October 20, 2020

One Musician’s Plan to Make the Concert Industry More Diverse

Scaggs’s initiative arrives as criticism has grown more heated over the industry’s power imbalances and the relative lack of women and minorities in senior positions. Major record labels and concert promoters have pledged to change, and some have taken steps like hiring inclusion officers. But critics are impatient. Two grass-roots campaigns, #TheShowMustBePaused and the Black Music Action Coalition, have recently published lists of demands for music companies, among them anti-racism and anti-sexism clauses in live performance contracts.

Watching the flurry of earnest corporate statements this summer, Scaggs said she did not want to wait for others to act. “I was just like, is this going to be another situation where we have the same conversation a year or two later, but nothing has really changed?”

Concrete numbers are unavailable about the makeup of the touring business, where workers may be employed by an artist, a promoter, a venue or an outside vendor. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California, which has documented the poor representation of women in pop, announced in June that it would look at the live sector as part of a broader study of leadership in the music business.

But insiders say the problem is evident. Bill Reeves, a veteran production and touring manager who co-founded an advocacy group, Roadies of Color United, said that white pop acts tend to hire few Black crew members. He also described what he called a common phenomenon: a Black act uses Black crews early in its career, but once crossing over to mainstream success, “somehow, magically, they have all-white crews.”

“In America, as in the concert production business, there is systemic racism,” Reeves added. “It’s so baked in that most people aren’t even aware of it.”

Touring jobs are often filled through word of mouth, which can perpetuate the exclusion of women and minorities. “Sometimes I hear, ‘Yeah, I’ll hire a Black production manager, but I just don’t know where to find them,” said Jerome Crooks, a tour manager for Nine Inch Nails and other acts.

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