At the Women In Music Awards 2023, we celebrated the achievements of 13 game changing executives and artists as the industry came together to honour their work. Music Week has spoken to all of the winners to tell their stories.
Interview: Adenike Adenitire
Power Up is the inaugural winner of the DE&I Initiative Of The Year Award at Women In Music 2023.
Launched in February 2021, the initiative supports Black music creators and industry professionals, as well as addressing anti-Black racism and racial disparities in the music sector.
Co-founded by PRS Foundation and Ben Wynter and managed in partnership with YouTube Music, Beggars Group and the Black Music Coalition, Power Up aims to create meaningful change and brings together key industry partners.
Its Participant Programme supports 40 Black music creators and industry professionals each year, and through the wider Power Up network. Power Up won the IMPALA Changemaker Award last year and supports Black talent in all genres and sectors across the UK. It has received over 1,200 applications since launch, while 120 participants have benefited from the project to date.
Participants benefit from capacity building (including mentoring, coaching, masterclasses, one-to-one support, marketing support and mental health first aid training), plus grants of up to £15,000. Power Up is creating safe spaces for sharing, building networks and supporting peers.
Power Up is particularly proud to see Black women and gender diverse participants moving forward in the industry – with previous participants securing VC investment, securing C-Suite positions, mainstream awards recognition, and commercial and critical success.
How does it feel, first and foremost, to win this award?
Ben Wynter: “It’s a bittersweet one because on the one hand, it's always great to be recognised for the work you do, the difference you make and the impact that you have. But at the same time, you kind of feel like, ‘Well, I'd rather the initiative didn't have to exist’ and there was equity and equality across the industry for Black people, and that there was more done around anti-Black racism, which would mean Power Up didn't happen to exist in the first place, which means that we're not going to be collecting this award. So, it's kind of bittersweet in that respect. But it’s great to be recognised for an initiative like this. It feels like a passing of the torch for those that have come before whose shoulders we stand on such as Paulette Long OBE [music publisher, deputy chair, UK Music Diversity Task Force] and Keith Harris OBE [MD Keith Harris Music Ltd], and others like them who have been speaking up on this situation for years.”
Eunice Obianagha: “I don't think the UK music industry has ever had anything like this before for Black talent and that is a big statement. I think it deserves to win the award for that reason and the courage from the founders to make that leap. Equally, the commitment of the partners involved to want to put their hands up and say, ‘There is more that we can do’ is important.
As long as there's communication between the industry, Power Up and organisations like Black Lives In Music and BMC, we can create a better industry
Has it given you that pause to look back on how far you've come?
BW: “It's crazy to me how quickly the time has gone. But also seeing the impact that Power Up has had, like when we have events and for the first-time participants are in the room with other Black executives or creatives and feel confident to express themselves freely. And when people speak to you and say, ‘It has impacted me in this way’ or, ‘This happened because of Power Up,’ it feels like a difference is being made. That was always the vision, and it’s a really a beautiful thing to see that come to fruition.”
Eunice, as someone who is part of the alumni of the programme, what does Power Up mean to you?
EO: “The beauty of this programme for me is who it is targeting – those in middle to senior level management. That is often where there is a lack of diversity and quite frankly people from certain demographics get overlooked or don’t get the opportunity to expand to their full potential even when they have put in the hard work. Power Up came at a pivotal time for me. I really needed to literally be ‘powered up’ in the confidence I had in my abilities and my journey so far which felt like quite a long one. The fact that there was an initiative that wanted to help me at that stage in my career was reassuring. At that time, it helped to give me clarity and encouragement to keep going.”
Can you expand on that, how else would you say Power Up has helped your career personally?
EO: “It put me on the radar of people who may not have known I existed before, people who may not necessarily have known the work I have been doing. It literally came at the exact perfect time for me.”
Ben, if you look back to the beginning of Power Up, how difficult was it to get the initiative off the ground? Did you find you had support from the wider industry
BW: “I must take my hat off to Beggars Group, as they and YouTube were the first to jump in. Paul Redding the CEO of Beggars swam the English Channel to raise the finance to put into Power Up, and for that I will forever have a huge level of respect for that man. I won’t say how much he raised but it was a significant amount. And from that they’ve been able to commit year-on-year. Also, myself and Joe Frankland [CEO, PRS Foundation] had a conversation with Gemma Cropper, [EMEA Music partnerships, Google]. And she got it straight away, and said she was going to take it to [global head of music, YouTube] Lyor Cohen. As soon as he woke up in the US six hours later, we got an email saying, ‘Lyor loves what you’re doing, we’re in.’ Together, with the Black Music Coalition , they formed our founding partnerships and overtime we were pleased to see others come on board to provide vital funds for the initiative.
“Now, on the flip side, there was pushback. One of things that came back a lot was [that we were] showing favouritism to Black talent and, ‘Why isn’t this available for other groups?’ I had to explain the reason why we were focused on anti-Black racism. George Floyd helped to highlight that. We really had to get into the nuances of the way in which Black talent is systematically mistreated or misaligned with the rest of the industry, when it comes to opportunities, be it creative or executive, such as a glass ceiling and statistics that show Black creative talent being less invested in than non-Black talent.”
One of Power Up’s high-profile beneficiaries, Nova Twins, won at WIM last year among other successes. What does that prove about what the project can do for artists?
BW: “This year we've got two artists that have been funded by Power Up appearing on the Grammy nominations list, and we’re three months into year three of this programme, which says a lot. So, the talent is already doing great things. Quite often what's missing is additional support, hence why we provide capacity-building and financial support and encourage them to enter the network. But we'd never be so crass as to take credit for those successes because they still have to go out and do the work and be successful. But we're extremely proud to be a contributor to the success of the people in our cohorts for sure.”
On the exec side there are countless examples of success, Whitney Asomani, Despa Robinson, Christine Osazuwa to name a few. Is it fair to say that, bearing in mind the last three years, the industry is an undeniably richer and more equal place due to the work Power Up has done?
BW: “Initially, I saw a lot of positive things in 2020 and 2021, but now I feel like there's a lot of fatigue around the issue of anti-Black racism within the industry, and I've been hearing quite a few stories about horrific things that signal to backsliding behaviours. So, while there is so much positive that's happening, there's still a long way for the industry to go. But as long as there's communication between the industry, Power Up and organisations like Black Lives In Music and BMC, who are doing equally amazing things, we can create a better industry. But that work needs to be done.”
EO: “That's a really difficult question to answer because these people existed and were contributing, so the industry was already rich, but it didn’t realise it.”
The litmus test of whether the industry is listening enough is whether support for Power Up continues to follow through for years to come
Eunice, are there any Power Up participants that you have admired the work of in particular?
EO: “Honestly, I respect all of them, and I have a lot of admiration for all of them. Asking me to choose one is like asking me to choose which brother or sister is my favourite. They're all different and come with something of value to the network, and to the industry, in their different ways.”
In both of your experiences, is the industry listening to Power Up enough?
BW: “Looking at Power Up, we’ve been on a real journey. We engaged a very well-known global corporation within the industry when they took a massive misstep and displayed anti-black behaviour. The way in which we engaged them, we didn’t go to the press, we didn’t condemn them, we didn’t put it out there on social media. Instead, we made a phone call and said, ‘You know what, we need to sit down with you, because what you've just done has a massive impact on your Black staff, and a massive impact on the Black people that use your services. And it's not okay. And it was received in the right way, because we had an amazing roundtable conversation with their global leadership team alongside BMC, Black Lives in Music, ADD (Action 4 Diversity & Development), and past members of the Power Up cohort who were able to lend their voice to the conversation. It resulted in them changing a lot of their practices internally – we sent them a list of recommendations, and they met, I'd say about 90% of that list.”
EO: “I think that the industry is listening by virtue of the fact that they're supporting. I think the litmus test of whether they are listening enough, is whether the support continues to follow through for years to come. The answer to that question will be visible in the actions taken by the industry going forward.”