BMG announces results of study into racial inequalities in historic recording contracts

"It is time for the music industry to address its past"

BMG has announced the results of the first stage of its investigation into historical inequalities in the record contracts of Black artists.

The leading music rights firm announced the probe in June, through which it aimed to address historic contracts they had inherited which contained discriminatory terms for Black artists.

The investigation came shortly after the music industry’s ‘Blackout Tuesday’ initiative, as well as an open letter by leading music manager Ty Stiklorius, whose clients include Kelis, John Legend and Erykah Badu, in which he called for action.

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Now, BMG has published its results, and called on other major players in the music industry to do the same.

The company said that it found a “statistically significant negative correlation between being Black and receiving lower recorded royalty rates” on four of the 33 labels in its historically acquired back catalogue. The difference ranged from 1.1 to 3.4 percentage points.

These will be subject to further study in order to fully establish the reason for this.

BMG’s current catalogue consists of 3163 artists, of whom 1010 (32 per cent) are Black. Of its 33 labels, 15 have rosters which feature both Black and non-Black artists.

The company also says that it will shortly bring forward measures to “benefit the lowest paid recording artists across all of its catalogues.”

BMG
BMG CEO Hartwig Masuch (centre) with Akon and Billy Ray Cyrus CREDIT: Lester Cohen/Getty Images for BMG

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BMG is also calling on others, particularly record labels with substantial catalogues of Black music, to undertake similar reviews, and to assist with providing information to academics and researchers to establish the scale of racial disadvantage across the wider music industry.

“Since before the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll, virtually all pop and rock music has its roots in Black music. Yet music’s history books are littered with tales of discriminatory treatment of Black musicians,” said BMG CEO Hartwig Masuch.

“It is time for the music industry to address its past. Making good on our commitment to search for racial disadvantage in our historic acquired recorded catalogs has been an enormous and highly complex task. We have learned a lot and there is still more to discover. We will act on this knowledge. We invite other labels to join us in this mission – to turn the promises and hopes of Blackout Tuesday into action.”

BMG pointed out a number of caveats, including that their study is limited to remuneration only, and does not cover other aspects of the artist-label relationship. They also stressed that they did not strike the original deals.

It said their analysis has been presented to the Black Music Action Coalition, an advocacy organisation formed to address systemic racism within the music business.

Co-Chairmen Binta Niambi Brown and Willie ‘Prophet’ Stiggers said in a longer statement: “We welcome this initiative by BMG and believe if all other labels were to follow suit, this could be a game changer for Black artists throughout the industry. We cannot fix what is wrong if we do not investigate and hold ourselves accountable for whatever the results may be.”

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