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HOW WE’RE DOING: BMAC SURVEYS THE BIZ ONE YEAR LATER

Outrage doesn’t last forever; indignation dies down. Scandalized social-media personae non grata may disappear for a few days and return to the same platforms unbothered, as if nothing ever happened.

For this very reason, the Black Music Action Coalition (BMAC)—an advocacy organization of music-industry executives, artists, managers and lawyers—issued its inaugural Music Industry Action Report Card on the nation’s first nationally recognized Juneteenth. The 37-page document, meant to hold the music industry accountable to the diversity action it pledged after last year’s murder of George Floyd, issued letter grades to the major players.

We spoke with BMAC co-founder/co-chairman Willie “Prophet” Stiggers, CEO of 50/50 Music Group Management, and BMAC founding member Caron Veazey, known for her work with Pharrell WilliamsI Am Other multimedia creative collective and CEO of the boutique management and consulting company Something in Common, about how the industry has measured up and where its BIPOC commitments have fallen short.

Which of the social initiatives mentioned in the report—#ChangeMusic, for example—was the most impressive and why? Should it provide a roadmap for other companies?

Willie “Prophet” Stiggers: UMG’s Task Force for Meaningful Change has an impressive vision and program. [UMG general counsel] Jeff Harleston and [Motown CEO] Ethiopia Habtemariam are pushing an agenda that will impact the Black community, the Black artist and the Black executive, from direct investment on the ground in community-based programs to executive training to the political work [Def Jam SVP] Jeff Burroughs is leading to push for the George Floyd Policing Act

Caron Veazey: I agree that UMG’s Task Force for Meaningful Change is a strong program. It’s very thoughtful and well considered, with clear objectives. Given its multi-pronged composition, it could certainly stand as a roadmap for other organizations.

Do you see yourselves partnering with the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative or do you feel it’s best to investigate the music industry’s problems independently? Do you believe their findings are compromised by their being sponsored by Universal Music Group?

Stiggers: I think BMAC, as an organization made up of people in the music business, offers a vantage point different from those that don’t actually operate in our industry. But we will partner with anyone looking to build an industry that’s inclusive and equitable for everyone; we would partner with Annenberg or any independent research team to help paint the picture. As for Universal’s funding of that particular report, I would expect [CEO] Lucian Grainge and his team to lead the charge and immediately begin implementing a system to address the findings and concerns 

Veazey: Just as diversity across the music industry is essential, diversity across research is necessary. It’s incredibly helpful to have access to varied studies of the issues, especially when the studies deliver essentially the same findings. Then the question becomes, how many times and how many ways do we as an industry need to be told that we have a problem before we actually take the findings seriously and fix the problem?

Does Sony Music’s recently announced Legacy Unrecouped Balance Program represent a step in the right direction in terms of a commitment to be fair to Black artists?

Stiggers: It’s definitely a step in the right direction, as is the internal investigation BMG conducted. But this only scratches the surface. A true commitment would be represented by not only forgiving the unrecouped balances of legacy artists but ensuring that present and future creators have balanced and fair agreements from the start. Unless pay parity and diversity at the chairman level and across board seats are also part of the conversation and commitment, it’s all just optics.

Veazey: I’m very pleased with Sony’s Artists Forward initiative, really impressed. I know personally that [Sony CEO] Rob Stringer has been working on this for a long while, so it’s heartening to see it put into effect. We do give credit where it’s due. However, as Prophet mentioned, forgiving unrecouped balances is only one step; we still must continue to address diversity at all levels of the company—senior leadership, junior executive, assistant and intern and in all the divisions of the company, not just in the urban/Black-music areas. We want to see Black executive pay parity, fair artist contracts, consistent give-back to Black communities and organizations (not only on Juneteenth or during Black History Month) and continued education around systemic racism and racial bias.

There is no completion date! We have to keep pushing and chipping away, bit by bit. No stopping.

The Weeknd says he’ll boycott future Grammy telecasts and no longer submit his music for consideration because The Recording Academy snubbed his last album, After Hours. Frank Ocean has also written off the Grammys. Kanye West and Drake have complained in the past. What specifically should the Academy do to improve its relationship with Black artists?

Stiggers:
As with any antiquated system, it will take time to dismantle and rebuild. I believe the leadership of [CEO] Harvey Mason and the bold, progressive vision of [Recording Academy Chief Diversity Officer] Valeisha Butterfield Jones and the Black Music Collective will create a more inclusive conversation and a paradigm shift as it relates to respect for the culture. 

Veazey: The elimination of the Secret Committees is a huge step that will shift things in a major way, but this should have happened a long time ago. The fact that The Weeknd was completely shut out of any nominations remains such a terrible gaffe that it still explodes my brain all these months later. But I’m going to remain optimistic that the Grammys will continue to improve and that the nominations and awards (and voting bodies) will properly reflect the diverse artists across our creative community.

Given the feedback you’ve received since releasing the Music Industry Action Report Card, what changes are in store for next year’s report?

Stiggers: Our future report cards will go deeper into the company structure, the pay gap between Black and white executives, the representation, or lack thereof, of Black people on boards, etc. This first year was based heavily on public commitments, so we felt it was best to start there.

Veazey: We plan to build on this year’s inaugural report by taking a deeper dive into existing categories while also expanding our study to include additional entities. The more comprehensive the information we have, the better we’ll be able to understand the progress—and problem areas—in our industry and implement plans to move things forward.

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