This guest column was written by Tiffany Red, a Grammy-winning singer and songwriter who has co-written hits for Jennifer Hudson, NCT, Jason Derulo, Zendaya and many others. She is also founder of the 100 Percenters, an organization that lobbies for more equitable pay for singers, songwriters, producers, and engineers.
Dear Music Industry:
Sometimes I wonder where Black artists would be if the system was made for us too. I look at Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber album roll-outs and envision those seven-figure marketing budgets being the norm for Black artists. I daydream about a Black boy group with as much industry support as BTS. Would we see another B2K? Black music is the blueprint for the entire music industry, yet we’re consistently erased from our own culture, and it’s infuriating. We’ve seen the same story play out in films like “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” but for some reason we do nothing to change it and allow history to repeat itself. Why?
Last year, the German-based label and publisher BMG reported that it had found “significant disparities” for royalty payouts between Black and non-Black recording artists in the contracts of four labels it had acquired, and pledged to take “measures to benefit the lowest-paid recording artists across all of its catalogs.” What about other labels? Four out of the top five highest-performing albums were by Black artists last year, and hip-hop/R&B were ranked No. 1 in the MRC Data’s 2020 U.S. Year-End Report. Earlier this week, a USC-Annenberg report stated that 86.1% of the top leadership roles in the music industry are held by white men. How can the industry possibly know what Black artists need with so few Black people in positions of power?
We need actions, not words. A lot of performative stuff is going on; a lot of statements about changes in policy “moving forward” are being made, but every writer and producer I know who is stuck in an outdated deal is Black or a person of color, and no moves have been made to update their deals, which are all 10+ years old. I’ve watched as the music industry celebrated bringing in $21 billion in 2020 — an increase of 30% in revenue — as we, the creators of that music, lost 65% of our income in that same year because of the pandemic. I’ve seen music companies pledge hundreds of millions of dollars to Black lives while offering nothing to the Black creatives on their own rosters who are suffering.
As a veteran Black singer-songwriter who has encountered these long-standing problems first-hand, I feel it’s my duty to use my voice and platform to advocate for the next generation of Black creatives — and maybe their journey will be a little better than mine.
Black executives — speak up for us. Support us. Please! Don’t allow yourself to be tokenized in order to provide cover for companies who claim to represent diversity and inclusion, but don’t. Use your position and your power to do the right thing, not the easy thing. Black music is depending on it.
Below is a list of Black-owned small businesses and organizations, including my own organization, the 100 Percenters. Everyone on this list is making an incredible impact in the Black community. Until Freedom has led the charge in the fight for justice for Breonna Taylor; HRDRV is a subscription-based record label; and the 100 Percenters advocates for Black and brown music creatives. I hope you’ll check this list out and support whoever speaks to you.