In this special viewpoint, Sound City MD Becky Ayres argues why the industry must do more to ensure that careers in music are accessible to people from all backgrounds, and looks at why the answer may start at a local level...
When we talk about creating equal opportunities, furthering diversity and bringing new voices to the table in the music business, progressive companies tend to focus on creating pathways for their existing executive talent. The hope is that people from a range of backgrounds, with varied experiences, rise through the company, enriching it during the course of their careers.
Such efforts are, of course, highly commendable and long overdue. But the seeds of diversity need to be planted earlier than that. Perhaps an even greater challenge is equipping today’s young people to work in music before they even arrive at our doors. We need to make our business accessible enough so that work ethic is the only barrier to entry.
At the moment, that’s not the case. Imbalances in gender and ethnic diversity rightly earn headlines on a regular basis, but we are also missing out on potential talent due to inequalities around social class.
According to Youth Music’s A Blueprint For The Future report (August 2020), those from lower income backgrounds are significantly less likely to be earning money through music than those from higher income backgrounds.It stated: “This disparity holds even if they had both studied music at school, college or university. Comparisons between earners from lower and higher income backgrounds also revealed gaps between those who had completed both paid and unpaid work placements."
Pursuing a career in music – in any of the arts, in fact – requires an early element of risk. Youth Music’s report also states: “Only a small percentage of people entering the music industries are able to earn sufficiently. 64% of musicians and 70% of industry professionals stated the top reason it is hard for them to pursue a career in the music industry is ‘insufficient earnings’. Respondents were very aware of the challenges in pursuing a music career and were not expecting overnight success or vast riches.”
If we don’t de-risk music careers with early training and well-paid entry points, we will lose talented people to careers perceived as safer bets
Becky Ayres – MD, Sound City
It's obvious that those from more affluent backgrounds, with financial safety nets perhaps provided by parents, are at an advantage as they are more able to take unpaid internships and low salary entry roles while they develop their skills or learn on the job.
Those with a degree of financial backing are better equipped to physically pursue opportunities as well. With the UK’s music business still incredibly London-centric, aspiring music executives that are based any great distance outside of the M25 may need to make a bigger investment (and take a bigger risk) to either travel or relocate to take opportunities.
What can music companies do to minimise these inequalities? Moving away from unpaid internships is one thing, but we can also create opportunities in more towns and cities around the UK and in less affluent communities.
Backed by CAPLL Ltd and led by industry mentors, Sound City’s Launch training is an industry recognised programme that gives aspiring young music artists and executives in the Liverpool City and Manchester City regions the tools they need to enter the music business, hit the ground running and succeed. It’s unapologetically local - designed to capitalise on the region’s strengths for strategic economic development, and boost the breadth and depth of business talent we have here. There are plenty of young people with potential in Liverpool, and Manchester and we believe they shouldn’t have to leave their city regions in order to fulfil it.
Particularly in the midst of a pandemic, making our industry more accessible and taking opportunities to more communities across the country is more important than ever. Under 25s have been hardest hit by unemployment caused by the crisis, as they are more likely to work in hospitality, leisure and the gig economy. This intensifies for young people from low-income backgrounds. Many young people are likely to be more risk averse as a result. If we don’t de-risk music careers with early training and well-paid entry points, we will lose talented people to careers perceived as safer bets.
Youth education and training shouldn’t just be thought of in terms of The BRIT School, BIMM or LIPA. The good news is that music companies themselves are well placed to go into their communities and nurture the young artists and executives they would like to work with in future.