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LGBTQ+ Music Pros Talk Challenges, Opportunities for Queer Artists & Fans (Music Biz 2022)

The wide-ranging conversation was informed by a new Luminate report noting that LGBTQ+ music fans spend more money than their peers, among other findings.

You can find all of Billboard‘s Music Biz 2022 coverage here.

On Wednesday (May 11), a new report produced by Luminate in partnership with Billboard and Queer Capita found that those who identify as queer spend $72 more per year on music on average than the general public, are 20% more likely to buy merchandise and are 15% more interested in finding and listening to new and emerging artists, among other findings.

That report, dubbed The Power of LGBTQ+ Music, was the jumping-off point for a wide-ranging and engaging panel at the Music Biz 2022 conference on Wednesday, which highlighted takeaways from the report as well as a discussion of the challenges and opportunities for queer artists, fans and other LGBTQ+ individuals working in the music industry.

Other findings were even more demographic-focused: LGBTQ+ Gen Z listeners averaged $136 per month on music as compared to $110 per month more generally and were 78% more likely than their peers to listen to music on vinyl, suggesting a dedicated and invested community of listeners that over-index on spending. As panelist and Billboard staff writer Stephen Daw put it, “It speaks volumes that the queer community is not some monolith that you can pander to occasionally. We are out here spending more money than other groups.”

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Daw was joined on the panel by Evangeline Elder, senior director of music and brand partnerships at Roc Nation; Ari Fouriezos, head of member relations at Queer Capita and an artist manager at Friendly Announcer; Joe Lynch, executive digital director, East Coast at Billboard; and Hannah Waitt, vp of digital marketing at mTheory and head of partnerships at Queer Capita. The panel was moderated by Luminate’s head of research Matt Yazge, who led the presentation and the conversation.

Yazge also highlighted data around the streaming power of both LGBTQ+ listeners and artists who publicly identify as such, with Tyler the Creator, Lil Nas X, Queen, Halsey, Frank Ocean, Miley Cyrus, Sam Smith, Elton John, Demi Lovato and Kehlani making up the top 10 most-streamed LGBTQ+ artists. Meanwhile, J Balvin is the non-LGBTQ+ artist with the largest percentage of his fan base identifying as queer, among other findings. It showed that “queer audiences like all kinds of music,” Yazge said. “We’re not gonna be put in a box.”

“At this point, genre doesn’t really matter in that regard,” added Fouriezos. “There’s not that confusion of, ‘Can I make this kind of music and be out?'”

The panel used the report to kick off the conversation but also delved into several other topics, including how artists and companies can engage with the LGBTQ+ community and better market to, include and embrace them — and not just during Pride month in June. “At this point, it’s inauthentic to do things only during Pride month,” said Elder, referencing efforts by brands and companies in the music space. “You really do need a year-round strategy — these people aren’t only gay in June.”

One important topic was the need for artists to be able to foster safe spaces for their queer fan bases, both in-person and online. “One thing that queer folks are really good at is creating community — because they’ve had to,” Waitt said. She added that digital fandoms and engagement online by artists can be huge, especially for fans who live in places where it’s not safe to be publicly out — and that engagement with the community can be significant in ways that artists don’t always realize. “Kacey Musgraves ‘liked’ one of my Instagram comments two years ago and I’m still talking about it,” Waitt said to laughter in the room.

It also goes beyond just engaging with the community, but making sure that the community is represented. “Visual identity is important,” Elder said. “If there’s no queer people in any of your videos, your single art, your photo shoots, your dancers, it makes it extremely hard to call on that community when it’s time to do a show.”

Often, however, there’s a burden placed on LGBTQ+ artists that’s not there for straight performers. And while some aspects of the queer experience in music have gotten easier, others have become more difficult. Fouriezos referenced the anti-trans bills that have proliferated in several state legislatures recently as a reminder that safe spaces are as important as ever, and that queer artists and industry figures often need to take more into account when booking shows or communicating with fans than their straight peers. “Artists are no longer just songwriters or recording artists or performers, they’re so many other things,” they said. “And queer artists take on even more.”

While things are getting better in some respects, there is still more work to be done. “There is more visibility for queer artists, but the bar was basically on the floor,” said Daw, adding that the music industry has changed so much that artists are able to build fan bases in different ways and on occasion make the industry come to them, with Troye Sivan as an example. “Now artists are democratizing the idea of, ‘I am queer, and you have to just deal with it now,'” Daw added.

With panelists from different sectors of the music business, the conversation also turned to representation within those circles — and advice for those trying to break into the industry. “Sometimes there’s a fear of being pigeonholed — the idea of, ‘That’s what this person is focused on,’ and you don’t get other opportunities,” Lynch said. “But you never know who you’re going to inspire, so it’s really important to be out. It’s validating.”

“Be honest and authentic,” added Fouriezos. “Be kind in all of your interactions. You never know who you’re going to meet and what that interaction will lead to. But remember your worth. If you remember your worth from the beginning then you will be able to transfer that everywhere.”