Please could you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your role or position in relation to the music industry?
I’m a music venue programmer and the founder of Spilt Milk promotions. I’ve programmed events for the likes of VICE, LNZRT, DIY Magazine, and Goose Island at some of London’s best loved independent music venues, including The Old Blue Last, MOTH Club, Shacklewell Arms, Sebright Arms and The Windmill. I’m also the co-founder of Route, a community interest company that aims to diversify the music industry workforce and encourage young people from marginalised backgrounds to pursue a career in music.
What would you consider your biggest achievement so far?
There’s a few! Hosting Kamasi Washington’s afterparty at The Lock Tavern, where the likes of Moses Boyd, Ezra Collective and Sons of Kemet members jammed non-stop for about three hours in our tiny room. Kamasi got up and joined in, having just smashed a headline at Roundhouse. I think that’s the only time I’ve been star-struck. Another achievement was being personally asked to host Cherry Glazerr’s secret headline show at The Old Blue Last. And finally, the work I do as Route is the thing I’m most proud of every day. To be able to pass on my relatively small amount of knowledge to the next generation, and open up conversations, particularly around class and race, is literally the only thing that’s kept me sane this past year.
Could you give us some advice to others that are looking to get into your industry?
I think nine times out of ten, people working in the music industry didn’t set out with a specific career in mind, but ended up falling into one. I started putting on gigs as a teenager in my hometown, Luton, just for a place for me and my mates to play. Then when I went to uni (I studied music performance) I ended up getting an internship in that line of work because it was the only thing I had previous experience of, not because it was my dream career. I love promoting, but also I kind of fell into it. I did a couple of internships at record labels but didn’t get the same buzz as I did from putting on shows. So, to young people starting out, I’d advise to try out as many things as possible early on to get an idea of what you enjoy.
What is something you wish you could tell your younger self when you were starting out?
What do you consider the most powerful way to enact change in the industry?
I think the best way to enact change on a day-to-day basis is to have values that you stay true to. Don’t be scared of standing up for yourself or others if something doesn’t sit right. There are lots of lovely supportive people in this industry, but there is also a lot of ego and posturing, and it took me a while to learn that you don’t need to work with the people who don’t treat you well. Sometimes it could be a rude and abusive booking agent, and as much as you might love the band, it’s better to step away and not book them again because you will only legitimise that person’s behaviour. Always make fair suggestions to your boss when you see an opportunity for diversity or change – if there are no women or people of colour on your team and you know that your employer is hiring, reach out and mention that you would really appreciate more diversity in your workplace, and if you can, then suggest someone. Men and the middle classes have been playing at cronyism since the dawn of time, so if you know someone who could be good for a job but might get overlooked, then push them forward for it. It’s important to bring others up with you, and I think simple but regular nudges can help keep the conversation at the front of people’s minds. Also, join a union!
And what do you believe are some actions can the public, promoters, labels and other industry figures can take to support this change?
Conversations around diversity in the music industry are rightly getting the airtime they deserve, but it’s one thing to pay lip service to ideas of diversity, and another to genuinely question and address the ingrained barriers and discrimination that is rife in music. I think all bosses should be having regular meetings with their employees to listen and learn about their experiences to better understand what needs to be done on the ground. Another simple but positive thing companies can do is to sign up to pledges. Keychange, Attitude Is Everything’s Charter of Best Practise, and Black Music Coalition/PRS’s Power Up Programme are just a few examples of programmes that businesses can sign up to that will not only supply them with training and tools to make their workplace more accessible, but will regularly and actively measure their progress.
If you are genuine about creating change then you should welcome the level of accountability that signing a pledge brings. Unfortunately there are still many employers and companies that won’t enact change themselves, so it is our duty as employees to put pressure on those in power to make sure they commit to change.
Are there any platforms, policies or programs you know of that are helping to support these changes that you’d like to share?
The platform that I co-run, Route, has a resources page that includes a growing list of charities, unions and music bodies who are dedicated to creating change, giving support and offering advice on a whole host of issues.
How do you feel about events and organisations being accused of virtue signalling? With increased awareness and publicity around gender balance in the music industry, there is a risk of people just being hired/booked just to fill quotas rather than choosing artists based on merit or their proficiency/ability/performance quality. Where do you stand on this?
No booker wants to feel like they’re ticking boxes, and equally no artist wants to feel like they’re only there to fill a quota. I used to feel a bit funny about the idea of gender quotas for line-ups (and I still do to an extent), because I don’t like the tokenistic value, but recently I’ve changed my stance and think that for change to come naturally, we’ll first have to make it a bit forced. I’ve been having conversations about this a lot recently, and it’s becoming clear that the biggest thing preventing gender diversity on stage is the lack of gender diversity behind the stage. Women, people of colour, or those with disabilities will often naturally book a more diverse line-up because 1) they are more acutely aware of the lack of representation because they don’t see themselves reflected in line-ups and 2) they often already have connections and knowledge of acts that could be booked from within their own musical communities. If your festival booking board is made up of exclusively able-bodied white men, then of course those are the acts you’re going to see reflected in the line-up.
And finally, give us one female artist/performer you think we should all be listening to, and a person/organisation we should be following right now.
Nuha Ruby Ra. When we’re allowed, you gotta see her live!
And Saffron is doing great work in redressing the gender imbalance in music tech.
Thank you Georgia 🙂
@geharr @the_routeco @spiltmulk