A new code of conduct to eliminate racism in the music industry will be adopted in 2023. Designed by Black Lives in Music (BLIM), an organisation set up to address inequality in jazz and classical spaces for Black musicians, the UK Music Industry Anti-Racism Code will cover issues around pay, inclusion and safety for Black, Asian and ethnically diverse members of the sector.
Supported by the Independent Standards Authority, the code will stand for all those working in music in the UK, from freelance technical staff to artists working for large companies. Labels and organisations will commit to creating a safe working environment for all, to strive for inclusion over diversity and to undertake mandatory training, data collection and accountability processes.
The code was born out of a 2021 report by BLIM which found that 63% of Black music makers had experienced racism in the UK industry, a figure that rises to 73% for Black music professionals. The 1,718 performers, creatives and staff surveyed reported experiences of harassment, bullying, microaggression and racist language. As a result, 36% of Black music professionals said their mental wellbeing had declined.
Black musicians also report being pigeonholed into genres such as R&B and hip-hop, while structural barriers mean that Black and ethnically diverse people are underrepresented in senior industry positions, making up 19.9% of executive positions according to a 2021 survey by industry body UK Music.
“The music industry has a hole in terms of what Black artists are chosen and what investments are made; the same type of music is being put out by Black people when in reality we do every kind of music,” said BLIM chief executive Charisse Beaumont. “But that space is not being created for us. And why is that? Because the decision-makers at the top are not diverse.”
While many music organisations and labels pledged to implement anti-racism strategies in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in 2020, little has been done in the time since, Beaumont said: “We get maybe a dozen contacts a week from people going through discrimination. A lot of the people that we speak to in the music industry and in music education are saying not much has changed.”
Other clauses in the code state the need for adequate career progression opportunities, as well as equal contracts, funding and pay.
Beaumont announced the code at today’s parliamentary inquiry into misogyny in the UK music industry. Women and non-binary people and those with disabilities experience worse discrimination within the UK music industry, according to data gathered by BLIM. Black disabled musicians are “literally invisible”, said Beaumont, while Black women are the “most disadvantaged” due to disproportionate pay gaps and experiences of sexual abuse.
She cited the issue of women working in technical roles in live music. “The number is quite low, because there’s a general consensus that it’s an unsafe environment,” Beaumont said. “Some of the sexual harassment and abuse that takes place gets reported but it’s not believed. In a male-dominated environment, women are often very fearful of retribution, such as losing their job, so they don’t say anything.”
Unlike other industries, standards of conduct in music are yet to be sufficiently regulated, said Beaumont. “Right now it’s like the wild west. Unlike in finance, schools and food, the creative industries have no accountability and no authorisation.”
In the future, Creative UK, the not-for-profit organisation that supports the creative industries in the UK, will implement the code across other creative industries.
With the backing of the Independent Standards Authority and trade bodies, Beaumont said she felt hopeful about the change the code could make within music: “We really hope to see a better music industry; one that everyone can feel safe and belong in; one that is striving for every person so they can fulfil their ambition. Because right now, that’s not the case.”