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Opinion May 4, 2022

Diversity and Inclusion in the Music Industry: A Reflection on Pop Culture

Dr Brendan Magee
Diversity and Inclusion in the Music Industry: A Reflection on Pop Culture

Part 3:

In this third instalment in the “Putting the spotlight on cultural change in the music industry” series, Dr Brendan Magee discusses the way that the industry can reflect on the lens it places on Diversity & Inclusion. As the industry examines its own existing culture and behaviour in a series of reviews, there is a perfect opportunity to redefine pop culture and create an authentic, diverse, and inclusive industry.

Update: Read Part 1 and Part 2.


Over the last 12 months, there has been a renewed focus on D&I in the music industry. In our first article, we reflected on the changing expectations of society, and that many of the behavioural norms that arguably made up the fabric of the rock and pop genre are no longer tolerated. The Independent Review into Sexual Harm, Sexual Harassment and Systemic Discrimination in the National Music Industry has recently begun a national consultation process to listen to stories, experiences, observations and suggestions for change in the industry.

The review is seeking the participation of music industry professionals, including song writers and composers, artists and performers, crew, agents, members of the live touring companies and record labels, promoters, employees of record companies, managers, publishers, venue managers and staff and company executives.”

The response from Sony Music in standing down Denis Handlin as CEO have put a spotlight on the workplace culture, “including allegations of sexual harassment at work events, intimidating behaviour, alcohol abuse and the unfair treatment of women in the workplace” (The Guardian, June 2021). 

In Feb 2022, Warner Music Group (WMG) introduced a global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Institute. “The Institute will be home to several educational initiatives, including a rotating set of dialogue-based workshops where people at WMG learn, grow, and reflect together on key aspects of diversity, equity and inclusion including anti-racism, ableism, homophobia, and sexism”. 

WMG CEO Steve Cooper was reported in themusicnetwork.com as saying:

“It’s not enough to just acknowledge problematic histories or the resulting discrimination and miseducation that remain in place. We’ve got to actively break them down and then build up new, equitable, inclusive environments where all people can belong.”

It is commendable that both Sony and WMG are taking action to address this negative culture and behaviours, and the voices and stories of many within the industry can be heard through the National Music Industry Independent Review. This is an important opportunity for the industry as a whole to reflect on the values they promote through a Diversity and Inclusion lens.  

How “Diverse & Inclusive” is the Music Industry? 

The acronym “D&I” has become part of our vocabulary, and indeed, the fabric of our society. There have been a range of positive steps within government legislation and the workplace, with the “intent” to ensure open discrimination does not occur. 

In the workplace, The Diversity Council of Australia defines Diversity and Inclusion as:  

  • Diversity refers to the mix of people in an organisation – that is, all the differences between people in how they identify in relation to their Social and Professional Identity
  • Inclusion refers to getting the mix of people in an organisation to work together to improve performance and wellbeing. Inclusion in a workplace is achieved when a diversity of people (e.g., ages, cultural backgrounds, genders, perspectives) feel that they are respected, connected, contributing and progressing. 

Within the context of the Music Industry, it is important to reflect on the way that people from a “diverse” background are actually included within the industry. More recently, the #metoo movement and the actions of Sony Music have directly exposed on the behaviours of “straight, white men in a position of power”, especially in their attitudes and behaviours against women. 

However, there are a range of other areas and issues within the D&I sphere that warrant consideration by the industry as a whole. Within the above definition of inclusion and “diversity of people” are several factors that need to be addressed within the industry: 

  • There is a glass ceiling for many female artists after the age of 30, with larger record companies not continuing record deals of female artists – despite their huge popularity – due to their age. 
  • There is an underrepresentation of multicultural music and groups within Western music labels 
  • Many artists within the LGBTI+ community have indicated that their sexuality was an issue in their career progression. 

Adam Lambert, the lead singer of Queen + Adam Lambert  reported to Variety in 2018:

“I don’t think I felt like anybody was blocking me or rejecting me because they actually had an issue with gay people. But there has always been a concern – how do we connect this (artist) with a mainstream audience?”

What is “marketable”?

There are many genres within music, and each artist within these genres will have a different approach and view of their artform. However, for many artists, presenting their music to an audience and creating an appeal for this music in a commercial capacity is a key goal and aspiration. 

On a macro level, large record companies and producers have seen that vast amounts of ‘money and fame’ can be gained through music, and thus, pop culture and associated marketing strategies were developed. Bands were created and produced based on a formula, with the goal being to make the band as commercially successful as possible. However, these marketing strategies and ‘formulas’ are the very things that are preventing authentic diversity and inclusion within music. 

By definition, pop(ular) culture is focused on commercially producing a product based on popular taste. However, there seems to be within marketing a strategy that believes people will not engage with a musician or their music if they cannot directly relate to them as part of their demographic. This narrow view of society is missing an incredible opportunity to connect. 

People engage with music for a range of reasons, and on many levels. Teenagers still engage with 80s music after hearing it at home or in the car with their parents. The millions of people worldwide who purchased Queen albums were not defined by a demographic. Music has the potential to cross boundaries and encourage society to engage in a diverse and authentically inclusive way. 

Music has a chance to lead in defining Pop Culture

There have been noticeable changes in societal attitudes in Australia in a range of areas, especially since the Covid pandemic (Forbes, 2020). After a tumultuous two years, people are craving authentic connection more than ever. In addition, we are seeing a change in pop culture as a whole, with ratings declining in many ‘manufactured’ reality shows on TV; indeed, Neighbours has stopped production after many decades on our screens.  As discussed in our previous articles, there has been a societal shift in the support of D&I. The new generation in the workplace are focussed on making a difference, rather than making money. 

The (pop) music industry needs to “catch up and move” with these changing attitudes. It is a perfect opportunity as the industry reflects on its own behaviours to lead in the authentic promotion of a diverse range of music and artists. We need to move on from the era where artists were only seen as a brand, or a marketable commodity. The music industry needs to lead in changing ideas within the community, rather than reacting and responding to narrow mainstream attitudes to make money. Now is the time to redefine pop culture and create an authentically diverse and inclusive industry.  

Bibliography

https://musicindustryreview.com.au/ 

https://themusicnetwork.com/warner-music-diversity-equity-inclusion-institute/ 

https://www.dca.org.au/ 

https://variety.com/2018/music/news/adam-lambert-troye-sivan-gay-songwriters-brunch-homophobia-industry-1202818291/ 

https://www.forbes.com/sites/shephyken/2020/05/17/human-connection-is-more-important-than-ever-during-coronavirus/?sh=6139b7416de2 

https://www.csi.edu.au/media/uploads/csi-covid_factsheet_loneliness.pdf 

Burke, K (2021, June 21). Revealed: multiple allegations of toxic culture at Sony Music Australia as CEO Denis Handlin leaves. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2021/jun/21/sony-music-australia-allegations-toxic-work-culture

This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.

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