The music industry, anti-racism and me

Music labels have collectively invested a quarter of a billion dollars for the fight against social injustice and anti-racist initiatives. Producer, singer and rapper, Piers James, unpacks what that means for the independent artist

By Piers James   Images by Rosie Matheson    Friday 19 June, 2020   Short read

‘I think it’s great that labels and brands are taking a stand against racism and the social injustice that the Black communities have felt over the years. It’s positive that these corporations have made statements about supporting Black artists and the Black Lives Matter movement. And, in response to this, a few of the big labels have collectively invested around a quarter of a billion dollars for anti-racist initiatives, and that’s a good thing on a surface level. But my question is, are they only doing this due to the level of societal pressure they are currently under to save face? Or do they actually want to become industry pioneers of change for these Black communities that they’ve so heavily benefitted from?

‘One of the main issues I face as an independent Black artist is that labels and brands only want to capitalise on Black culture when it’s popular, which makes sense from a capitalist perspective. But the difference is, when you look at mainstream White pop music, the budgets and attention they give those artists never fluctuates – they’re constantly pushing them regardless of whether it’s hot at the moment or not. Whereas, you see so many upcoming Black artists hold the limelight for a minute, get their 15 minutes of fame and then drop off. These corporations move onto the next upcoming Black artist, rather than actually working directly with them, investing in them and building something with longevity. It always seems like we are fighting for relevancy. 
A man wearing a pink hoodie and pulling the hood over his head.
A man wearing pink sitting in front of a blue sky and clouds backdrop.
‘I have felt as a person of colour, and speaking with my fellow Black creative peers, that we are undervalued by these corporations. How many of these labels and brands have taken the time to have conversations with these artists, and fully invest in their visions, ideals and values. I don’t just want to be the face of a cool campaign; I want to be the brains behind it, and for them to value my creative input the same way they champion mainstream White artists. There is a necessity for brands and labels to educate themselves and make a conscious effort to put Black artists/ creatives at the forefront of the industry. Or, at the very least, put them on the same level playing field, so that they’re able to thrive and give back to their own communities. 

‘I believe my music is accessible to both White people and Black people, with scope for international appeal. I’ve never considered my music to be “urban”, but when an industry wants to put a person of colour into a box that they can control and marginalise, you create a divide and a feeling of oppression. I want to be part of a revolution that brings about change and equality. It’s refreshing to see so many powerful Black artists and creatives standing up for what they believe in – we need leaders now more than ever.

‘I understand it’s a difficult time within the music industry as a whole, and that hasn’t necessarily just been caused by the Black Lives Movement. You have to remember that we are still in the middle of a pandemic. Naturally, budgets are being cut to compensate and everyone is losing out on opportunities that we may have already had in place, or that may have been accessible to us as the year went on. But, moving forwards, I would like to see the music industry do more to protect and empower the Black communities. They need to open the discussion of ways to create a more measurable and transparent plan for these artists and creatives that have made these businesses so profitable over the years.’

@piersjames

‘Can’t Be My Girl’ by Piers James is out now
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