Since the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on May 25, protests have erupted across the United States and globe over racial inequality and police brutality that are common among societies everywhere. It has forced many individuals and societies to reckon with their own past, not just in the US, but also many European countries coming to terms with their brutal colonial and slave-trading histories. Don’t weep for ugly statues that are heading into oceans or being torn down.
A lot of the attention has rightfully been on the attempt to change laws, police actions and racist attitudes, but the music industry, which helped spur a day of black squares on Instagram, has a long history of its own racism towards the black artists that have made it so much money. Whether it is predatory contracts, ripping black artists off and racist actions towards them, the system has a long way to go. There seems to be some progress with funds being set up to support Black Lives Matter and other racial equality causes or dropping the title “urban” from labels and the Grammys, but there is still so much more that can be done.
We have talked about making artist riders more environmentally friendly and often around international women’s day, there is discussion about gender equality on lineups, but now there needs to be a discussion about what artists can do to promote racial equality on lineups.
Big time DJs and artists need to add inclusion riders to their packages for being booked. This may seem scary for smaller acts that haven't had gigs over the last few months and don’t have any for the foreseeable future. If they are willing to take that step, their courage should be commended. This demand is primarily for the festival headliners and the DJs getting paid four, five and six figures for an hour-long set in a field or club somewhere 100 times a year. This is for the DJs who get to curate stages, the ones with labels that have the juice to bring along other artists when they are booked as headliners. This is for the DJs with agents that get to dictate the lineup and font size.
If Martin Garrix, Damian Lazarus, Armin van Buuren, Above & Beyond, Tale Of Us or Adam Beyer (just naming a few high profile DJs) told big promoters they weren’t playing until racial disparities were addressed, then things might change. We wouldn’t see a top line of DJs as 95% white dudes. We wouldn’t see the same lineup being recycled over and over again, year after year by the same promoters who are afraid of change. If promoters aren’t willing to take the steps to address this problem, then artists should force their hand. The DJs often have racial disparities in house, but if they realize they can impact change on others, maybe they will sign more black artists (if they have a label).
We don’t want to enforce a random quota system that allows the industry to give themselves a pat on the back for booking 10 black DJs, but rather have them actually see that booking diversity is both good for their brand, what should be done as a member of the dance music business and good for the entire ecosystem.
The system was broken before this. The environment isn't being taken care of by the music business. The music business is still profiting off of the work of POC created without compensating them even close to fairly, trapping them in predatory deals. Use this opportunity to help remake in a fair way.
An inclusion rider doesn’t just have to be black artists. It should also be Latinx, Asian and other POC who have been marginalized in electronic music. It should hold promoters to have gender-balanced lineups. The idea that those lineups won’t sell tickets is and has always been total bullshit. Lineups of all white dudes attract crowds of all white dudes. More diverse lineups attract more diverse crowds. That is better for everyone. In a genre built by the marginalized, it is time that those in power actually start to give back to those who helped create dance music. Black squares, social posts and small donations are a start, but the work has to continue through the summer and beyond.