To say that judging the Youth Music Awards this year changed things for me may seem like an overstatement, but I assure you it is not. It marked a shift in how I think about my work addressing inequality in the music industries.
Looking at the nominee list, I realised that the elusive diverse, inclusive pool of artists that has allegedly stopped programmers from achieving line-ups reflective of our society does in fact exist. It has perhaps existed for a while in different generations, however it is clear to me that the problem now lies firmly with the industry.
It is time to change how the industry operates, stop forcing artists into boxes and categories, and pushing artists out of the industry through unsafe and inaccessible working practices and bad behaviour.
A visible peer to younger artists from the Global Majority
It felt really important to me as a South Asian musician and music industry professional to speak directly with the artists, both at the nominee takeover event in September and the awards ceremony.
I felt compelled to make myself known as a visible peer to younger artists from the Global Majority in particular, because I know how much I missed this representation when I was younger. I iterated this when I spoke on stage at the awards:
“To all of the young artists who were nominated, and their peers – I want to tell you that I see you. I see the authenticity in your artistry, I see you showing up as your whole, multifaceted selves, telling your stories in your own voices, making music on your own terms. I see you and it brings me more joy than I can put into words”.
It is our collective responsibility to ensure that our industry is a welcoming, fair, inclusive and nurturing space
The theme of this year’s Youth Music Awards was Take Note. So, in the short speech I gave before presenting the Inspirational Music Leader Award, I made the following call to my fellow music industry colleagues:
“I call on my colleagues in the music industry to welcome you as you are, respect you, and enable you to thrive and flourish as you progress in your music career, without compromising on who you are and what you have to say.
“TAKE NOTE that it is our collective responsibility now as an industry to make sure that we create the safety and security in how we work, to ensure that our industry is a welcoming, fair, inclusive, and nurturing space for artists.
“TAKE NOTE that it is our responsibility to make the music industry more sustainable for artists to earn a living from.
“TAKE NOTE that it is our responsibility to remove the barriers that exist and address ongoing inequality, discrimination, bullying and harassment. The diverse future of our industry is here – I see it in our young nominees tonight – it’s our job now to protect it.”
The power of lived experience
The winner of the Inspirational Music Leader Award was Elizabeth J Birch from the Midlands Arts Centre.
Elizabeth is an electronic musician and music facilitator, and works with various inclusive groups. She also has lived experience as a disabled musician, and as a former participant of youth music projects. This felt poignant alongside my own reflections of the power of lived experience. Elizabeth reflects:
“Having lived experience myself means I can not only empathise with the participants, but hopefully understand them better. Being able to have someone champion and support you, who also has fought a similar battle, can show you that you aren't alone and that there's hope to what seems to be a never-ending war.
“Hopefully the challenges I have had can empower others to be who they are and they can creatively express themselves in a way that's unique to them. As much as the people I work with learn from me, I learn equally, if not more from them. They make me not only a better musician, but a better person.
“It is vitally important that youth projects continue to be funded and supported to ensure that the future of our industry reflects these new generations”.
Find out more about Elizabeth and how she integrates inclusivity into her work in her MU guest blog below.
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