Do Black Lives Matter to the Music Biz in 2020? Part 2

Indie labels and artists weigh in

Art: Ron Hart

As noted in our previous BLM article about how the major labels reacted to the George Floyd murder and the re-emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement culminating in Blackout Tuesday, a lesser-known but equally important industry-wide reaction was happening in indie land. 

Centered around BandCamp and their stalwart efforts, numerous independent labels and artists did their part to support racial equality and justice reform, first with a massive June 5th fundraiser for charities via their music sales and then followed up but another huge round of fundraisers on Juneteenth

With that in mind, in June, we were able to coral a distinguished international roundtable of indie labels and artists to discuss their fundraising efforts, what they thought about Blackout Tuesday, what plans they have to support their charities in the future and what they think is the best way to reform the justice system. Along with their locales, we include the charities that each of the labels and artists donated their sales to.

 

LABELS:

Pete Buckenham – On the Corner, London, England – NAACP Legal Defense Fund,  Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust

Richard Chartier- Line, Los Angeles, CA – ACLUBlack Art Futures Fund 

Keith McIvor – Optimo, Glasgow, Scotland – Coalition for Racial Equality and RightsPositive Housing In Action

Peter Menchetti – Slovenly, Reno, NV – NAACP Legal Defense Fund

John Newcomer – Bank Robber, New York, NY – Talk – Action = Zero compilation for Black Lives Matter, Black Visions Collective

Mike Paradinas (aka μ-Ziq) – Planet Mu, Hove, England – Chicago Defender Charities and Music in Support of Black Mental Health compilation

Cory Rayborn – Three Lobed Recordings, Jamestown, NC – Mutual Aid NetworkLand Loss Prevention Project

Bettina Richards – Thrill Jockey, Chicago, IL – ACLUPDX Protest Bail Fund

Josh Rosenthal – Tompkins Square, San Francisco, CA – Out of the Ashes benefit album for Association for Black Economic Power & MIGIZI

Melanie Sheehan – Rough Trade, New York, NY – Black Lives Matter

Joe Steinhardt – Don Giovanni, New Brunswick, NJ – ActBlue bail funds

Rob Wilcox – Polyvinyl, Champaign, IL- PV Pledges

 

ARTISTS:

Wesley Bunch (Suburban Living)- Philadelphia, PA – George Floyd Memorial Fund

Smokey Emery – Los Angeles, CA – NAACP Legal Defense Fund

Geng (King Vision Ultra)- New York- National Bail Out

 

Were you satisfied with the fundraising initiatives you recently did on BandCamp?  

Buckenham: “It’s a start. The label managed to raise about $1,000. We did something, we’ll continue to do what we can and look at how our own process can be improved.”

Chartier: “BandCamp is incredible. Doing so much more, giving so much more than awful corporations like Spotify. I was happy that so many people/listeners joined in. Especially helpful was the BandCamp option of purchasing the entire available digital discography. I would love to have a better way to promote that option. The beauty of BandCamp for this purpose is that people buying music can pay more than the listed price. The generosity is sometimes overwhelming.”

Emery: “Not satisfied, but happy with it. I wish I could give more but my draw is niche. Everyone seems to be trying to do all they can, which I will continue to attempt and strive for.”

Newcomer: “We couldn’t be more thrilled with the way the compilation (Talk – Action = Zero) turned out. In under a week, we had 100 songs from our artists. Their support and fans really helped get this off the ground. It was a true grass-roots effort. In less than a week from releasing the comp, we were able to donate $13,000 to the Black Visions Collective. It was amazing to see so many people helping out. It was the first time in a long time that I felt hopeful.  We realize we can’t stop there and are already deciding on the next steps to keep our artist community engaged and supporting Black Lives Matter.”

Rayborn: “The recent Daniel Bachman title resulted in, to date, $1700+ to the Richmond (VA) Mutual Aid Network. This was a response that was exciting on both our side and the artist side. It is also exciting as the title is perpetually going to be a fundraiser with 100% of all label/artist proceeds continuing to go to charity over time. Our charitable efforts on Juneteenth were not quite as overwhelming but that was not as heavy of a BandCamp day for the label on whole.”

Richards: “We were happy to have raised a few thousand dollars for the ACLU,  1200 dollars for the PDX bail Fund, with a few other efforts still on going.   But we are aware that fundraising is not enough and change only comes if we as a collection of individuals remain engaged.”

Wilcox: “Yes! Though there’s always more to be done. With this past BandCamp Friday (Juneteenth), we donated $5 from every physical order on BandCamp towards the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.”

 

What did you think of the recent Blackout Tuesday initiative? (a number of responses refer to ‘black squares’ that were used as part of the campaign- here’s the info) 

Buckenham: “I think it’s much needed for people to reflect. I think the conversation needs to be continual and the industry has a long way to go in being an ally. I’m wary of knee jerk reactions and I can only imagine the range of emotions black people have at seeing the continued state terrorism and murder through to the newly awoken allies atoning for their sins and ignorance across the church that is social media to the unconscious bias of white saviors, the woke and the educated.”

Bunch: “If there’s any way we can raise black voices during this time, I support it. Blackout Tuesday’s idea at its core was that. So I think it was great.”

Emery: “I thought it was counterproductive and possibly, in fact, a government psyop. I did not participate. I had friends all over the country that needed to have access to their tools to protest and especially to video the protests. Having mobile phones become the basis of your organizing a street protest when the US army is bulk collecting data for later use by police and state and local governments is problematic at best. But we have the world and tools we have, and we have to use what we got. We should be smarter about it though.”

Geng: “Simply put, it was more diversionary than useful. There were so many opposing texts as to how one was supposed to carry out the action. A timeline of black squares hashtagging BLM? Erasure. 8mins and 46 secs of silence on every track on streaming services including those by Black artists? Utterly pointless and disrespectful virtue signaling by corporations who don’t actually give a fuck about music…”

McIvor: “I chose not to participate. I thought many of the major labels have a long history of exploiting black artists and were involved purely in a performative way. Posting nothing except a black rectangle felt to me that it was slowing down the momentum. The idea behind it was extremely valid but the way it ended up being executed by many didn’t feel right to me.”

Menchetti: “We participated. I’ve seen people simply criticize it, which got my eyes rolling. Others have used it as a launch point to push for more action from the music biz, which is right on!”

Newcomer: “It definitely got the industry talking, which is a great step. A bit of a wake-up call hopefully. But we’d really like to see more action. The most important thing for us was to do something immediately. We didn’t want to promise something for later. That’s why the comp is called Talk – Action – Zero.

Paradinas: “I found it pointless and didn’t want the label to join in. It seemed like a useless gesture. One of our employees posted a black square on Instagram for half an hour until I deleted it.”

Richards: “It was a gesture of solidarity that I think was born of genuine desire to support the black lives matter movement and equal rights. As an action, it was no more than a show of that and while we took the opportunity to share links to groups and book lists, we are well aware that as a political action for change, it was nothing.”

Rosenthal: “I posted extensively on Facebook about how obscene it is that Warner Music Group, a company owned by a Russian billionaire who’s given millions to Trump, Mitch McConnell etc, has 19 Board Members and top executives listed on their website and not one of them is black. Yet 30-40 percent of their new release revenue is probably generated by black artists. Not to mention their catalog and history – Atlantic Records was built on black music. They launched their IPO the day after Blackout Tuesday and raised billions. I’m sure those 19 people made a ton of money, but not one black executive among them. WMG is hardly alone in this. But seriously, you give 100 million to racial equality the day you launch an IPO – that’s great, but do black lives/employees matter within a company if they’re not represented in the top 19 executives listed on their website? I don’t know, it just bothers me.”

Sheehan: “I think it was well-intentioned. We decided to skip the blank square, but we paused the usual marketing / promotion we do on social media (and are still holding advertising until what feels an appropriate time). We issued a simple statement of support, and chose a handful of smaller organizations here and in London that needed more funding. We also took the day to have talks with each other about the issues and what more we can do individually and as a company.”

Steinhardt: “We did not participate. I thought it was misguided at best, and really ignorant of everything going on in the country, what role the major labels play in that, the role music plays in social justice movements, and came from a corporate social responsibility mentality instead of a social justice mentality.”

BLM rally (Art: Ron Hart)

Buckenham: “The aim of the record label is to survive as a business whilst releasing innovative music. In doing that, the business sometimes makes money off, and also makes money for, black artists. As I can do more, I will. I’m looking at being more transparent in decision making and budgeting for release day advances. I work over borders for some projects and ask questions regarding conduct, power and ownership is crucial. I’m hoping to contribute to best practice guidelines and provide input on ethical guidance for funders and artists. I’m a mentor so hopefully I can mobilize my privilege to open a few doors for artists that could use some support and guidance as well as looking at the labels roster and with the artistic vision in mind to address where we’re falling short.”

Bunch: “We’re brainstorming ideas now. We have more new music coming out soon, so hopefully we can find a way to blend in fundraising through that. Hopefully some form of live concerts return to clubs soon too. It’d be great to donate ticket sales to shows to black charities.”

Chartier: “Myself and LINE will continue to support these charities. Promote information on social media, stay on message… further engage with artists of color. I would encourage you and every avid listener of music to take a deep dive into this amazing resource BlackBandCamp.info to support artists directly.” 

Emery: “I continue to donate and organize and I will continue to do so. This is a lifelong struggle and not something I just began. I’m also a loudmouth that knows what I’m talking about so I will keep talking… but mostly, I’m gonna listen.”

McIvor: “It is something that will be built into our activity from now on. I am currently setting up ways to make that happen and intend to deepen relationships with local anti-racist organizations and whenever possible amplify their message. It is easy to talk the talk but action is what I feel is needed, and lots of it.”

Newcomer: “The comp isn’t going anywhere so we will continue to make donations with all of those funds, and are discussing further initiatives. We might be a boutique company, but we will always find ways to help out.”

Menchetti: “We’ll be joining BandCamp every Juneteenth to donate 19% to organizations supporting racial justice.”

Paradinas: “We have this Black mental health compilation coming out on the 3rd July.”

Rayborn: “We currently have a project in action for a custom order of a special run of high end Ebbets Field Flannels Three Lobed Recordings hats where all profits (and a portion of the underlying costs) are being donated to the Land Loss Prevention Project in North Carolina, an organization focused on various racial justice initiatives in North Carolina. That has been very well received so far and we are excited to be making that donation in the near term once the project closes. (For more information, check @3lobed on Instagram or Three Lobed Recordings on Facebook.) Following that project, we are working on another fundraiser or two to be announced in due course.”

Richards: “I will continue to support the ACLU monthly and we will continue as a label to raise funds as we are able to in partnership with our artists. Financially, it is a challenging time for them and for labels like ours, but we will do our best.”

Rosenthal:  “We are giving a portion of proceeds to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund on June 19th as part of BandCamp’s initiative that day. We’ll have a new release by Josh Kimbrough, and deep catalog titles that have never been up on BandCamp.”

Sheehan: “We’re still donating and fundraising regularly, and are now also part of a committee that is working to make deeper connections with national and local organizations, to invest in long term.”

Wilcox: “This month (June 2020), we’ve committed our support to Black Lives Matter, National Bailout Fund, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.  In addition, we’ll be donating all profits of our new Pride T-shirt to the LGBTQ+ Freedom Fund – a Black-owned organization raising awareness of the LGBTQ over-incarceration. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder (and so many before him), we felt that donating to these organizations was an appropriate first step, of many, in using our platform and influence to better support Black communities.”

 

Artists Join The Conversation 

Suburban Living (Wesley Bunch),  Geng (King Vision Ultra)

Suburban Living and Geng (Art: Ron Hart)

What do you think is the best way to address problems with policing and the justice system now?

Buckenham: “A general strike in unity for All Black Lives Matter with a list of objectives that set out to acknowledge systemic inequality and progressively work towards eradicating its fruit. It’s not a time to be just stating that we’re not racist- white people at all levels need to listen, reflect and then support the leadership of the All Black Lives Matter movement.”

Bunch: “The police have a wildly large budget that could be better spread out to other social programs we have in the US to diffuse conflicts within certain (and most) communities in America.”

Chartier: “The inequality in this country is so disturbingly ingrained in the system. That poison seeps into our treatment of black people. Just as a start, defunding the disgustingly bloated budgets for police and put it into education, housing, universal healthcare, mental health and community services. Also, Reparations.”

Geng: “Ideally, abolition of the police state and prisons as we know them to be. Ideally, far more funding allocated to marginalized communities and fueling resources in those areas – schools, healthcare (including mental health services), housing, etc. Ideally, redefining “safety” as it relates to community. Ideally, less white people with guns – not just police, but those with the fear, fragility, pompous belief in the myth of exceptionalism and supremacy.”

Menchetti: I’m with the Defund movement, although it seems like more people would align themselves with it if it were worded slightly differently… maybe “Re-fund the Police” would sink into skulls a little more easily? I’d say look to Europe. Shit ain’t perfect over there, but not many cops carry guns. And of course, far fewer citizens own them.”

Newcomer: “I’m a 43 year old white guy whose interactions with police have been minimal. I feel like right now my job is to listen and learn about the abuses of institutionalized and systemic racism and do everything I can to support the fight for change.”

Paradinas: “The whole gun thing in the US is just crazy, but the situation is similar in any country where the police have such power. The brother of our mastering engineer died in police custody just a couple of years ago here in UK.”

Richards: “We / I need to listen and learn.  As I do, I am sure I will be able to focus my energies more effectively.  Currently, I am very much behind defunding the police and channeling those resources to first responders equipped to handle most calls in a non-violent way. Resource allocation to underserved areas of Chicago is also very important.   How to change the culture of fear & hate I am not sure, but if we continue to gather and communicate, perhaps that will seed this change.”

Rosenthal: “The number one thing we need to do is get rid of Trump and Barr. This administration is a white supremacist terror organization. Muslim ban, Charlottesville, ‘sons of bitches’ should stand for the anthem, Mexicans are rapists, immigrant concentration camps, Puerto Rico.”

Sheehan: “There are many paths to progress, and I think what’s happening now, where people are utilizing all of them, that’s what gets the best results. Educating each other, holding those in power accountable, protesting, voting, and working together. Seeing the entire world come together has been inspiring.”

Steinhardt: “Listening to people who have been thinking about and studying this topic for decades, who are calling for abolition of police and prisons systems amongst other actions.”

Wilcox: “Now is the time to make sure you’re informed on the way the US justice system works. There’s plenty of resources available at your fingertips. A good place to start is with the Ava DuVernay documentary 13th.”

 

In our third/final installment of our series on the music industry and racial/legal justice, we’ll speak to two of the most laudable related charities and how they see the music biz’s recent support.

 

VIDEO: Lil’ Baby “The Bigger Picture”

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Jason Gross

Jason Gross is the editor/founder of Perfect Sound Forever , one of the first and longest-running online music magazines. He also does freelance writing for Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Time Out, AP, New York, MTV, Oxford American, Billboard, MOJO, The Wire, Blurt among others.  Reissues and collections that he's produced included Delta 5, Essential Logic, Kleenex/Liliput, DNA, Oh OK and OHM –The Early Gurus of Electronic Music. He lives in New York with his girlfiend and their 30 plush cats.

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