The majority of us listen to music that has its roots some way or another entrenched in African American culture. And whilst we see racial diversity within the ranks of performers, it seems the higher up the corporate ladder you head, the less likely you are to come across someone other than a white male.
This was highlighted to me by a post in Digital Music News showing this exact problem.
Top Executives at Pandora
Top Executives at Live Nation Entertainment
Top Executives at Spotify
Top Executives at Universal Music Group
Some further research revealed to me that whilst this is a problem which is largely ignored, it hasn’t gone undiscussed.
Dennis McDougal noted that almost every person holding a position of power within the recording industry is white. This is despite over a quarter sales coming from black artists.
This is further pointed out by Vick Bain who wrote an essay on this issue in the United Kingdom. She highlights that in May 2011 77% of artists in the UK top 40 charts where from non-white backgrounds, whilst 92% of the “behind the scenes workforce” are white (p.9).
Johnny Roberts notes that historically, even when what was known as “race music” became popular in the 60’s and 70’s, the styles “quickly came under the control of the white-led majors”. Black executives were then shuffled across to “in-house black music departments.”
Furthermore, Every Person is a Philosopher noted how whites have managed to break into black dominated genres such as hip-hip, blues and RnB. But at the same time, blacks are basically non-existent in white dominated genres such as country, rock and electronica.
This last point is part the frustration felt by Q-Tip and Azealia Banks when they attacked Iggy Azalea over her silence on Ferguson. Whilst whites do have a history of breaking into black genres, there seems to be an ignorance over the origins of these genres – hip-hop originated in the civil rights movement, the blues’ history is firmly entrenched in slavery. And whilst Iggy Azalea reacted wrong, she is potentially bearing criticism which should be directly universally to the white musicians. After all, how many white musicians came out in support of Ferguson protesters?
Music has many inclusive elements. Most musicians just like playing with good players – they care little for age, race or background (although gender has been highlighted as a problem). So isn’t it time we see true equality is all areas of the music industry? Perhaps the solution to the business model problems the music industry is facing is within the mind of a non-white male.