What did the music industry actually do for racial justice after Blackout Tuesday?

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Blackout Tuesday had good intentions. It was started by two Black women in the music industry – Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang – to address systemic racism and anti-Blackness in North America, but also within the music industry itself. 

Quickly, though, the idea took off and got boiled down to companies and brands posting black squares on Instagram – an easy and performative social media gesture that many called out for being empty without concrete action. The music industry, as the initial Blackout Tuesday call-out spelled out, is a billion-dollar industry that “has profited predominantly from Black art” and it’s their obligation “to protect and empower the Black communities that have made them disproportionately wealthy in ways that are measurable and transparent.” It was not meant to be a day off work, but chance to make major structural overhauls – and donations. 

The Weeknd was more specific. The Toronto superstar tweeted that “no one profits off Black music more than the labels and streaming services.” He gave $500,000 to Black equity causes and urged them all to “go big and public with yours this week.” In the tweet, he also posted a photo with all the major labels and streaming services: Universal, Sony, Warner, Spotify and Apple Music.

So, as the week draws to an end, NOW reached out to the companies named in the Weeknd’s tweet to see if they had answered the call. 

Universal Music

Universal’s response is the most extensive. UMG has set up a 35-person global Task Force For Meaningful Change co-chaired by acting head of Def Jam Records Jeff Harleston and Motown Records chief Ethiopia Habtemariam. Toronto rapper Kardinal Offishall, the senior director of A&R at UMG Canada, is also a member of the task force. The initiative includes a $25 million Change Fund to be split between aid/charitable giving, global policies to address equity and inclusion, internal/institutional change, legislative/public policy, partnerships and programming. 

In Canada, Universal Music has paused all new releases and promotional activity this week. They’re also in the process of setting up an internal committee to focus on inclusion and social justice and identify gaps and deficiencies within the company, update the hiring plan and propose new initiatives. The committee is working on an employee donation matching plan. 

Sony

Sony Music Group is launching a $100 million Global Social Justice Fund to support justice and anti-racist initiatives around the world. They will start donating immediately “to organizations that foster equal rights.”

Warner

Making it a trend, Warner Music Group, along with the Blavatnik Family Foundation, set up their own $100 million fund “to support charitable causes related to the music industry, social justice and campaigns against violence and racism.”

Spotify

Spotify has been called out in recent months for their paltry royalties, especially as the live music market has dried up, so many people were calling on the biggest music streaming service to do something meaningful for Black musicians in addition to the eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence (the amount of time a police officer kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck in his murder) it added to major podcasts and playlists.

“Over the last few days, we amplified programming featuring Black voices to all 300 million Spotify users and drove a 30x increase in visitors to our dedicated hub,” said a Spotify employee in an email to NOW. 

“We initiated a program to match employee donations up to $10 million globally in support of social justice organizations, and allocated an additional $1 million in ad inventory to amplify their efforts. These are hard problems to solve, and while there are no easy answers or quick fixes, Spotify stands in solidarity with the Black community and is dedicated to driving lasting societal change.”

Apple Music

On Tuesday, Apple Music replaced its usual For You, Browse and Radio sections with a streaming station playing only music by Black Artists. In a memo to Apple staff, Tim Cook wrote that they’d be donating to a number of groups including the Equal Justice Initiative and would offer a two-for-one match for employee donations in June. Specifics have yet to be announced. 

The Apple executive said that the company would be donating to a number of groups, including the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit focusing on racial injustice. The iPhone maker will also offer a two-for-one match for employee donations in the month of June.

As for indie labels, Bandcamp has once again waived its revenue share today (June 6) and is giving 100 per cent of sales to artists. New writers collective New Feeling has compiled a Google spreadsheet of Canadian labels and artists donating their shares to Black causes.

@trapunski

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Richard has covered Toronto’s music scene for over a decade. He was once called a “mush-brained millennial blogger” by a Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter and “actually a pretty good guy” by a Juno-nominated director.

Read more by Richard Trapunski

June 5, 2020

4:29 PM