In a year of turmoil, music companies of all sizes reckoned with their roles in perpetuating historic biases and sought effective ways to transform corporate culture. But when it comes to moving the world forward on a personal level, the challenge can seem intimidatingly large: Where to start? And how to do so in a way that feels purposeful and personal?
As Jordan Wolosky — COO/GM at AG Artists who works with Shawn Mendes’ charitable foundation — says, “Change doesn’t necessarily always have to be on a macro scale. It could be as simple as what kind of language you use in conversation.” He and other Billboard Change Agents honorees offer their advice on how to start making a difference in 2021, one step at a time.
Take the time to ask yourself, “What’s my lens? What’s my perspective? What’s my voice? What’s my value that I can add?” suggests Wolosky — and do your homework accordingly.
Sometimes, that means listening to those who oppose your views. “Don’t encourage people to unfollow you or be afraid to engage with people with different opinions, and don’t be afraid to be wrong or to change your own opinion,” he says. “The point of a conversation and even a debate is to maybe come to a new place together.”
You don’t need to become an expert on the issue you’re addressing, but you can amplify the voices of those who are. In response to the Black Lives Matter protests, the Shawn Mendes Foundation consulted with experts on systemic racism and then used Mendes’ Instagram to share accurate information. “We realized one of the best ways to help is just to let others speak,” says Wolosky. “We’re just the megaphone.”
Justin Adams, a senior director of A&R and artist manager at TaP Music — and a Black executive who offered helpful context on U.S. racial protests to his international artists — knows it can be uncomfortable to bring up issues like discrimination at work. He points to his former Roc Nation colleague Brianna Agyemang, who with Jamila Thomas created #TheShowMustBePaused, as an example of the power of individuals speaking out. “You have to be comfortable being on the outside,” he says. “There’s that phrase: ‘Say what you want to say, even if your voice quivers.’ Nobody wants to rock the boat, particularly in a pandemic year, when these things are happening. So it takes balls to be like, ‘Listen, this may or may not be a popular opinion, but I’m going to tell you what I’m going to tell you.’ ”
Katie Vinten, founder/ CEO of Black Diamond Artist Management and cofounder of FACET Publishing and FACET Records, used her connections to help the JDRF put together a virtual gala amid the pandemic, tapping stars like Bebe Rexha, JoJo and RaeLynn to perform. Using your contacts, she says, can be just as rewarding as making change on your own. “It can be literally three colleagues who are like-minded or some of your friends in the industry who share that same sentiment, and you have to start from the ground up,” she says. “Even if it’s just one contact that you can join forces or align yourself with or even just get moral support from, maybe that person is going to help lead the way to something even greater.”
As the industry embraces long overdue, more inclusive hiring practices, Adams has noticed a new phenomenon that he calls “the golden handcuffs”: a trend of “hiring Black executives to diversify, to get them in the room and in the space — but then once they get in that space, they’re not given opportunity. The purpose, to some, is to fill a quota,” he says. Creating meaningful change, he continues, starts with “hiring executives who are people of color and empowering them.” He adds, “Be prepared to invite us to those real conversations and to involve us in things — not just during Black History Month, not just during some kind of racial uprising. We have something to offer, and we can help move the culture if we’re actually really involved in the conversation.”
Vinten says she has encountered people who use their associations with charities or change-making efforts to gain clout, both on social media and in the workplace. “Some of the most successful change makers are so busy on their social media saying what they did for somebody else,” she says. “You don’t need to post about it unless you’re sharing it to say, ‘Please contribute to this. I think it’s important.’ ” And if you’re trying to make change simply to make yourself look good, quit while you’re ahead. “If you need to be in the picture or your name needs to be on the sign of the charity or the fund, then you’ve lost your way from day one,” she continues. “It’s about the smaller things: treating the people in our lives with kindness and real consideration and not manipulating and making it about us, because it’s not about us.”