The music industry is observing Black Out Tuesday today. What exactly does that mean?

With all the strife across the US–there were protests in support of George Floyd in 147 cities yesterday–there’s a sense that something desperately, desperately needs to be done. But what?

The recorded music industry is observing Black Out Tuesday (see some statements here). Spotify will be live, but some playlists and podcasts will not. The platform will add an 8 minute and 46 period of silence to selected playlist. That, if you’ve been following the story, is the length of time former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin pinned George Floyd to the pavement with his knee on his neck.

Apple, YouTube, and Amazon have all united in support, canceling programs, halting social media, and donating money. (Read more about that here.)

Meanwhile, I’m getting about half the usual music industry newsletters that I get on a normal Tuesday. They’re all observing Black Out Tuesday.

You’d think that anything that forces people to focus on the seriousness of racism and police brutality is a good thing, right?

But with all this support also comes skepticism. Yes, the industry has decided to “not conduct business as usual” in order to reflect on how to support the Black community. But there’s criticism from those who think it’s too little and that this is a branding opportunity masquerading as a promotional campaign. This is from Rolling Stone.

“Joe Steinhardt, owner of Don Giovanni Records and a teacher at Drexel University, tells Rolling Stone — from the scene of a protest in Philadelphia on Monday — that he believes the movement is an ‘ignorant and misguided way’ to protest, adding that what the labels should be doing is supporting the already existing efforts and initiatives that had been active such as Black Lives Matter.”

Bon Iver tweeted that “the music industry shutdown thing feels tone deaf to me.” He asked his fans to “participate in our actual world.” That tweet has been deleted.

Meanwhile, music industry commentator Bob Lefsetz had this to say in last night’s newsletter.

“Could the music industry do any LESS?

“I’m talking about the recorded music industry, the live business has been blacked out for months, with no light on the horizon.

“But the labels…

“Let me see… Warner, Sony and Universal. Keep congratulating yourself as you only sign and promote hip-hop and pop. Oh, don’t tell me about the exceptions, own the truth. You’re leaving out a whole swath of America, to the point that the “hit” music business means less than ever before.

“Music has gone tribal. And the labels and the streaming services, everybody in the food chain, to a great degree the same players who were there pre-Napster, act like nothing is different. We’ve got forty hits, and the rest don’t matter, just like black people in America.

“Don’t you get it? That the killing of George Floyd was just a flash point, and the hardships African-Americans must bear are only a part of the picture.

“You see the U.S. is screwed-up.

“There, I said it.”

[…]

“What exactly is the sacrifice in Blackout Tuesday? People won’t work for ten minutes? What does that do? Where’s the call to action? Nowhere, because the recorded music industry doesn’t want controversy, it just wants to go on raping and pillaging like it always has. With opaque royalties.”

[…]

“Do you really think ten minutes of silence is gonna change anything? Do you really think the public at large IS EVEN GONNA KNOW?

“Music has power, but it’s been totally abdicated. It’s about having hits so you can get sponsorships, maybe even your own line of clothing and/or perfume and living a high lifestyle in St. Bart’s. This is what you’re selling? Many are even proud of their privates, even when they do them for dictators.”

[…]

“I want to see Rob Stringer in the streets. Stephen Cooper. I want Blavatnik to offer up his private jet to fly leaders to D.C…

“I want Fox News and the president and other elected officials to stop saying it’s a few bad actors, antifa, white nationalists…there aren’t enough of them everywhere to have been protesting in all these cities these past few days. This is the same logic they’re using to hobble voting by mail…all those miscreants who are gonna abuse the system. Who are these people, aren’t they the ones in office?

“So if you want to do something, work towards a solution. Take a stand. Be unafraid of the man. Say you can do as opposed to you cannot. Lay down your money but speak with your mind.

“This is judgment day.

“Get ready.”

I also want to share this email I got from Jafar on the subject:

“As a musician in a band, we’ve decided to also go along with the blackout in solidarity. It can seem like a very trivial thing to do considering the scale of the problem, but I guess everyone is at a loss on how to move forward and affect real progress.

“I’ve been thinking over your question and kept coming up with ‘I’ve no idea what else we in the music industry can do.’

“As someone from a racialized community playing rock music, a genre where often the idols and the radio DJs and the critics and the producers are white, I’ve predictably had my own experiences of both subtle and overt racism. Prior to a career in music I worked as a campaigner and organizer, working for a Toronto Community Benefits organization.

“Often in the music industry we celebrate the diversity of the artists but what about everyone else behind the scenes, those who make music a business.

“If the industry wants to fight the systems and levers of power that reinforce racist ideology then it needs to make an intentional effort and commitment to recruit employees, and purchase supplies from those who are often on the margins. Our industry would be better off for it too. We deal in creativity and expression but if the people working in music all come from similar backgrounds with similar experiences then we’re doing a disservice to the arts.

“I’d love to meet a local show booker who isn’t an old white dude. Many still put on awesome shows but could it be better if it was someone who’s not normally in that role? Say, a young black woman? I feel like music is always asking that question, or rather it should be: if we tried it another way, could it be better? The icons we adore throughout music history are the ones who often pushed the boundaries and asked those questions.”

Good point.

This is turning out to be a very interesting, very frightening, very disturbing and quite possibly, very enlightening year.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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