A group of over a dozen black concert promoters in the U.S. is working to address longstanding inequality in their industry — which members say has made it a challenge for them to stay competitive in an increasingly consolidated live music marketplace.
The new organization, called The Black Promoters Collective (BPC), took shape toward the beginning of the pandemic as most of the live music scene shut down, leaving the members with more time to discuss the racial issues they faced in the business. After the police killing of George Floyd and the music industry’s promises to remedy their own racial prejudices, the BPC started putting together a mission statement in earnest.
Its goals are straightforward: The BPC wants to spread awareness of the racial divide among music promoters, empower black music promoters, and partner with artists, companies and other leaders in the space. (While concert giants like Live Nation have pledged to improve their internal diversity, significant changes out of the music business remain to be seen.)
Three founding members — Shahida Mausi of the Right Productions, Gary Guidry of G-Squared Events, and Shelby Joyner of SJ Presents — spoke with Rolling Stone about the path forward for black promoters in the live business.
Talk a bit about the lead-up to founding the Collective.
Gary Guidry: This network of promoters have partnered with each other over the years over various tours and projects. We all know each other. We’ve all worked together, even if it’s one person removed. As Covid hit, we started having dialogue on all our struggles of the industry, and we slowed down and thought about all the opportunities that have come and gone — all the struggles of seeking and losing opportunities coming down simply to race and not being a part of a type of good old boy network or echelon and genre of artists.
We formed to say, “How can we get together to [help] this great group that does a tremendous amount of business — we’re doing over $100 million in gross business each year — why is it so difficult to get this certain caliber of artists?” We are constantly overlooked for certain kinds of projects.
What are the opportunities you aren’t getting?
Shahida Mausi: We are professional promoters, period, and we’ve got decades of experience. We seek to book and promote shows across all kinds of genres — not just black shows. But that has been difficult and has stood as a largely unattainable goal for us to achieve.
GG: Our group members have promoted big artists who’ve broken box office records — it’s Beyoncé, Destiny’s Child, Usher, Rihanna. It’s often early in their careers, and they book shows within the network of African American promoters across the country. But once they reach a certain echelon, the Live Nations and AEGs of the world tend to make deals with artists that are out of reach out of what we can offer due to their management and ownership of facilities. We have the money, expertise and resources for shows, but today it’s getting even harder. With new artists, as soon as they get one hot record, they’re snapped up and we can’t even cultivate them anymore. We’re left catalog artists who haven’t had major records in years.
“We don’t have artists who sell out a tour just by announcing in a tweet. As African American promoters, we have to do a much more thorough job because we’re forced to work with less.”
We’re fine with that, but we want to build a business too with new talent and the best talent out there — and we want to promote other genres of music. We have street teams that still go to barber shops and beauty shops. Live Nation is not going to do that. We have relationships with program directors at radio stations. We don’t have artists who sell out a tour just by announcing in a tweet. As African American promoters, we have to do a much more thorough job because we’re forced to work with less.
Shelby Joyner: Those bigger opportunities never get to us. By the time we hear about a tour, we’re seeing the announcements in the media. These deals happen behind the scenes and we don’t even get a seat at the table. At the end of the day, there’s a lot of people who are investing in black culture. But the way you invest in the longer term — you have to plant the seeds to a company or organization so we can hire more minorities. And not just minorities, but different people from our communities so we can control our own companies. The problem is they don’t put us in that position.
A big draw-in with large promoters, for artists, is that they offer better deals — which doesn’t seem like something they have much incentive to give up.
GG: It’s not that we are bitter that they offer a better deal. It’s the exclusion of us from the party. There are still regional promoters who work these tours with the Live Nations and AEGs — they’ll collaborate and form partnerships — and we’re often not included in those types of projects. When we are invited, it may be allowing us to place the advertisement or commission on an advertisement. It’s not a real partnership.
SM: It’s not just “Give me”; it’s “Stop blocking me from getting those deals.” Participation has to be more than just commission on an ad-buy — that’s not substantive. It’s like a résumé credit as opposed to a substantive financial role in participating, and it’s not a role that allows our expertise to be used to the benefit of the artist. We ask that management and artists look at the deals they’re making in this process. Major A-List artists have clout that they need to use.
How will the BPC going about enacting that change?
GG: Our short-term goal is to get the message out. We are contacting agents and artists and their teams. We are looking at using this hiatus period to [focus] attention and attack that problem head-on — contacting these artists’ managers, making strong offers for the artist. Oftentimes we see that we’re not getting anywhere with the agent. We have to go around the agent and say, “Hey, artist manager, do you know that there is an offer that we are not getting an answer to?” Sometimes we have to break protocol. Sometimes we have to push the envelope, and this is a time where we’re looking to push the envelope.
“At the end of the day, we all are promoters. I’m not interested in just having a black piece of the pie. I’m interested in being a promoter.”
Where do you feel the focus needs to be, to make improvements?
SM: It’s holistic. It takes the artists being mindful of the power that they have, particularly the A-list artists. It takes a management company looking at doing things differently and making sure that there are opportunities for more than just the usual suspects. And it takes agents prepared to do a little bit more work and open up these doors — make two phone calls for potential promotion partners instead of one. We’re here. We have a great service that we have to offer to the industry and to the public. And we want the opportunity to be open for us to do business to the maximum level of our capabilities, which are extraordinary.
GG: That’s part of why we’re choosing to have a voice in these times. It’s not just the labels, the agents partnering with the labels, or Live Nation. You can say the record label owner is white, the agent is white, the show runner is white and that it’s easy for them to cut a deal because they’re white — but it’s not just color. It’s a responsibility that also falls on the artists because often, whether it’s Drake, Megan Thee Stallion or Cardi B, they have black representation, and that black representation needs to know there’s a responsibility to say to Live Nation, “Ok, you can have the deal, but we want to make sure there’s a certain diversity within the people that actually help grow my artists.”
SJ: If I were a corporation and I really wanted to make a change, I would take a business like ours and invest millions of dollars in a partnership so that we are at the table when it comes down to major artists. And we don’t want just minority artists either. At the end of the day, we all are promoters. When you go to Live Nation, [they] don’t say, “OK, you’re a white promoter, you can only do rock or pop.” I’m not interested in just having a black piece of the pie. I’m interested in being a promoter. That means all genres of music, comedies, plays. I am a promoter. I can promote. Give me and my team the opportunity.