July 2nd last year was Blackout Tuesday. It was meant to be a day of reflection for black people and others in the community which would lead to long term changes. In reality? The suspicion that it was just treated as an excuse to stick up a black box on their Instagram and align themselves with a trendy cause persists.
Some companies did make a number of vows and pledges at that time. Now in years gone by, you could make that promise and most people would soon forget it. The adage “today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper” was very much in vogue.
But the internet has shattered that. Groups can be set up to remind people of what they said and they can spread quickly. Black Music Action Coalition knows this and has compiled a report. It doesn’t make pretty reading. It can be summed up as lots of synthetic changes, very few systemic changes.
There is, however, one change that you could make in the music world which would be a real game changer. And not just for black artists, but for everyone else too. Allow artists to retain the rights over their masters.
The music industry frequently claims that the free market decides. So let’s put that to the test. Artists can licence songs to record labels on whatever terms they deem appropriate. The old system of signing masters over in perpetuity (i.e. forever) no longer works. In an age where the lifespan of a song can be just weeks, it makes no sense whatsoever to sign something over forever.
The industry is already doing this with the likes of Taylor Swift. It should start doing it for everyone. This means a fairer share of money for artists – and hopefully less of the disgraceful sight of artists who did well dying without a penny – and gives labels an incentive to work harder. No one’s going to want to licence things to a label which doesn’t succeed.
This also means artists ultimately have much more control over their own destiny. Artists would stand or fall depending on their own decisions, instead of the current system where labels dictate to artists what they can say, what they release and so on. Quite simply, artists would rise and fall on the merit of their own decisions and actions.
Would this be a magic bullet that would eradicate racism in music forever? Absolutely not. But by swinging the pendulum of power away from record labels, that puts a lot of artists in a very different position where they could elicit further change more easily…