The Future Of The U.K. Music Industry Is Not 95% White

Some of Britain’s under-30 power players give their best advice for the next generation.

This week, a lot of people got angry at U.K. industry publication Music Week. Specifically, there was outcry over the magazine’s annual “30 under 30” list—aka, 30 people making strides in the music business who are under the age of 30. As people were quick to point out on Twitter, the list is overwhelmingly white, with just two non-white people in the list of 30. That ratio is actually the same in the list that Music Week published last year—and is roughly in line with 2014 statistics on the diversity of the U.K. music industry—but this year, it sparked a backlash. Maybe it’s because the lack of diversity in the media has been brought to the forefront by the recent #OscarsSoWhite and #BRITsSoWhite controversies, highly visible reminders that the entertainment industry continues to be one in which white executives and public figures profit from non-white talent. Or maybe it’s because Music Week made the decision to print all the faces of the people on the list on their cover, with the headline, “Meet the Future of the Music Biz.”

Music Week has since apologized for "not doing our jobs well enough," but it’s imperative we keep talking about the questions raised by this debacle. In the days since the issue’s publication on March 14, two U.K. music outlets responded with their own, much more diverse “30 under 30” lists—find them at DJ Semtex’s blog Nation of Billions, and the British arm of Complex. (Full disclosure: the latter contains myself and FADER contributor Sian Anderson.) The first of the two has been re-published by Music Week, along with a promise: “We will now review and adjust the nomination and selection process for this and other such lists, ensuring that diversity is given significantly more priority.” These lists both show that there’s a wealth of 20-somethings from a range of backgrounds making moves in the U.K. music business right now, particularly as entrepreneurs—it’s undeniable that independent genres like grime and U.K. rap are thriving—so why didn’t they get any love from Music Week?

According to Music Week’s editor Mark Sutherland, there are only two criteria that make people eligible for the list: “You must be under 30 years of age and work in the U.K. music business.” Anyone can nominate anyone—including self-nominations—and then the Music Week team pick the winners. That seems fair, but clearly, in practice, it’s not working. In her FADER column last month, Sian Anderson explored the idea that the BRIT Awards are lacking in diversity because the nominations are decided by those with a vested interest in the major label business—which is itself largely white. It seems that something similar may be happening with the Music Week list: whether it’s a problem with editorial judgement, or an issue of the nomination pool being taken entirely from non-diverse, corporate environments, somewhere along the way, some of the U.K.’s brightest new entrepreneurial minds are being overlooked. And it’s not just Music Week: this is an all-too-familiar problem when it comes to publications identifying powerful figures in the industry. (Mark Sutherland initially agreed, then declined, to be interviewed for this story. Several executives on Music Week’s “30 under 30” list declined to be interviewed or did not respond to a request for comment.)

To find out what we need to do to move forward, The FADER reached out to six successful under-30s in the U.K. music business to ask them what the next generation can learn from these mistakes.

Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson, 27

Senior Editor, Complex UK

The Future Of The U.K. Music Industry Is Not 95% White   Photo by Elliot Simpson

Considering how many black and brown faces in the industry that I know and interact with on a daily basis, [Music Week’s list] was both shocking and highly disappointing. I was half-grateful to be included in their “Best Of The Rest” list, but slyly parred [offended] at the same time. It was like a backwards salute. Their list should represent the music industry at large, and they failed miserably. It's probably best [Music Week] bring some people into their panel meetings who work in a more diverse setting. Who's to say there are any black and brown people in the Music Week office who interact with people like them on a regs [regularly]? I don't know. But this is the problem with a lot of publications: a lack of diversity within their buildings. It's something that needs to be discussed and I know I'm not the only one who thinks this very same thing.

What’s your advice for any hopeful young music execs?

Don't be discouraged. If you're black, brown, yellow, pink—the industry isn't as segregated as that list probably makes it look. Just work hard and the right people will give you props.

Sian Anderson, 25

DJ, BBC Radio 1Xtra; Director, Sightracked (PR and Consultancy firm); Freelance journalist

The Future Of The U.K. Music Industry Is Not 95% White   Photo by Rianna Tamara

I'd always been supported by Music Week so never saw a race issue [Sian was on the 2014 “30 under 30” list]. It wasn't until I saw [the 2016] cover that I realized they haven't supported me since I left the major label world [in 2014]. It would be great if [Music Week] promoted to the wider music industry, not just major labels, when the nomination process is open.

I think we all already knew there was a lack of diversity in the music industry. In the same way that we know there are gender issues in the industry. We need to continue to talk about both, continue to raise red cards where necessary, and continue to offer guidance to those who are part of the problem.

What’s your advice for any hopeful young music execs?

[The Music Week list] doesn't matter. There are hundreds more executives who didn't make the "30 under 30" list or the "Best of the Rest" list or [any other] list who work quietly behind the scenes and are financially rewarded, and know they're making shit happen and making a difference. Be one of those. Crack on. If you need acknowledgement in order to do what you do or feel good about doing what you're doing then you're in the wrong industry.

Jamz Supernova, 24

DJ, BBC Radio 1Xtra

The Future Of The U.K. Music Industry Is Not 95% White   Photo courtesy of Sai Photography

When I initially saw the list I was slightly unfazed; I've been working behind the scenes in radio for six years now and every time the list came out, it was very much the same. But when I actually thought about what a year it's been for grime and music of that nature—and all the people just in my own circles who are under 30, working in music, creating their own brands, and smashing it—that's when I began to feel frustrated.

Music Week need to really comb through the nomination process, and make it transparent. I only found out the other day you can nominate yourself. I also feel that the wider industry should be taken into account, not just the major labels and corporations. There are so many more young people who are creating their own companies and brands, and they can't be ignored.

The music industry at times can feel like a members-only club—it's time to open up guestlist. I really hope this makes the major label and corporation bosses take a long hard look at their application process and the visibility of entry-level jobs for young people from different backgrounds and ethnicities. It's not good enough to have one person of color on your team, nor is it good enough to only have a team of middle-upper class employees. It should be an agenda for the next few years to make the industry as diverse as Britain really is. Initiatives and mentor schemes would be a great start.

What’s your advice for any hopeful young music execs?

Change is coming! My generation, and most definitely the younger generation, are tearing up the rulebook and creating our own alternative routes to success. So I would say bun the list, keeping pushing, breaking down doors to get to where you need to be. You gotta be in the industry to change it, so use [the list] as motivation.

Caroline Simionescu-Marin, 21

A&R Manager, XL Recordings; Editor, GRM Daily

The Future Of The U.K. Music Industry Is Not 95% White   Photo courtesy of Caroline Simionescu-Marin

The new generation of creatives and music industry forerunners will absolutely not stand for being misrepresented on any level. You have to remember: the new music industry are children of the technological revolution, with more access to resources than ever before. If we aren't happy, we will create new platforms within days that will be celebrated by the people who matter—whether that be award shows, concerts, radio networks, blogs, YouTube channels...You name it. Semtex and Complex UK's lists were a fantastic example of addressing a situation positively and commanding change by creating an entirely new platform. I think it's great that people understand their rights and powers.

What’s your advice for any hopeful young music execs?

At the moment, most platforms used to celebrate successful individuals, such as lists and award shows, just aren't fully representative. It's a fact. Over the years there have been so many examples of incredible individuals who just haven't been acknowledged [in] that capacity. But does it make them any less great or culturally impactful? Absolutely not. For example, Skepta and Stormzy not being considered for a BRIT Award doesn't mean their impact on British culture in 2015 wasn't enormously important. Is it hugely annoying and will we campaign for change? Yes. Will Skepta and Stormzy lose faith in music and have sleepless nights over it? Unlikely. I can guarantee you they will continue on with their lives and be incredible inspirations to new artists, and culturally defining to the music industry with or without the nods. The same goes for young executives—find your own role models. Look at the area you wish to be in, you will find someone whose amazing success story you can relate to.

Parris Oloughlin-Hoste, 23

Urban Promotions Manager, Sony Music UK

The Future Of The U.K. Music Industry Is Not 95% White   Photo by Lexie Dodd

When I first saw [the Music Week cover], I thought it wasn’t real. But when I realized it was…Initially I was shocked, I couldn’t believe that such a prestigious publication in the music industry had simply overlooked so many people of color in the industry. I was so happy for everyone who made that list, it’s a real achievement, but so upset that people of color are working relentlessly behind the scenes in labels, independently, and across different media/creative capacities, and are still overlooked. Even in a year where grime is one of our biggest exports, where the BRITs and Oscars [failed to recognize] hard working people of color…it was a shame. Once Nation of Billions put out their “30 more under 30” list, the way the individuals banded together to stand up and speak out against this was amazing.

What’s your advice for any hopeful young music execs?

Use your voice, be seen, be heard! If we have open conversations with everyone we can do anything regardless of color, gender, or sexuality. Put what you want into the universe, work smart and hard, and it will happen.

Ash Houghton, 24

Head of Online, SBTV

The Future Of The U.K. Music Industry Is Not 95% White   Photo courtesy of Ash Houghton

[When I saw the Music Week cover,] I was just baffled; I didn't immediately recognize anyone. After seeing so many young people I admire breaking boundaries and enjoying success over the last 12 months, not seeing any familiar faces was disappointing. Sadly, I think this is just a symptom of a much wider issue of representation in the industry. This is something that's visible to me every day. There's a huge disparity between the individuals making music (and the [creative] teams behind them), and the individuals in charge of selling, promoting and profiting from it [at labels]—this is the root of the issue. The higher up the corporate ladder you climb, the less likely you are to find people like you; whether that be in terms of class, race, gender, or anything else. Once this is addressed, we're likely to see lists and accolades reflect a more accurate picture.

What’s your advice for any hopeful young music execs?

If you're a young person looking to get into the industry and have success, I would encourage you to not allow these lists to taint your perception of what's possible. As much as you're likely to face obstacles on your way up, allow these instances to fuel you to break down doors of your own. Don't let a list define you.

March 18, 2016
Pop
The Future Of The U.K. Music Industry Is Not 95% White