-focused writing camps are aiming to make songwriting more accessible to everyone. Here, industry players -- from artists to A&R professionals -- tell Billboard how allies can empower LGBTQ artists and their peers behind the scenes.

1. Think beyond artists.

Daniel Horsfield, an A&R coordinator at Warner Chappell who helped organize British hitmaker MNEK’s Pride Writing Camp in July, advises hiring LGBTQ people in a variety of roles to establish a welcoming environment. “Whether that’s the receptionist, the runners getting the food or the engineer, it’s about having people in the community who are visible and being themselves,” he says.

That may require allies to put in extra work, says Jess Furman, vp sync strategy at artist-development company Big Noise, which hosted the OUT SESSIONS writing camp in July. “People tend to hire who they know, [so] you have to take steps to make sure you’re hiring equitably.”

2. Let queer voices take the lead.

Love Bailey, the founder of the California-based queer artist community Savage Ranch, encourages allies to “give the power to someone who’s a queer artist” in sessions and make “the discussion about the art, about the music.”  

“Don’t give [LGBTQ artists] boxes and labels because of what you think counts as success,” says Bailey. “Let them direct and lead the way. I think, as artists, we have a good sense of ourselves -- especially being queer -- so offer a place for us to blossom without any boundaries or restrictions.”

British pop singer L Devine, who attended MNEK’s camp, says uplifting underrepresented voices only makes the music industry stronger. “I want to hear more than just the perspective of a straight white male on the radio,” she says. “We need to put more women, more POC, and more members of the LGBTQ community in rooms.”

3. Share your connections.

Building networks shouldn’t fall on LGBTQ artists alone. “It’s very important to educate up-and-coming talent about the paths that different people take and really give them a realistic understanding of what the future could look like,” says Livia Piomelli, Big Noise’s director of A&R and publishing. “Have them meet established creatives that tell them about their process and how they got to be where they are.” 

Adds Furman, “I come from the artist world but am more in the business world now, so it’s been really interesting to see where [the LGBTQ community] lies in all of these different areas. Maybe you do know your community, but you [only] know your community within the songwriting world or within the A&R world. It’s important to shine a light on different parts of the industry and bring everybody together.”

4. Consider other genres.

Not every studio environment is the same, after all. “We see so many LGBTQ songwriters, producers, and artists dominating the credits in pop songs because the pop world has always been a place that champions being yourself and breaking through boundaries,” Devine says. “I wish there was as much acceptance in urban music, rock music and country music.”

A version of this article originally appeared in the Aug. 10 issue of Billboard.

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