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Black Lives in Music Survey reveals systemic racism in UK Music Industry

Black Lives in Music (BLiM) have released the results and findings of their survey - Being Black in the UK Music Industry Pt. 1.- which set out to capture data on the experiences of music industry professionals and creators. 

It found conclusive evidence supporting the long-held beliefs about racial discrimination and has illustrated disturbing experiences of systemic and institutionalised racism in the UK Music Industry. 

Read the report here 

The largest survey of black musicians and music industry professionals conducted in the UK, partnering withOpinium Research, revealed a majority of those who took part have experienced direct or indirect acts of racism in the music industry. 

The survey provides real-life data in the wake of revelations made by artists such as Raye, Alexandra Burke, Little Mix’s Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Beverley Knight, Sugababes’ Keisha Buchanan and Mis-Teeq’s Sabrina Washington who have all recently spoke out about the covert and overt ways race has been a hindrance to their careers. 

Those surveyed reported a range of discriminatory acts and “sometimes hostile working environments”. All founded on factors including barriers to progression based on their ethnicity, the marked and particular ways Black women are specifically affected, income inequalities and more. 

Additionally, the survey found Black artists were granted less studio time than their white counterparts, refused event performance opportunities and being told to change the type of music they create. Furthermore, the widespread assumption that they are ‘urban artists’ despite the genre of music they make because of their race. 

Black female artists in particular have been told by management companies and labels that they need to assimilate to white/euro-centric standards as they do not know how to market a black female artist. 

Key findings include:

-       86% of all Black music creators agree that there are barriers to progression. This number rises to 89% for Black women and 91% for Black creators who are disabled

-       88% of all Black music professionals agree that there are barriers to progression

-       Three in five (63%) Black music creators have experienced direct/indirect racism in the music industry, and more (71%) have experienced racial microaggressions

-       35% of all Black music creators have felt the need to change their appearance because of their race/ethnicity, rising to 43% of Black women

-       73% of Black music professionals have experienced direct/indirect racism in the music industry, and more (80%) have experienced racial microaggressions

-       31% of all Black music creators believe their mental wellbeing has worsened since starting their music career, rising to 42% of Black women

-       36% of Black music professionals believe their mental wellbeing has declined, rising to 39% of Black women

-       38% of Black music professionals earn 100% of their income from music compared to 69% of white music professionals.

-       57% of black music creators have seen white contemporaries promoted ahead of them despite being more qualified 

The results illuminate statements made by high profile artists about their experience in the UK music industry. X Factor winner Alexandra Burke revealed in a BBC documentary special hosted earlier this year by Little Mix’s Leigh-Anne Pinnock that she was told - "You need to bleach your skin because you won't sell any records." 

Further highlighting the under-discussed realities of colourism, Beverley Knight told ITV News in 2020 that a record company digitally lightened her skin on the cover of her first album so she’d appear more presentable and acceptable to a non-black audience. 

Keisha Buchanan, founding member of Sugababes emotionally revealed that she went through a decade of therapy in the wake of her controversial departure from the group in 2009. She claims she was consistently labelled an “aggressive bully” and stereotypically portrayed as an “angry Black woman”. Saying “I didn’t realise that I would be having to go through therapy to help me to cope with some of the trauma that I’ve experienced while being in the Sugababes, or being in the public eye”. 

Raye has also opened up about the negative impacts to her mental health that she experienced while fighting with her record label who refused to release her album. She recently told The Guardian, “I am just beside myself about how the beautiful songwriters that I know, a lot of whom are women, and a lot of whom are women of colour, are just hustling out here. I’m angry, I’m raging.” 

The survey found some stark data identifying a link between this discrimination and mental wellbeing, especially among Black women. 42% of Black women surveyed said their mental health had worsened since starting a career in music and 16% had sought counselling due to racial abuse. Citing various reasons from the barriers to progression and overt racial discrimination, the report also found that Black women earn 25% less on average than their white female colleagues, and 46% earn less than half their revenue from music (compared to) creating extra pressure to find other routes to supplement their income. 

The BLiM Survey makes several recommendations to address the issues and emphasises collaboration across the UK music industry as key to addressing imbalances. 

Transparency around the gender and ethnic pay gap, training programmes to increase diversity in middle and senior management in music organisations and investment in grassroots music education are some of the key points. BLiM also calls on the music industry to create an anti-racism support service to support creators and professionals with a helpline available to Black creators and professionals who experience racism in the music industry. Also, providing referral and in-depth therapeutic support. 

Join BLiM for a weekly series of webinars ‘Being Black In The UK Music Industry’ from October 13th - 3rd November, dissecting the report and what it means to be a Black creator or industry professional in the UK, co-sponsored bytunecore.  Register via 

Charisse Beaumont, Chief Executive, Black Lives in Music: 

“You cannot change what you cannot measure. Nearly 2000 people responded to our survey on ‘The lived experience of Black music creators and industry professionals in the UK music industry’. That is 2000 people hoping for genuine change. This report is the first of its kind and holds a mirror up to the UK music industry showing what it actually looks like. The disparities Black creators and industry professionals are faced with is rooted in traditionalism and systemic racism.  The report highlights racist culture and behaviours in the workplace, financial barriers and lack of investment in Black music creators, and industry professionals unable to reach their career goals. The report also spotlights Black women being the most disadvantaged across all areas of the music industry and how all of these factors affect the mental health of Black creators and industry professionals. This is data, you cannot ignore it. The data clearly shows that change is needed across the entire music ecosystem from grass root education, all the way up to record labels. I hope industry leaders read this report and hear the voice of those who spoke out. I hope this report evokes change in the way we do our music business which has greatly profited from Black talent. 

“We are looking forward to working with all music industry leaders to ensure that we can achieve change, together.” 

Paulette Long OBE: 

“The BLiM ‘Being Black in the UK Music Industry Pt.1’ Report has really given a voice to the voiceless. It's the first time a survey gathering data from artists of colour working in the UK music industry has been actioned and published. This information alongside data from Black Industry Professionals in the sector further reinforces the UK Music Diversity Workforce Survey, with the potent stories from BLiM further underpinning the data that has been gathered. Data that confirms without doubt, that the UK music industry does indeed have a systemic racism problem within its ecosystem.  2020 was the first time I have seen the dial really begin to shift in terms of the industry slowly becoming aware that there was a real issue to be dealt with, and the first time that the various organisations, educational establishments and companies big and small began to collectively action positive change. Despite the slew of black squares proclaiming solidarity and support for the cause, there are already some signs of that solidarity turning into fatigue. BLiMs report will help stoke the relevant conversations that are needed to bring about real and permanent change, and ensure that the previous inertia of the past never again becomes an acceptable norm.” 

Help Musicians - James Ainscough, CEO

“Thanks to Black Lives in Music, the data in this report proves that the individual stories we hear from professional musicians cannot be explained away as rare, one-off incidents but are illustrative of significant, widespread problems that we must all work together to address. It is clear there is more that Help Musicians should do, collaboratively, to create lasting change within the music ecosystem and we look forward to engaging with the BLiM team to work out where we can be most impactful. It is a privilege to be a major funder of BLiM and we hope that the creation of this report will help us, and others, make a difference to improving the lives and careers of black musicians.”

PRS Foundation - Joe Frankland, CEO 

“The UK music sector has a lot more work to do to tackle the anti-Black racism which prevents Black music creators and music professionals from fulfilling their potential and is therefore holding the whole industry back. 

The Black Lives in Music Report 2021 lays out severe inequalities and differences in experiences in a way that makes it easy to see how underrepresented, marginalised and under-supported Black people in music are, and how urgently we must all address these issues. 

The report has built a much clearer picture of the barriers we have been discussing through our POWER UP initiative launch and participant open call. A huge majority of Black music creators and industry professionals experience barriers to progression, with an unacceptable proportion of people experiencing direct and indirect racism. And these barriers have worsened as a result of the pandemic which is disproportionately impacting those already underrepresented. The situation for Black women in the survey is different and more pronounced, and an intersectionality lens needs to be applied to any work the sector does to improve things. 

As CEO at PRS Foundation, I am more determined than ever to address the issues shown in the report, and through POWER UP we are proud to work closely with Charisse, Roger and the Black Lives in Music team, aligning approaches to achieve the meaningful change many survey respondents and those in the wider music community demand.” 

Tunecore -  Faryal Khan-Thompson, VP of International: 

Black Women Matter: We still need to identify, acknowledge, and tackle the problem of intersectional racism in the music industry that hits Black women the worst. This report clearly highlights this, and it is so important to have research done that focuses specifically on the challenges Black creators and industry professionals face, because we know that much of the industry has and continues to profit off of Black people and appropriates Black culture; and yet they are the most disadvantaged community in the industry today. BLIM’s report should serve as a catalyst for industry-wide change. As a woman of South Asian descent, it’s important I recognize my various privileges but also solidarities with Black communities, that lead naturally to developing an allyship with them, especially black women creators in the industry. There is a lot of work to be done, and I commend BLiM for their groundbreaking research study and will do whatever I can to support their mission.” 

Leigh Morgan, Global Director of Editorial & Marketing, Believe:

In 2020 we stood in solidarity with the music industry and the community of Black professionals, initially we participated in #BlackoutTuesday. Since then our teams have been building initiatives, strategies and finding leading partners to help break down the barriers of structural racism which are not only pervasive within the music industry but throughout society. At Believe we feel passionately that things need to change and this change is being sought by our people at every level. We have been extremely happy to have found and work with the team at BLiM here in the UK. We thank them for creating this first of a kind report. The report makes for uncomfortable reading but we are fully supportive of it and its findings.” 

Graham Davies, CEO of The Ivors Academy:

“We fully support the report’s recommendations and are committed to playing our part to bring about transformative change in the music industry. Our thanks go to Black Lives in Music and all the respondents for providing details of their experiences. This report is an important step towards our shared goal of an inclusive industry that’s free of prejudice and discrimination, where there’s equal opportunity and treatment, and we create positive and lasting change for Black music creators.”

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