Music Industry Executives Are Mainly White and Male, USC Study Shows - Rolling Stone
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Here’s How White and Male the Execs of the Music Business Are

“The music business has a workforce crisis on its hands, as the leadership ranks communicate to non-white individuals that they do not belong,” USC Annenberg’s researchers wrote


The University of Southern California (USC)’s Annenberg Institute, which conducts annual research on gender and race in the music business, released a new report on Tuesday. It details the gender and race makeup of executive-level managers across the music business — and unsurprisingly, the Institute’s findings suggest significant room for more diverse ranks among the most powerful leaders in music.

Researchers Stacy Smith, Carmen Lee, Marc Choueiti, Katherine Pieper, Zoe Moore, Dana Dinh and Artur Tofan analyzed the rank, title, gender and race of 4,060 executives across 119 companies between last fall and this spring for the report, which included data from music groups and labels, publishing companies, streaming companies, live music promotion groups and radio companies. The team broke down their findings by how many executives are from underrepresented racial groups overall, how many are specifically black, and how many are women. Their percentages in executive roles were compared to their makeup in the U.S. population, where women make up 51 percent of the population, and 40 percent of the U.S. identifies as what the Institute qualified as underrepresented groups.

Among some of the most notable data points from the extensive report:

  • Not including music companies’ smaller subsidiaries, white men make up 86 percent of CEOs, chairs and presidents.
  • Live Nation and AEG don’t have one black executive on their senior management teams.
  • There isn’t a woman of color senior executive at any of the big three (Warner, Sony, Universal) music groups’ corporate levels, nor at the major radio companies like iHeartRadio or Cumulus, nor at the streaming companies.
  • Music groups, record labels and streaming companies proved the best at hiring a more diverse executive pool, with non-white executives making up about 25 percent of their executive classes — though that’s still well below the 40 percent benchmark relative to the U.S. population.
  • Only 12 percent of radio executives aren’t white.
  • Underrepresented racial groups make up about 18 percent of CEO, chairman or president roles.
  • Black people hold 10.4 percent of those roles and women made up about 13 percent.
  • Just under 20 percent of executives ranking as a vice president or higher are from underrepresented groups, and only 7.5 percent are black.

For every one black female executive, there were nearly 18 white men, the institute says. Diversity in the C-Suite for all the listed groups was sub-par, but women of color saw the least representation. “The results show that the music business has a workforce crisis on its hands, as the leadership ranks communicate to non-White individuals that they do not belong,” researchers wrote.

The study underscores the major leaps the industry faces to make good on improvements it has promised since last year. The music business faced a call to action in 2020, after the police killing of George Floyd, to address decades of racial inequality across the business for black artists and music industry workers. Companies pledged significant donations toward social justice organizations (though they haven’t donated most of that yet, as Vice reported), changed department names to stop using the word “urban”, and held company-wide town halls. Elsewhere, Sony exec Jon Platt penned an open letter last year reflecting his place as the only black chief executive of a major music company.

Beyond company executives, artists’ managers, agents and publicists are mainly white as well, the study suggests. Among 242 “established artists” the researchers analyzed, about 46 percent of their managers are white men, as well as nearly 65 percent of agents.

White women accounted for nearly 52 percent of the artists’ publicists. Men from underrepresented racial groups meanwhile make up about 28 percent of managers, 16 percent of agents, and 9 percent of publicists. Underrepresented women meanwhile are only 11 percent of managers, 12 percent of publicists, and just over 4 percent of agents.

The Annenberg Institute’s findings are perhaps unsurprising if you’ve read any of its four annual reports detailing the lack of representation for female songwriters and producers among chart-topping hits.

To bring more executives to C-Suite level jobs, researchers suggest the same recommendations several black executives have preached since Blackout Tuesday and long before: Better mentorship, a more direct executive talent pipeline, and creating measurable evaluations for workers in performance reviews, to name a few.

Improving diversity among the artist class plays a key role in improving diversity in the industry workforce too, data suggests. A&R executives were one of the few classes within the music business where the percent of black executives exceeded their proportional makeup to the population, and while the number of non-white and women executives still has room to grow, both are still higher than much of the other sectors the study analyzed (34 percent were from underrepresented groups, 27 percent were women). Of the 1,750 artists they signed, nearly half came from underrepresented groups, 31 percent were black and 32 percent were women.

The same way a diverse A&R pool can help bring in more multi-cultured artists, data suggests that a more diverse artist pool leads to a better representative music work force, the study says. Looking through artists’ managers, agents and publicists, data shows over 79 percent of black artists have at least one black representative on their team, while 87 percent of non-black artists have no black representatives on their team.

Still, while artists of color help diversify the music business and workers of color bring on more underrepresented artists, the onus of championing artists and industry workers of color is on the industry as a whole, the study stresses. “A lack of inclusion in the music industry is not the problem of one company or one sector,” the researchers write in their report. “It involves the entire community of artists, executives, agents, managers, publicists, distributors, and even the audience. Thus, creating a more inclusive industry requires the insight, input, and effort of all.”


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