Music industry

63% of black musicians have been victims of racism in the UK music industry, according to a new …

October 13, 2021, 13:00 | Updated: October 13, 2021, 3:03 PM

String players playing.

Image: Getty


New report offers insight into the experience of black professionals in today’s music industry. Nearly 2,000 black music creators and industry professionals shared their personal experiences of navigating their professional trips to the UK.

A major survey found that 63% of black musicians in the UK music industry have been victims of racism. 71% more have suffered racial micro-attacks.

The Being Black in the UK Music Industry report was commissioned by Blacks Lives in Music and is the largest survey of black musicians and music industry professionals in the UK.

1,718 music professionals took part. The report finds that racism, pay differentials and mental health issues are rife among black artists, with nearly three-quarters (74%) saying they are dissatisfied with the way the music industry supports the creators of black music.

The report also points out that 35% of all black music makers said they “felt the need to change their appearance because of their race / ethnicity,” reaching 43% of black women.

Read more: Chi-chi Nwanoku: ‘After a three-decade career in classical music, I was still the only person of color on stage’

“There is a certain air in people who play classical music and obviously there are a lot of privileges that go with it,” says Lavender Rodriguez.

Rodriguez is a queer black musician included as a case study in the Black Lives in Music report. She describes how, as someone starting her career in the classical music industry, she quickly began to feel “isolated in a world that shows an unconscious indulgence towards white male composers”.

She argues that problems with classical music privilege begin in the classroom.

“With all this traditional atmosphere and attitude, it’s kind of like you’re going to play music, you have to learn music theory, then Mozart, Beethoven and all the classics, but the music has changed so much.” she says.

“These are classics, but there are other people who are also classics and other people who mean a lot more to young children than people who died 400 or 500 years ago.”

Read more: German pop singer calls for Beethoven’s body to be exhumed for racial DNA test

Other music professionals interviewed responded with similar experiences. An anonymous respondent said that “Western classical music has always been so much a part of our music education and is so inherently white, that it creates an accidental culture where we don’t see enough racial diversity in our music education in school and at University. . “

The report says that an element of black youth voice needs to be present in discussions about practice and policy change to ensure young people have a say in what their music education looks like. In order for black youth to feel empowered and successful, there should be a better reflection of their own identity in the music classroom.

Earlier this year, the examining board Edexcel almost stripped its program of its only black composer, had it not been for a public outcry and a study of the last year British Journal of Music Education reported that 98.8% of the plays in the last ABRSM program were written by white people.

Read more: Star Violinist Randall Goosby: “Four Black Composers You Should Know During Black History Month”

Courtney Pine performs at Camp Bestival 2014

Courtney Pine performs at Camp Bestival 2014.

Image: Getty


A lack of diversity within music education has led to a “normalization of whiteness,” according to the Black Lives in Music report.

He says that in addition to stereotypes of so-called “black music,” many black and ethnic minority students have had their musical aspirations limited due to significant negative psychological effects.

While previous research on race, the music industry and music education in the UK was limited, reports such as the Equality and diversity in the classical music profession and the implementation of diversity criteria at various conservatories across the UK, have shown that the number of non-white musicians in the classical industry is very low.

the Equality and diversity in the classical music profession report reveals that after taking 629 musicians from 17 different orchestras, less than 2% were black and from an ethnic minority background. Meanwhile, the Royal College of Music recently set up a diversity action group after disclosing in a 2019-2020 report Access, disabilities and equal opportunities report that they were consistently below the benchmark for ethnicity targets in order to promote more diverse student admission.

Chineke!  Juniors Orchestra performing at the Southbank Center, London

Chineke! Juniors Orchestra performing at the Southbank Center, London.

Image: Alamy


What can the music industry do?

The report recommends that the music industry address the following four areas if there is to be transformative change:

  • The gender and ethnic pay gap: Implement better transparency by publishing an annual report on pay gaps – on gender and ethnicity – accompanied by a set of commitments to close the gaps.
  • Break down barriers to progression: Education, diversity and inclusion / anti-racism policies and action plans must be put in place in every music organization. Financial investment in basic education, mentorship programs and scholarships for black musicians, and training programs for industry leaders in middle and senior management.
  • Mental health training and support: The establishment of an anti-racist support service to combat racism in the music industry, and safe spaces created in music organizations that also report organizations that work in the field of mental health support specifically for creators and professionals of black music.
  • A concerted approach to eradicate systemic racism: The creation of an anti-racist manifesto and a code of conduct in the music industry supported by the ten point plan of the UK task force on musical diversity.