National Inclusion Week 2021: Youth Music CEO Matt Griffiths on looking beyond diversity data

National Inclusion Week 2021: Youth Music CEO Matt Griffiths on looking beyond diversity data

National Inclusion Week, which runs from September 27 to October 3, brings together organisations who want to see greater inclusion and diversity. Here, Matt Griffiths, CEO of Youth Music, argues that the music industry needs to accelerate the pace of change... 

Everyone’s got a theory on what the music industry needs to do next. But while we’re all busy debating artist remuneration, the future of live music and major label monopolies, we’re drowning out another crisis.

In recent years, there has been a collective push from trade bodies like UK Music and organisations such as Black Lives in Music, to shape the music industry into one that better reflects the creatives who listen to and make music happen.

Inclusivity is more than a tick box exercise

Yet, as we begin Inclusion Week, the ground-breaking shift collectively promised during #BlackOutTuesday is yet to happen. We expected more than slow improvements in diversity data because true inclusivity isn’t ticking a box, meeting a quota or reporting on a KPI. It’s big change that enriches businesses with new perspectives.

Forward-thinking, nimble organisations nationwide are leading the charge, taking drastic steps we could all learn from. We recently invested in a record label and recording studio in York, Young Thugs, which has just boldly overhauled its board. 

Jonny Hooker, Young Thugs Director, says: “Even with the best intentions, we were a group of white, middle-aged men. Our journey’s not yet complete, but we’ve recruited some amazing young people to key roles including board trustees, sitting at the heart of major organisational decisions.”

Now halfway through the restructure, already the trajectory of the organisation is stronger, benefiting from having a more diverse, creatively rich board of trustees with unique lived experiences. 

Where we are on the journey

Our own Blueprint for the Future research last year highlighted a ‘diversity deficit’ within the music industries. Gender, financial means, ethnicity and geographical location are all impacting on young people’s ability to pursue music industry careers. We were not surprised to find that:

• Women were less likely to be earning through music than men, and had less access to support

• People from lower income backgrounds were less likely to be earning through music and have fewer networking opportunities

• People in England are more likely to be earning in music than those in Wales or Scotland

The industry is beginning to recognise the huge creative and commercial opportunities to be gained from modelling more inclusive practices. Change is happening. Arts Council England’s 10-year Let’s Create strategy places inclusion at the forefront. And gender equality in UK music industry boardrooms has improved, with representation of diverse communities and women on the increase. 

Music has always been a force for inclusion and revolution

Matt Griffiths

Looking forward: ‘talent will out’ is a myth 

But despite this progress, the rate of change isn’t fast or far reaching enough. Only recently, new research revealed that many industry professionals with non-visible disabilities don't disclose details of their condition for fear of discrimination.

The old adage that ‘talent will out’ conveniently serves a privileged few and excludes those facing barriers because of who they are, where they’re from or what they’re going through. This is why we must be proactive and intentional in driving industry inclusivity. 

For Youth Music, this means investing in more diverse-led projects, building earning opportunities for creative career starters through our NextGen network, making structural changes so that inclusivity becomes embedded throughout the organisation, and ensuring those we support to do the same. For others, it might mean reviewing recruitment practices, building relationships with grassroots projects outside of big cities, addressing barriers young people face to joining the industries or ending unpaid internships. Ideally, all the above and more.

Music has always been a force for inclusion and revolution. Change won’t happen overnight, but it takes intentionality. Recording inclusivity data is a step in the right direction, but alone, it’s not enough to effect real, industry-wide change. Whether you’re a major corporate label or a small independent, collectively, it’s time for us to think big and bold, and crucially, act.

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