Yesterday was the day that the music industry paused in response to the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent horrific treatment of protesters across America. It was supposed to be a day where the collective industry stepped back, elevated black voices and planned how we could do better to support diversity moving forward. Perhaps for some the intention became lost in a sea of meaningless black squares but I took this opportunity seriously.
First I start with an apology. When I started blogging three years ago I purposefully decided not to just cover ‘americana’ and ‘country’ music because I knew that both genres were dominated by white people. As a blog whose main intention was to elevate the voices of an oppressed gender, I wanted my work to be as intersectional as possible so I aimed to include a diverse variety of genres and artists.
Looking truthfully back over three years of my content I conclude I have failed in my intentions. At the beginning I hoped to have 30% non-white artists in my reviews/playlists, as representation based on general population statistics seemed fair (especially as this is what I wanted to see the industry offer in terms of gender). Honest declaration of my diversity stats for reviews: 19% in 2017, 18% in 2018, 18% in 2019 and so far this year 15%.
I am doing progressively worse and I take full responsibility for that. It’s not that diverse voices aren’t out there, that’s not the problem. Blogging is often split on genre lines and my audience engage better with country/Americana/indie artists ie white artists. Some of my least read reviews and liked posts cover diverse voices. As I wanted to keep up with ‘trends’ I prioritised certain artists, mainly white women. And so I perpetuated the cycle of discrimination and exclusion.
Maybe you do the same thing with the artists you listen to. Maybe you justify it by saying ‘well that’s the music I like’ rather than stopping to think about why it’s the music you like. I’m not here to shame anyone. But if we want to overcome prejudice, especially subconscious unintentional prejudice, we have to consider the possibility that we are part of the problem. The solution is simple: apologise and start doing better.
Anyone who thinks they are powerless to do anything to change the world is wrong. Tiny changes made on an individual level have a ripple effect. What culture do you consume? Where do you spend your money? What posts do you like and share? Can you consider elevating diverse voices that have previously been marginalised?
I want to do better moving forward and I think other blogs have to step up too. It’s no good retweeting endless pictures of Black Lives Matters protests and marches when your content is normally just a sea of white faces and voices.
So here are some actions I am committing myself to taking and hope other bloggers follow (and most of this advice holds for general music listeners too):
1. Seek Out Voices Beyond Your Preferred White-Dominated Genres
I admit that country/Americana and indie rock are my favourite genres so I’m going to have to do some work on expanding my listening habits. I will make it a priority to consider diverse pitches and releases above others starting today. I have already followed some great playlists like Brown Sugar from Apple Music and some world music playlists on Spotify and will use these to find new artists to write about.
2. Elevate Diverse Voices in Your Favourite Genres
For the artists of colour who are working in my favourite genres I will aim to write and share about them on my blog/social media feeds more often. Another important thing we can do is to buy their merch, support their Patreons, crowdfunders and livestreams (and concert tickets too whenever that is possible again).
3. Give New and Old Voices More Attention
To elevate a wider range of voices this might mean taking a chance on something new or an older artist you might not have considered in the past. As I cover classic artists and albums on my blog this is something I know I can easily do. I am also looking at ways I can feature more individual track reviews for newer artists when I don’t have time to write full album reviews.
4. Improve Review & Playlist Ratios
Some people think quotas are tokenistic or virtue signalling or whatever but I don’t care. At best they help and at worst they do no harm. To counter perpetual institutionalised discrimination we must accept that work has to be done. My work on this blog is sharing reviews and playlists so I am committed to including a minimum of 30% of diverse artists on both moving forward.
These are the conclusions I came up with yesterday but I’m open to any feedback and other suggestions as to how to improve representation and be a better ally. Accountability matters too so please call me out if you see me falling short of my aims.
If you blog let me know what you’re planning on doing to address this issue.
Be sure to put Natalie Duncan on your radar. She has an album due out at the end of July that should great. (Her 2012 album is well worth tracking down. There are moments of sheer genius on it.)
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