Why the Music Industry Must Embrace Meritocracy for True Diversity, Inclusion (Guest Column)
For far too long, the music industry has perpetuated a system that benefits a select few at the expense of marginalized communities.
It is time for all music industry professionals to reflect on the ways in which our industry has perpetuated a system that benefits a select few at the expense of marginalized communities. It is time for us to embrace a new paradigm, one that values skill and merit over relationships and aristocratic privilege.
In today’s rapidly changing world, the music industry finds itself on the brink of disruption. We must recognize that our long-standing history of exploiting disenfranchised groups is incompatible with our espoused values of social justice and inclusivity. The hesitance to be proactive and embrace change is no longer acceptable. The data clearly shows the consequences of our delayed reaction. We must act now to ensure that the pendulum swings in the right direction.
Our participation in an aristocracy-based system allows white men with access to rights ownership to hijack Black and brown stories. This approach is no longer effective in today’s music economy. As independent artist services have grown, ownership has increasingly been placed in the hands of artists, and a focus on “artist-preneurship” has emerged. This growth in the independent sector has led to decentralized systems that cut out middlemen and gatekeepers, promoting transparency and accountability.
We must recognize that the music industry is no longer a playground for profit-driven oligarchs who lack leadership skills and contribute to revolving door politics, loss of job fulfillment, and opportunities. In every other industry, a minimum level of skill, education, or experience is required to advance. It is essential to evaluate how the music industry holds its leaders accountable.
Aristocracy drives a wedge between culture and progression, and limited access to BIPOC at both the creative and executive levels makes the industry slow to change, perpetuating a “boys club” culture. The top 1% of the industry often rely on DEI consultants to meet an “optics quota,” promoting performative change rather than real progress. We must recognize that diversity and inclusion are not just buzzwords. They are essential for driving revenue and ensuring long-term success.
The statistics show that Black and brown stories are highly valued in the music industry, with 48% of all artists being from underrepresented groups and Hip-Hop and R&B being the top-streamed genres. By embracing diversity and promoting inclusion, the industry can tap into a vast market of music consumers who are eager to hear authentic and diverse voices. It is not only the right thing to do, but it is also a sound business strategy that can result in increased revenue and success for music companies.
Despite the economic disadvantages they face, women of color are a value add, possessing a strong educational background, resourcefulness, and fundamental understanding of the music business. In producing the first research study on intersectionality in the music business, ‘A Seat at the Table: A Perspective on Women of Color in the Music Business’ (2022), we found that 87% of all WOC in the music biz have earned at least a Bachelor’s or higher degree of education, yet they remain the most underpaid demographic. The majority of WOC in the music business enter into student loan debt, while also entering into the music business via unpaid internships. Over 86% were hired without direct relationships or industry connections. Imagine how much progress would be made if resources were properly invested.
Therefore, I urge us all to shift from an aristocratic hierarchy to a meritocratic one. By valuing skill and merit over relationships and privilege, we can ensure true diversity, equity and inclusion in the music industry. We must commit to deliberate action, such as hiring more BIPOC at the senior level, committing to paid internships, and funding Black-owned music businesses. These steps are crucial towards creating a more equitable and profitable music industry.
Let us embrace the future with open hearts and minds, committed to creating a music industry that is truly inclusive and reflects the diversity of our world.
Janishia Jones is the CEO and founder of Fresh N Sassy Productions. Earlier this year, she launched the music tech consultancy company ENCORE Music Tech Solutions.