Research into Racism in the British Music Industry
This study set out to investigate the following research questions: Are discriminatory and exploitative practices present within the British music industry? If so, to what extent is the argument of marketability driven by these practices? What forms do discriminatory practices assume in the UK music industry now that ‘Urban’ as a music category has come to replace former ‘race’ categories? The argument of marketability goes as follows: black people are a minority in Britain, and as such there is not a big enough demographic to make black artists making black music a safe investment for record labels. This argument assumes that the majority white British population will not like black music made by black people. This study found that the structure of the music industry is based on internal assumptions about the market, which are legitimised or evidenced through the limited success of previous black artists, without ever addressing the discriminatory practices within the industry that have severely restricted the success of these artists in the past. The marketability argument that there is a limited audience for black artists becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy since less money and time is then invested into them. The racialisation of music, and the use of ‘Urban’ as the umbrella term for all music of black origin, represents a ghettoising that allows limited space for black artists, creating high competition and a lack of opportunity. This marginalisation and discrimination creates a form of exploitation whereby black artists and musicians are collecting significantly less revenue out of the music that they are contributing to, while white artists, white owned brands, and white owned corporations capitalise on the cool/edgy aesthetics of ‘Urban’, and their authenticity is seen to be legitimated by their proximity to blackness. While white artists and brands can wear ‘Urban’ like an accessory, the label ‘Urban’ restricts black artists by attaching itself to them, regardless of what genre of music they make. When black artists do manage to break into the mainstream, they are still contained by the inferior ‘Urban’ category - thus creating a glass ceiling, and reinforcing white hegemony in the mainstream. The lasting history of black exploitation is concealed and rendered unimaginable by the post-racial image of the music industry that the rise of Urban contributes to. The detachment of ‘Urban’ from its roots in black cultural creation, allows it to be subsumed as part of a cosmopolitan, multicultural “youth culture” that supports and maintains a colour-blind image of Britain. ‘Urban’ music is not an explicitly racial category - ‘Urban’ music and culture are available to artists of any race. However, since white artists are seen as more marketable, white artists making urban music are promoted over black artists making urban music - despite the fact that ‘Urban’ explicitly replaced previous ‘race’ categories. This study concludes that it is not that black artists are not marketable, but rather that the British music industry does not want to market them. Many artists are independently undermining the myth of marketability - rappers Little Simz and Stormzy are good contemporary examples of British artists who have managed to build successful careers without needing the support of the industry.