Why Our Industry Needs To Wake The F- Up Now (Guest Post By WME’s Kevin Shivers)
By: Kevin Shivers
Blackout Tuesday is over, but this does not mean the work is done. In fact, we are only at the foot of the hill.
Collectively, Black Americans are hurting. We are hurting from years of systemic racism and police brutality. We are hurting from the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and the countless others throughout the years. We are hurting from the words of Amy Cooper in Central Park, and other white Karens across America, but specifically as Black Americans in the Music Industry, we are hurting from years of silence from our white colleagues.
I’m certain that all of your Instagram accounts are flooded with organizations to donate money to, books to read and elected officials to email and while it is important that we do these things, I would argue that it is more important that we look to our workplaces.
Black music defines culture. It is culture. Black music is played every second of the day all over the world. This week on the Billboard Hot 100, Black artists occupy seven of the top ten slots. Hell, the Billboard Hot 100 IS Black Music. And yet, for as many Black artists that are dominating streams, headlining festivals and winning Pulitzers, we suffer from a shocking lack of Black people inside of the corporations and companies that profit the most from Black artists work.
It is embarrassing and you should be ashamed.
It is systemic and you did nothing.
It is unacceptable and you must affect change immediately.
Black people are tired of hearing the excuse that “we can’t find the right people” or “no one wants to work in music” because first of all, that is not true – our jobs are cool as shit. It should be embarrassing to all of us that there is more diversity on the floors of investment banks than there is in entertainment companies. It should be embarrassing to all of us that there are exponentially more Black bodies on the artist roster than there are in the office.
So, to answer the question I keep getting by my white colleagues of “What Can I Do?” If you have a position of influence in the music business, these should be three areas of focus:
RecruitmentWe simply must do a better job recruiting and amplifying job awareness. Don’t just sit back and wait for people to apply for industry jobs. We must recruit employees with the same intensity we use for signing clients. Of course, due to COVID-19, many companies are not currently hiring but we can start the process by reaching out to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and doing Zoom meetings with their students and staff. We can tell them that when we return to hiring that “we want to meet you.” Because if we want to attract the best and brightest to mold the next generation of this industry, we need to tell non-white people loudly and explicitly that they’re actually welcome in the damn room.
When we’re recruiting, we also need to acknowledge the socioeconomic barriers that disproportionately affect people of color. In addition to looking at how pay is impacting the hiring pool, companies should be investing in fellowship programs and grants that help subsidize living costs because not having parents able to spring for an Airbnb or having “one of Dad’s friends” put you up in his pool-house for the summer is another systemic barrier to entry. Chyna PhotographyThe majortalent agencies organized a protest through Century City this weekend, against a backdrop of an industry that largely lacks diversity.
DevelopmentLook around at your current staff. My guess is that there are enough white people in senior positions. It’s your responsibility to develop and grow black leaders. Younger recruits need people to look up to, to advocate for them, to support them. Working inside many companies as a minority is exhausting – the isolation, casual racism, being fearful of speaking up in case you face retaliation, microaggressions and gaslighting. Reach out – call them, meet with them, ask for their point of view. We have to give them hope and make it clear that they are valued. It is bittersweet to me when I think about Black leaders I look up to like Jon Platt, Jeff Harleston, Ethiopia Habtemariam and Sylvia Rhone because, like me, they are the exceptions – not the rule. Truly, in 2020 how can Jon be the only Black CEO of a global major music company? MentorshipI’m a product of mentorship. My personal story is this – two months after being promoted in the WME Music Department, I was put on Tyler, The Creator’s team by two white, male partners. I had no clue what I was doing but they took me under their wing. They let me ask them countless questions, took me to meetings, introduced me to people, were tough with me when they had to be, and ultimately changed the course of my career. Two of WME’s senior partners took time away from their days to invest in a young Black agent. The faith they instilled in me helped me build a strong relationship with Tyler and his managers Kelly and Chris Clancy. They bet on me and they followed through because it takes that kind of commitment and work to be a meaningful mentor. These two men are the exception. They took the time when most others do not. Otherwise there would be more people who look like me at the table.
This will take work, trust, and commitment on your part. You must become a champion of Black people inside of the building meaning, call them back, take them to meetings, introduce them to your network, but most crucially – put them in the game, Coach! Put them on significant clients or an important project or initiative so they can actually learn and contribute in a meaningful way. Make it your business that they succeed.
Black artists bring in the bucks, but we need more Black executive representation in leadership and in the C-suite who have different perspectives – and can bring in even more bucks. It is on every company in every facet in our industry to identify these future leaders early, build a plan for them, and set them on a path in the same way that it is so routinely and subconsciously done for their white counterparts.
Everything I’ve outlined is going to take more than one phone call to implement, but every one of you can make one phone call right now. Call your black colleagues and tell them that you are going to do better. Tell them you are going to hire more people that look like them. Tell them how you will mentor them and become a champion for them. Tell them you are going to give them the tools and a path to turn them into leaders. Ask them what they need, listen, and take action. Do it today, and do not let them down. We need action, not another panel. We need action, not words.
Kevin Shivers is a partner at WME.
This guest post is part of Pollstar’s new editorial franchise “Voices of Live,” which has the goal of putting a spotlight on people of diverse backgrounds from across the business toward increasing the inclusivity in our industry. Pollstar welcomes submissions via firstname.lastname@example.org.