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A Race ‘Report Card’ Measures Whether the Music Industry Changed

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A new “report card” on race in the music business takes many of the industry’s most powerful companies to task, urging them to follow through on diversity commitments made last summer amid nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd.

The 37-page “Music Industry Action Report Card,” by the Black Music Action Coalition, was issued over the weekend to coincide with the Juneteenth holiday. The group took its hardest look at the three major record companies, which announced large financial donations last year — Sony and Warner Music each pledged $100 million, and Universal $25 million — and doled out middling-to-poor grades to them.

Only a portion of those donation pledges has been paid out so far, and in its report the coalition — a group of artist managers, lawyers and others in the business that was formed a year ago — pressed the companies to hire more people of color in top executive jobs.

The report graded the labels in four categories, including their initial commitments and subsequent follow-through, and the companies mostly got B’s and C’s. None earned an A, and one, Warner, even got a D in the category of representation at the executive level.

Last week, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California released a detailed report of its own, noting that, among 4,060 executives at 119 music companies of various kinds, 7.5 percent were Black. (At record companies, that number was 14.4 percent.)

“Our hope is that the MIA Report Card, especially coming on the heels of the Annenberg study, will spur more conversations and efforts towards, in some cases, disruptive change,” Naima Cochrane, a journalist and former label executive who was the author of the Black Music Action Coalition’s study, wrote.

Most companies named in the report, including each of the three major record conglomerates, declined to comment about it. But some within the industry privately complained that the study was inconsistent or incomplete.

A total of 18 companies were examined in the report. While record labels were given letter grades, other types of companies, like streaming services, talent agencies and concert promoters, were rated on whether their efforts were “satisfactory.” Whole areas of the business, including radio and artist management, were not addressed. The coalition said the study would be expanded in coming years.

“Our data is only as good as the record industry’s willingness to cooperate in providing information,” Binta Niambi Brown, the coalition’s co-chairman, said in a statement.

Pandora, the internet radio giant that is owned by SiriusXM, was one of the few whose efforts were deemed “unsatisfactory,” although scant reasons were given for that rating. “Because Pandora has traded on its familiarity with Black and Latinx listeners and their impact on culture,” the report said, “we expected a more significant commitment from them.”

In response, Nicole Hughey, the head of diversity and inclusion at SiriusXM, said the company has given money to organizations and pursued specific campaigns against racism in the audio business.

“We support BMAC’s mission, but were disappointed and surprised by the Unsatisfactory rating given to Pandora in their recent report card, given our strong passion and commitment to fighting racism and promoting racial equality,” Ms. Hughey said in a statement.

“There is always more work to be done, within our company and across the music industry,” she added, “and we will continue that work tirelessly.”


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