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It’s Not ‘All Good’: Black Music Action Coalition Offers Lukewarm Assessment of Industry Diversity

The latest "Music Industry Action Report Card" expresses concern that "things [might] revert to how they were before."

The Black Music Action Coalition (BMAC) unveiled a tepid assessment of the music industry’s progress toward addressing historical racism and inequity on Monday (May 15). The organization expressed particular concern about Universal Music Group’s commitment to the cause and the live music sector’s lack of “attent[ion] to Black professionals.”

“We expect this to be a process and a growth period — nobody has tops marks across the board,” said Naima Cochrane, who authored the report, during a presentation at the Music Biz conference in Nashville. “We’re talking about dismantling and addressing years of inherent bias or business practices… we did not expect any company to turn around and do a 180 [degree turn] overnight.”


The BMAC established its “Music Industry Action Report Card” in 2020 “to keep tabs on the promises music companies made in the wake of The Show Must Be Paused” — noting that achieving real progress is unlikely without some type of accountability mechanism. The second annual report concludes that the music business outlook was “not negative.” 

“Why that phrasing?” the report asks. “Because it’s not ‘all good,’ either.” 

The BMAC notes that “for the most part, companies that outlined measurable goals and plans in 2020 and 2021 have either continued in forward progression or at least held the line.” But BMAC points out that “there is a history of music companies… being called out for unfair, unjust, or otherwise imbalanced practices.” In the past, when “public pressure rescinds… things revert to how they were before, if not worse.” The report wonders: Is history set to repeat itself?

This sentiment was echoed at another Music Biz panel earlier on Monday titled “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: What Now?” Participants noted that some of the institutional support around these efforts has wavered recently. Ryan Butler, the Recording Academy’s vp of diversity, equity & inclusion, said that “the amount of people losing their DEI jobs [now] is happening just as quickly” as they were once being hired in 2020.


The BMAC report assesses each music company’s commitment to a more diverse industry according to four criteria: Corporate commitments, partnerships and giving; company representation on a senior level; internal culture and business practices; and transparency and public accountability.

The BMAC praises Sony Music (which earned grades of A, B, B and B+ in the four categories, respectively) and Warner Music Group (A, B, B, B) for “sharing more info about the makeup of their staff by gender, age, and race/ethnicity.” But the report brief expresses “concern” about Universal Music Group (B-, B+, C+, C), the biggest of the major-label groups. 

While the BMAC notes that UMG’s “Taskforce for Meaningful Change was a strong presence in the conversation around justice and change” in 2020 and 2021, the report states that “the group’s presence and visibility felt significantly diminished in 2022.” Why the change? The report questions the sudden departure of Ethiopia Habtemariam, “a significant leader,” who unexpectedly left Motown in November. 

The BMAC also calls out Capitol Music Group’s “massive cultural blunder” and “especially egregious misstep” with the virtual rapper FN Meka, who was widely viewed as perpetuating racist stereotypes and subsequently dropped from the label’s roster. (“We offer our deepest apologies to the Black community for our insensitivity in signing this project without asking enough questions about equity and the creative process behind it,” Capitol said in a statement at the time.) “The project was a perfect illustration of how music companies have historically commodified a distilled or skewed version of Black culture without including Black decision-makers and/or voices in the process,” the BMAC writes.  


In addition to evaluating the major label groups, the BMAC scrutinizes the Recording Academy (B, B+, B, B) — which it praises for working “to increase diversity in the voting membership and remove the more opaque aspects of Grammy voting” — and streaming services: “Amazon Music stood out this year for its visible representation among senior staff and its partnerships.” The BMAC also notes approvingly that Spotify has been “diligent in the execution of [its] BLK 5-Star Strategy for diversity, inclusion, and combating inequity.”

In the live music business, where “Black people were systematically shut out for decades,” the BMAC observes that “the impact of that exclusion still reverberates both in offices and on tours.” Promoting diversity “needs to be as much of a concentrated focus at [live music] companies as it is on the record music side,” the BMAC argues. The talent agencies UTA, CAA and WME/Endeavor were all given grades of “needs improvement,” as was AEG Presents. Wasserman and Live Nation were deemed “satisfactory.” 


Finally, the BMAC turns its attention to radio, which continues to adhere to “genre lines” that limit the “visibility and opportunity for both our Black artists and Black executives,” according to the report. “The media conglomerates that control the majority of the pop and urban airwaves still have an enormous impact on artist success but also still operate on often arbitrary and outdated music standards,” it continues. BMAC added that “radio is on watch.”

The latest Music Industry Action Report Card acknowledges that “racism, a 400+ year-old disease, will not be cured in 24 months.” But “we’re looking for equality,” Willie “Prophet” Stiggers, co-founder and co-chair of the BMAC, said during the Music Biz panel. “We’re looking for a level playing field.”

A true shift in the music industry, Stiggers added, is something “we still have yet to see.”