skip to main content

Remembering #TheShowMustBePaused: Two Years on in the Music Industry

The MU’s Education and Equalities Officer Rose Delcour-Min reflects on the changes at the MU and in the music industry since #TheShowMustBePaused and Blackout Tuesday in 2020.

Photo ofRose Delcour-Min
By Rose Delcour-Min Published: 02 June 2022 | 9:00 AM
Two people are sitting holding hands on the sofa, we can just see their hands , legs and chests.
"We still have a long way to go and there is much to do but the MU is fully committed to playing our part". Photo credit: @Planetnehemiah

Music executives Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang created the initiative #TheShowMustBePaused in response to the murder of George Floyd, and on 2 June 2020 it became a seminal moment in the music industry. The MU observed #TheShowMustBePaused in solidarity with our Black members and communities globally.

At the time the MU reiterated its commitment to challenging racism in the music industry, re-evaluating how we engaged with our members and the music industry about racism and its impact on musicians who experience it. In an ideal world this process would happen organically, and we appreciate that Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang instigated this initiative and intend to honour it by continuing the work to challenge racism in the music industry.

Since then, the MU has remembered #TheShowMustBePaused and other similar events by educating staff and members, supporting others in the music industry trying to enact positive change, and supporting our Black, Asian and Global Majority members by amplifying their voices and keeping them in the centre of our anti-racist work.

Actions taken in 2021

To mark the one-year anniversary of Blackout Tuesday and #TheShowMustBePaused in 2021, the MU and Love Music Hate Racism partnered together to host an online panel reflecting on how the industry had changed since then. Chaired by the then Vice Chair of the MU’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Committee, Chardine Taylor-Stone, the panel discussed the work that organisations and initiatives such as Power Up, Black Lives in Music, Women In CTRL, Black Music Coalition and Girls I Rate were doing to tackle racism and encourage a more diverse music industry.

The MU supported the initiative Power Up, which was set up and managed by PRS Foundation in partnership with YouTube Music, Beggars Group and the Black Music Coalition and this year was announced as the recipient of IMPALA’s changemaker award in recognition of its diversity and inclusion work. The MU continues to support and work with other organisations dedicated to addressing the inequalities of access to a music career due to racism, such as Black Lives in Music, who are working to address the inequality of diversity in the music industry by supporting people of colour at all levels in the sector to realise their aspirations. These initiatives do great work changing lives as well as the industry.

In late 2021 the MU, in consultation with its EDI Committee, also launched the MU Equality Action Plan designed to both guide and hold the MU accountable in its commitment to challenging discrimination for musicians.

Part of this work has resulted in updated recruitment and auditions advice to help improve the diversity of orchestras, anti-racism and unconscious bias training for both staff and members, and generating quality EDI data and research to build an accurate picture of how diverse the musicians in the UK are, challenging perceptions of who we can expect musicians to be, and who needs to be included in conversations about the music industry.

Humbled to represent our engaged and brilliant members

Recently the MU has supported its members to deliver exciting motions to the Trade Union Congress and Scottish Trade Union Congress conferences, calling on them to decolonise music curriculums, as well as lobby the government for ethnicity pay gap reporting, more funding specifically to equip mental health services to provide culturally specific care, make the teaching of Black history mandatory, and a significantly more diverse teaching workforce.

The MU is humbled to represent these engaged and brilliant members who share their experiences and ideas with us, and shape both who the MU is and help change the music industry.

Crucial to any meaningful anti-racist work the MU does are the members who learn with us by attending our events, the organisations and initiatives who use their knowledge and insight in the industry, and the members who take part in the union, either by attending the MU’s Network for Members Who Experience Racism meetings, stand for the MU committees or share our work with their peers.

Putting members at the centre of our work

Naomi Pohl, General Secretary of the Musicians’ Union said:

“Our Black, Asian and Global Majority members deserve a union that is committed to being anti-racist, that can represent them, and be a part of change in the music industry.

“Our incredible EDI Committee and Member Networks are at the heart of this, ensuring that we put our members at the centre of our work and that real change is made, guided by the people that it impacts.

“We know that challenging racism in the music industry means ensuring that it is in the heart of everything we do and listening to our members, and we commit to this work. The MU is proud to contribute to the rich history of challenging racism in the music industry alongside our members and the partners we work with.”

The MU is fully committed to playing our part

John Shortell, Head of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at the MU said:

“We’re proud of the work we’ve done so far with our EDI Committee and our Network for Members Who Experience Racism to tackle racism and make the music industry and the MU a more inclusive place for Black, Asian and Global Majority musicians.

“Working with our Black, Asian and Global Majority members and partners such as Black Lives in Music and Power Up helps to ensure we are an anti-racist Trade Union and that our work has anti-racist values embedded in it. We still have a long way to go and there is much to do but the MU is fully committed to playing our part in creating an anti-racist music industry”

To deliver meaningful change will always take time

Aliye Cornish of the MU’s EDI Committee said:

"The MU's EDI Committee undertakes work to protect and advance the rights of all of its members in the industry, and has been an active voice in a variety of campaigns from grassroots level to national forums. The EDI Committee's work is informed by a number of networks which focus discussion on specific issues affecting members belonging to particular groups e.g. Women's Network, People Who Experience Racism.

“A new commitment to monitoring data allows the MU to see how its membership is diversifying as the industry works towards being more open and inclusive. To deliver meaningful change will always take time, but the MU is fully committed to its work in this area."

A catalyst to consciously and conscientiously work on operating in an anti-racist fashion

Linton Stephens, Chair of the MU’s EDI Committee said:

“As humans, we’re not always great at accepting change. So inevitably, change happens slowly like dripping water carving it’s way through an intricate rock formation. But every so often change comes crashing in like waves battering the coast line. That wave came two years ago as the world witnessed the heinous murder of an unarmed black man. It was a wake up call for people everywhere.

“Blackout Tuesday signalled a movement for business, industries and individuals alike, to outwardly express their commitment to taking steps toward tackling the racial inequities that have been allowed to exist.

“One year on and I’m pleased to say that that event has been the catalyst in so many ways for the Musicians Union (and beyond) to consciously and conscientiously work on operating in an anti-racist fashion. And more than that, scrutinising discrimination of all kinds, micro and macro, and working toward eradicating it from the workplace entirely.

"Of course there still so much more work to do but looking back we’re immensely proud of just how far we’ve come and through the equalities committee, that golden thread weaves its way into everything we do so that we’re always working on doing and being better.”

Check out our advice hub for Musicians Who Experience Racism and join the NMWER Network here.

Further MU resources

Find out more about how to get involved with the MU’s work

Nate Holder shares how to decolonise music education:

Joanna Abeyie explains how to be anti-racist:

We’re Marking UN Anti-Racism Day 2021 With a Video on Anti-Racism

Continue reading