When we think about the music industry we give accolades to those that have made, what I call, ‘major money moves’ in one way or another. For example, Kenneth Brian Edmonds (aka Babyface), the man behind many recognisable hits including “Exhale (Shoop, Shoop)” by Whitney Houston, Boyz II Men – “A Song for Mama”, “Can We Talk” by Tevin Campbell, and other chart-topping songs. We can also name record executives and entrepreneurs Sean Combes, popularly known by his pseudonym P Diddy, and LA Reid.
Over on this side of the Atlantic, we have the likes of Alec and Alex Boateng, 0207 Def Jam label presidents, Austin Daboh, Glyn Aikins and Riki Bleau just to name a few. When it comes to on-screen talent, there are a number of great artists and songwriters that have dominated like Michael Jackson, Prince, Stormzy, Drake, Wizkid… all names that need no introduction unless you’ve been living under a rock! But have you noticed the one thing they share in common: they are all men.
It’s no secret that the music industry is a predominantly male one, with statistics highlighting that women make up 21.7 per cent of artists, 12.3 per cent of songwriters, and 2.1 per cent of producers. It’s fair to say that women are often overlooked for their creative and professional input. From Directors and A&R to producers and songwriters, there is a plethora of talent who pioneered and amplified the music scene over the years making it what it is today – but with few accolades.
Following the unfortunate events that took place in 2020, it became more apparent that women’s voices had been the quietest in the crowd for the longest time. All over the world, Black people began using their positions to speak out, not just about racial injustice but also lack of diversity and recognition. In this, Black women came to the frontline in droves.
In 2020, The Black Music Coalition was formed (above). Dedicated to eradicating racial injustice and establishing equality for Black executives, artists and their communities within the music industry, it is spearheaded by five phenomenal women: Char Grant, A&R Director for 0207 Def Jam; Afryea Henry-Fontaine, Motown Records Marketing Director; Komali Scott-Jones, A&R at Parlophone; and a lawyer who simply goes by the pseudonym She Talks.
The BMC calls for immediate changes at the UK’s biggest live and recorded music companies, with a call-out to implement mandatory anti-racism/unconscious bias training; commit money each year to Black organisations, educational projects and charities in the UK; implement career development for Black staff to ensure greater representation at senior management level; replace the term “urban music” with “Black music”; and establish a dedicated equality and diversity task force.
Similarly to BMC, Carla Marie – British songwriter to Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Craig David, and Kylie Minogue – founded Girls I Rate, a movement created to provide women with a voice and platform (pictured in header). Experiencing first-hand the imbalance and inequality within a very male-dominated music industry, Carla was compelled to unite and present opportunities for females within the music & creative industries.
Collectively and individually, we see these women stand firm in an industry that not only discriminates against the female sex but also people of colour – and they are not alone in this fight for equality and justice.
Other British pioneers using their position to reinforce women’s voices in a predominantly white-male industry, making an impact both behind-the-scenes and at the forefront, include Camille Purcell (above), award-winning songwriter and the lady behind some of your favourite pop hits including ‘Black Magic,’ ‘Power’, and ‘Shoutout to My Ex’ by Little Mix. Overall, her co-writing and co-production contributions have accumulated to over 6.8 billion streams on Spotify alone, as well as 24 UK Platinum certifications, 5 UK #1 singles, 18 UK Top 10 singles, #1 singles in over 15 countries and hundreds of hours of airplay on radio across the globe.
Taponeswa Mavunga oversees Sony Music’s amplification of UK signed artists across Africa, as well as supporting artists within the continent to develop relationships and increase visibility within the UK. She has supervised press strategy across the label’s roster and spearheaded campaigns for artists including Childish Gambino, Koffee, Wizkid, and Davido.
So while it’s not a secret that the music industry is primarily run by white males, based on the few examples shared in this piece it’s fair to say that there are women who are using their positions to move the industry forward – and the future is looking brighter. As communicators, we need to support these endeavours and ensure that we amplify voices that aren’t part of the status quo.
Who runs the world?