Equal Opportunity: Racial Bias in the Music Industry


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Join The Movement

Since the Black Lives Matter movement rose again since its origin in 2013, due to the death of George Floyd in May, there has never been more international and local media coverage supporting black lives from the US to the UK.

But since this incident and the riots that occurred in America, it seems that news of BLM has been appearing less-so online and in conversations.

Regardless of this lack of coverage, believe it or not – it is still happening. So, with this in mind, I wanted to elevate the concern in regards to racial bias in an industry that seemingly ‘exemplifies diversity through its roots’.

The music industry.

As of 2018, BAME from UK Music’s Diversity Report, just 17.8% of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethic) individuals represented the music industry – while white people dominated with their huge 80%.

As a music industry that incorporates “diverse” throughout the channels, it seems it is offering the opposite of this.

The Case Study – Allan Siema

Above, is Allan.

Hardworking and dedicated, Allan has been working within the underground music scene for the past fifteen years. Operating as an emerging artist manager and founder of onthecomeuptv.com, Siema has seen and digested a lot of problems occurring within the music industry. With that, he decided to do something about it. So, he sat down with Music Business Worldwide to have a talk and spread awareness.

Our philosophy is that the music of the time is representative of its culture, and the ever-evolving music scene must be represented beyond Ed Sheeran and Shawn Mendez.


With the unity of culture and representation at the top of Siema’s priority, Siema expressed his opinion on this issue.

With 80.6% of the UK Music Industry populated by white people, you start to understand why racial bias and negative stereotypes of black culture are amplified. Black people are minimised in the larger scheme of things.

Allan Siema, 2020, UK Music Manager

Siema goes on to detail how impact about having no ‘solid network of ownership;’

I have yet to meet a fully-owned black music distributor in the UK who I could speak to about successfully promoting records.

The fact that this still an issue in the 21st century is something that I find difficult to comprehend.

Within the black diaspora, we do not have a solid network of ownership or funding to be able to invest in our best and brightest. In the main, the old guard controls the purse strings, and continue to pass it down to their favoured networks.

Allan Siema, 2020, UK Music Manager

Whether or not it is with direct intent, the fact that BAME individuals are being regarded this way is still troubling to witness. The power of the purse has caused one leading group to manipulate and control the actions of another less-spoken, less financially available group in the system.

For better support within the music industry, it seems that the narrative needs to change across black culture and black representatives need to be pushed further into leadership so this pattern is not repeated.

Importance of Ownership

It’s ultimately a question of ownership. Why do old white men lead when the majority of the artists are from mixed backgrounds both from black and white? It seems to be a considerably old-fashioned motion to act upon still, and it is the minority of these people that are still causing problems for BAME individuals.

They are enforced to call out racial discrimination, but when acted upon, they are regarded as disgruntled and so are often pushed to the side.

He went to finalise some important factors:

We need more black representatives that understand the trials and tribulations involved so that we can better remedy them and ensure that the next generation does not have to go through similar experiences.

I urge the powers that be to actively get involved and make meaningful steps (not just throw money at the problem!) to better support us in an industry that relies so heavily on black culture.

The lack of black representatives seem odd to me. With an industry that so heavily relies on black culture – from integral genres of rap/hip-hop to strong urban communities supporting the same artists and their causes, further efforts should have been made sooner to rely on them in our industry – not disregard them entirely.


Anecdotes of Black Employees Working in the Industry

There are times when colour is used for the good of the deal.

“I have often been invited to pitch meetings as a prop for black artists the label wanted to sign. They did this knowing full well I wouldn’t be working with the artist.”

Then there are times where money outweighs integrity of supporting rappers who are of the same background, as the same audience they are trying to attract.

I was told, “I don’t want any of these rappers who’ve been to prison on this record, but I need the urban audience to embrace this artist.”

Then … there are just occasions of just plain racial stereotyping.

On one occasion I showed interest in a singer-songwriter from Ireland and my boss asked me in front of the whole A&R team: “Are you the right type of person to be doing that sort of artist?” I told HR straight away and got a mild apology the following day, then nothing else happened.


This is Our Response – BBC Radio & Music Commit

I think it’s time for immediate change in this extremely creative industry. So, it looks like one of the oldest broadcasting companies – who have certainly past scrutiny on their company actions – have taken the first steps.

Almost as a first in the radio industry, BBC Radio will be committing £12m of its existing commissioning budget over the next three years specifically towards diverse and inclusive content through creating more diverse teams and raising inclusive culture across the BBC.

Hopefully, this will remove the lack of economic inclusion and racial bias that is perceived in the industry with more and more BAME individuals considered in every corner and crevice for teams throughout BBC Radio and BBC Music.

The main idea would be to create content including diverse stories and portrayals, diverse production teams and talent, and diverse-led companies. It will ultimately demand independent contractors to employ over 20% individuals who are either disabled or within the ethnic minority.

With this in mind, the BBC are planning on going further than the divisional BAME workforce target of a mere 15% by 2021 – by asking every part of BBC Radio & Music to meet this by the end of 2023. 

Again, it is a considerably small milestone in the grand scheme of things, but this comes with big changes from one of the largest broadcasting companies in the UK, and opens new avenues for the silenced to be speak again.

The senseless killing of George Floyd – and what it tells us about the stain of systemic racism – has had a profound impact on all of us. It’s made us question ourselves about what more we can do to help tackle racism – and drive inclusion within our organisation and in society as a whole.

This is our response – it’s going to drive change in what we make and who makes it. It’s a big leap forward – and we’ll have more to announce in the coming weeks.

Tony Hall, Director – General

For further information and support on this matter, scroll through the links attached below:





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