Thursday, February 18, 2016

Who are the most powerful people in music? Jay Z? Kanye? BeyoncĂ©? No, it’s old white men

Written by Eamonn Forde — The publication of Billboard’s Power 100 list for 2016 has finally put an end to the filthy rumour that the music business is dominated by old white men.

Sorry … of course it hasn’t. The annual poll ranks the most powerful people working in all areas of the industry, and is dominated by white men of a certain age. The top 10 actually has 13 faces in it, and every one of them is male and white.

The Apple Music team’s entry at No 3 is shared by Jimmy Iovine, Robert Kondrk, Eddy Cue and Trent Reznor. Dr Dre, the co-founder of Beats Electronics which was acquired by Apple in May 2014 for $3bn, is conspicuous by his absence.

In 2014, Jay Z and BeyoncĂ© topped the list. They’re not even in the top 100 this year.

Daniel Ek, the co-founder of Spotify who is at No 10 on the list, is the only one in the top 10 who can be classed as young. He’s 32. Irving Azoff, artist manager and CEO of Azoff Madison Square Entertainment, is at No 6. He is 68. Martin Bandier, head of Sony/ATV Music Publishing and No 5 on the list, is 74. Doug Morris, the head of Sony Music at No 4 on the list, is 77.

Morris used to head up Universal Music but moved to Sony in July 2011, partly because Vivendi, Universal’s parent group, has a mandatory retirement age of 75 for its executives. These are people who clearly have music in their blood and do not want to retire, despite being more than wealthy enough to do so. The industry should count its blessings that they still want to contribute.

Except, more than anything, this ossification at the upper echelons represents an enormous problem for the music business. The old guard do not want to step down, and it’s becoming the boardroom equivalent of heritage acts refusing to stop touring and sponging up most of the available money in live music. For anyone entering the industry today, it’s like being shown the corporate ladder, creaking under the weight of people old enough to remember Elvis’s first TV appearance in January 1956, then being handed a stepladder and told to make do.

This however, is the least of the list’s concerns. The first woman doesn’t appear in the rankings until No 12. Michele Anthony is executive VP at Universal Music Group, and shares her placing with Boyd Muir, executive VP and CFO at the same company. You have to look down to No 18 to find a solo woman: Jody Gerson, the chairman and CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group.

Out of a total of 139 executives listed, there are only 14 women. And most of them are included as part of a team. There are only five women who make it on to the list under their own steam. It’s, frankly, not a good look.

This all calls to mind the outcry last year over the Reading/Leeds Festival line up, after a mock up of the bill was circulated with all the male acts erased. Across six stages and three days, only 18 female acts or acts with female members were listed. Many behind the scenes in the industry wrung their hands about how awful this was, while turning a blind eye to the fact that the less visible parts of the business they work in are just as bad.

The lack of racial diversity is even more shocking, given that hip-hop is the biggest commercial force in US music. Morris made Universal the biggest music company in the world by bringing Interscope into the organisation and cleaning up on hip-hop. But Jon Platt, CEO of Warner/Chappell Music Publishing, is the highest-ranked black executive. He made it to the lofty heights of No 31. There are only 10 black executives on the entire list. There are two Hispanic people in the top 50. There is no one of Asian origin.

Naturally, as a white male in his 40s ostensibly working in the music industry, I need to check my privilege. I have benefited from this white male hegemony.

So what can be done? The music industry is facing an HR logjam. At the lower and mid levels of the industry, there is far more diversity than the Billboard Power 100 would imply. Sadly, we will just have to wait for it to percolate to the top.

Awards shows such as the Mobos and the Association of Independent Music’s relatively recent Women in Music are a start, giving greater visibility to performers and other people in the industry who are not old white men. There are also groups and events such as the Young Guns Network in the UK and the FastForward music business conference in the Netherlands, which focus on young people working or seeking employment in the music business.

Younger executives – women, black and Asian people among them – will slowly ascend through the corporate ranks, but it remains, for now, a waiting game. As they become more visible, the hope is that they will stand as proof that the industry is changing and, in turn, encourage further BAME applicants to enter the business.

The music industry at the turn of the millennium stood accused, and rightly so, of not reacting quickly enough to the rise of the internet. Now, 17 years after Napster, it is proving that it can adapt its business model. Without HR departments having to take their cue from Logan’s Run, we can only hope we don’t have to wait until the 2033 Billboard Power 100 before the business gets its house in order and is run by people who understand that its audience is no longer just baby boomers.

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