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.”

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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

Sian Anderson, 25

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

Jamz Supernova, 24

DJ, BBC Radio 1Xtra

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Caroline Simionescu-Marin, 21

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

Parris Oloughlin-Hoste, 23

Urban Promotions Manager, Sony Music UK

Ash Houghton, 24

Head of Online, SBTV

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