In January major music copywriting and licensing company PRS For Music announced a new programme called Power Up. Forming to provide financial, educational and opportunist support to young Black creatives, Power Up is an incredible step towards diversifying the music industry.
Since the open call for Year 1 of the programme, Power Up attracted over 500 applications and the first cohort of 40 participants was announced in May. The Year 2 open call will run over the winter. In January the organisation launched their first ever TimeToPowerUp podcast in association with Youtube Music, Beggars Group and the Black Music Coalition. In episode one the podcast welcomes BBC Radio 1Xtra presenter Ace as its introductory host, followed by Jamz Supernova taking over as episode two’s presenter.
Across the programme Power Up aim to provide a safe space for Black creatives to have some of their thought-provoking questions answered. Tackling all things race, and equality within the music industry, TimeToPowerUp is just a mere section of what this incredible programme has to offer for aspiring music professionals.
We spoke to Power Up contributors Dapz on the Maps, Gaika, and metal duo Nova Twins to discuss the importance of Power Up, Blackout Tuesday and what these opportunities mean to Black creatives.
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Delving into the discussion of the general end goal of Power Up, Birmingham grime artist Dapz On The Map explores what the movement means to him and the importance of his involvement. “I want to help break down the negative stigma of Black male rappers within the UK by being an example. I also hope being one of the participants will give other artists inspiration that there’s an opportunity out there.”
Adding to the discussion is South London songwriter Gaika. “I think when they have real tangible outcomes in terms of investment then they are super important,” he says. Continuing, Gaika details what his own personal end goal is within this programme. “I hope to explore new ways of creating and supporting Black experimental music, obviously including my own - but I’m really interested in shifting structural and economic paradigms.”
The last fourteen months have been turbulent for a great many people, and with a global pandemic forcing the country to go into a mandatory lockdown suddenly there was a huge glass lens on the news, and police brutality towards Black people seemed to be rife at this point.
Black Lives Matter became a fast-spreading movement in correspondence to the vulgar murder of George Floyd back in May 2020, highlighting across the world just how prejudiced, callous, and incompetent our UK governing system is. Thousands of people protested, and celebrities took to their social media that they stood in solitary, come June 2nd Blackout Tuesday was now a national movement.
Across a span of Black artists, and industry professionals you will find that Blackout Tuesday had a mixed bag of reviews. Curated off the basis of #TheShowMustBePaused, Blackout Tuesday took to Instagram thousands of black squares with the hashtag #BlackoutTuesday in attempt to show solidarity to the recent events.
Talking about the impact this had, Gaika adds: “I thought it was a little tokenistic and paltry at best. I felt genuine movements were co-opted in a way that seemed a little nefarious, all things considered. At worst it just diverted attention from the protests and the wider social justice movement. The sight of entities built on the grim exploitation of Black artists who employ no Black people and still don’t, made me a little sick in my mouth.”
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And whilst this only lasted a day, this sparked a nudge of support across Black owned businesses, yet for some reason, this only felt a mere seconds before things returned back to normal. It was as if we had all experienced the pain together as one big community, but as the shock factor slowly started to ware off, so did the rage.
Detailing similar feelings, Dapz addresses: “Being a Black man myself I understood the hurt behind it but never understood the logic. Pausing spending money for ONE day to any business that isn’t Black-owned, won’t resolve police brutality or racism, in fact it will just course more segregation within the community. I feel it’s deeper than money, but that’s just me.”
Whilst Blackout Tuesday had the initiate to curate a positive and safe space for Black people, a lot of that day felt performative. Across the last year Gaika and Dapz detail their personal experiences since this event and whether they can feel a slight change within the music industry. “I think there’s been some more recognition of Black music culture as not being monolithic, and that's great,” says Gaika. He continues, “that said I feel like the industry has also pushed to quickly commercialise 'urban' scenes without really being invested in development. The vector effect seems more acute than ever.”
Dapz continues: “One million percent. From artists being played on the radio to having chart success. I feel Black/urban music, whether it be drill, afrobeat, rap or grime, in general, it’s becoming more accepted and the industry as a whole has progressed, which gives artist like me optimism moving forward.” It goes to show whilst Black people all felt the exact same betrayal of our police system ensuring us safety, each story is different to the next.
As we move forward to what is the ideal next step for supporting Black people and creatives, we asked Gaika what support he’d like to see from the music industry. “For me, this is an economic question, and the answer is simple - more money going to Black people! Less cultural property being siphoned away from Black people to where we don’t see our share of the profit, which to me at this point should be the majority portion of the pie. The industry needs to address trauma-based capitalism being the norm for Black musicians and industry professionals.”
For a lot of Black creatives, the issue isn’t the lack of opportunity, rather the willingness to ensure these opportunities also fall into the hands of a diverse audience. Gaika adds: “I’d materially like to see way more employment at very senior levels in the industry, I mean executive boards that are 50% or more Black. I mean joint ventures with Black-owned labels, I mean real access to funds for Black-owned studios. I’d like to see serious investment in Black-owned and operated music administration businesses particularly publishing and music tech. I’d like to see significant funding for nonmainstream but culturally important projects just as there is for ballet or opera.”
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Adapting on the lack of opportunity, Nova Twins add from their perspective as two Black female musicians working in the very white-male dominated scene that has become of rock music. “There are less opportunities for Black creatives and women in music, whether it’s being a part of a record label, a CEO, the crew, technicians and tour managers etc. Whilst there is representation of Black artists who fit the narrative of hip-hop, R&B and drill, there is little place for those of us who fit outside of those guidelines. Our white peers can move around freely and be reflected in every genre they please, as well as behind the scenes. If hip hop and grime didn’t make so much money, we’re sure we wouldn’t be represented there either. The industry capitalises on and makes a huge profit from the artists that created the scene.”
Adding, Gaika details: “I feel like the biggest obstacle I have faced is being treated like a pre-defined commodity, ready for ruthless exploitation in one direction versus being treated like an artist with depth or indeed a human worker.”
He continues: “I think it’s acute if you are Black and it happens because of the lack of Black people in senior management positions, as biases fold into an industry that is really built on how people feel. There is a serious discrepancy in terms of investment in and perceived scope of Black artists that is actually at odds with the material reality of the success we are having. It’s best summed up by that old adage - twice as hard for half the reward.”
The music industry is working at a steady pace to work towards these very obvious disadvantages, but nowhere near the speed of Power Up. Ironically a lot of the music industry’s biggest genres were created by that of Black musicians like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Leadbelly, Ella Fitzgerald, and Chuck Berry, to list a few. Nova Twins add: “The best music comes from a broad spectrum of people and different cultures coming together. The sounds of Latino rhythms, afrobeats and R&B bleeds into most of what we hear in popular music. You would expect this to be reflected in those working behind the scenes in the industry, but it simply doesn’t, not even close.”
Nova Twins continue: “A year ago, George Floyd’s death shocked the nation. It’s sad to see that it took something so tragic to wake some people up. Nonetheless, we have noticed some change within companies, who are now really thinking about their unconscious biases. It’s great to see some music brands and companies diversifying their roster because they want to do better. A year on from George Floyd’s passing, we’re yet to see signs of real change, due to lockdown but we remain hopeful and will continue to keep pushing, in any way we can.”
Power Up stands for so much than just the past events of last year, it stands against the discrimination faced by Black people it stands for supporting women, LGBQT+ and non-binary Black creatives who are trying to thrive in an industry that can often feel like a dead end.
Power Up is a glimpse into a better future for young creatives within the music industry.
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Words: Laviea Thomas
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