Diversify the Stage: Addressing the Lack of Inclusion in Touring (Guest Column)
Fitz and the Tantrums' Noelle Scaggs pens an op-ed outlining her new initiative, Diversify the Stage, and its aims of inclusion and diversity.
The following essay was written by Noelle Scaggs from Fitz and the Tantrums. Scaggs has a new initiative, Diversify the Stage, that aims to bring more people of color, women and L.G.B.T.Q. individuals into the concert industry. Her letter below is a call to action for more inclusivity and diversity within the touring community and is co-signed by more than two dozen touring executives.
In the wake of the unjust murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, the world has seemingly arisen. The matters of Black lives and Black stories have been uplifted in social media spaces and throughout corporate industries. Through all of this forward movement, as an artist, I have been feeling a greater sense of urgency to dig in and open up discussions about the lack of diversity in our live music, events and touring businesses.
A few months before COVID-19, I had a random thought about my career and the experiences I’ve had on the road. These reflections led me to ponder a question I’d been asked often in interviews: “What is it like being the only woman in a male-dominated band?” An inquiry I have had trouble answering, as I have become accustomed to — though unintentionally — being the lone woman the majority of my career; so much so, my feelings about the experience aren’t a part of my consciousness. The stark reality is: I have, in my 20-year career, often been the only Black woman on any of the stages I’ve performed on since venturing into the pop-alternative music space.
During the past few months, I’ve had conversations with numerous live music, events and touring professionals to understand what goes into building staff and advancing a tour or local event. Subsequently, I have discovered a shared view on the lack of diverse representation amongst professionals within these industries. Although there is a growing population of women in these spaces, few women of color hold the titles of touring or production managers; this lack of representation is echoed in the number of vendors, agencies and promoter organizations owned by people of color.
While the complexities of building tour and event staff are many, the underlying factors that impact who is being hired are primarily peer-to-peer and referral-based. These standard practices contribute to the lack of diversity we see across our stages, not because of the intention to keep things as they are — there are a number of databases created by individual organizations focused on supporting underrepresented groups — but because of the absence of one established and widely-used resource to assist in widening the scope of referred businesses and individuals beyond circles of friends. Without a more unified and collective effort to change these hiring practices, the lack of diversity in our live music, events and touring spaces will remain the same — or worse, only reflect diverse crews when the artists fall into specific music categories.
As an artist and a Black woman of color, I can and will no longer accept being the only person like me in any room or any stage. It is also my firm belief that the only way we can effectively create long-lasting change in our industry is by creating a useful tool and infrastructure for hiring that is truly diverse and inclusive in its population. This reasoning has inspired me to call on artists and our respective teams to collectively work together to Diversify The Stage.
The plan of action for Diversify The Stage will be two-fold. The first will be in building up a resource for hiring staff through joining forces with touring industry leader Jerome Crooks, tour manager of Nine Inch Nails, and his business partner Damien Nelson, creators of an online employment portal for concert tour and festival staff called Never Famous. We are working together to encourage an industry-wide commitment to collectively help build up Never Famous as a central resource for hiring tour staff, direct connections to suppliers, mental-health services and support communities focused on the most underrepresented communities in live music, events and touring businesses.
Additionally, we are connecting with industry-led support communities that focus on our most underrepresented Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC); Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ); Female-Identifying and Gender Nonconforming communities, for assistance in marketing Never Famous to qualified professionals in their databases. We are currently seeking sponsors and will be launching an industry-level marketing campaign aimed at management companies, booking agencies, tour and production managers and more.
Diversify The Stage’s second goal is lifting up the next generation of industry professionals by partnering with local nonprofits, educational institutions and industry-led organizations to host mentorship opportunities, workshops and masterclass courses for youth and college-aged candidates. To kick things off, this fall Diversify The Stage is teaming up with Music Forward Foundation in collaboration with She Is The Music, Women In Music and SoundGirls to curate the first Diversify The Stage associated programming for Music Forward’s Virtual Fall 2020 Series targeted towards high-school and college-aged young women and youth of color.
A select cohort of young women of color will participate in the fall programs and mentorship opportunities and be eligible for internship and apprenticeship placements with Diversify the Stage industry partners. Music Forward Foundation’s free fall programming is open for registration and scheduled from Sept. 14 through Dec. 18, 2020. Diversify The Stage-curated sessions will take place on Fridays beginning in October. We are currently seeking industry leaders to participate as masterclass speakers for this series.
My hope for this initiative and these collective actions is to create more diverse workforces and pave the way for more significant pathways towards employment, equitable opportunities and education in our live music, events and touring spaces.
If you would like to be a part of this work to transform our live music, events and touring industry, visit diversifythestage.org.
I hope you will join me in this call to Diversify The Stage, once and for all.
Noelle Scaggs of Fitz And The Tantrums
Co-signed by the below:
Samantha Kirby Yoh, partner & head of East Coast music, WME
Kevin Shivers, partner, WME
Seth Seigle, agent, WME
Ron Opaleski, agent, WME
Robert Gibbs, partner and head of contemporary music, ICM Partners
Scott Mantell, partner and head of contemporary music, ICM Partners
Mari Davies, agent, ICM
Brandon Zmigrocki, agent, ICM
Kevin Jergenson, agent, ICM
Bill Reeves, Roadies Of Color
David 5-1 Norman, Tour Forensics
Gabi Parra, Tour Forensics
Marguerite Nguyen, tour manager
Jerome Crooks, founder, Never Famous
Pete Beetle, co-founder, NPB Companies
Mark Oglesby, tour manager
Aaron Glas, tour manager
Avery Risch, tour manager
Nazanin Fatemian, director of marketing, Music Forward Foundation
Michelle Arkuski, executive director, She Is The Music
Chissy Nkemere, global chair, diversity and Inclusion Council – Women In Music
Karrie Keyes, co-founder, SoundGirls
Adam Harrison, Fullstop Management
Brad Kriegel, manager, FullStop
Emily Slade, co-founder, Valence Community
Karrie Keyes, co-founder, Sound Girls
Mike de la Rocha, co-founder, Revolve Impact
Nada Taha, host, SoundCheck Radio @ Apple Music