Diversity & Inclusion: What Inclusion Riders Mean for the Touring Community

Julia Lofstrand
– Participants in Pollstar Live!’s Diversity Panel
Corrie Christopher Martin (left), Rosa Asciolla (center) and Christy Castillo Butcher (right) discuss diversity in the music business at Pollstar Live!

Corrie Christopher Martin, Paradigm Talent Agency

Rosa Asciolla, Head of Artist Marketing, North America, Spotify
Christy Castillo Butcher, Senior Vice President of Programming, LA Stadium & Entertainment District
Kevin Shivers, Partner & Agent, WME
Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, University of Southern California

The music industry, like many other sectors, continues to grapple with improving diversity and inclusion.

The Pollstar Live! panel “Diversity & Inclusion: What Inclusion Riders Mean for the Touring Community” discussed such efforts in the business, convening Paradigm’s Corrie Christopher Martin, Spotify executive Rosa Asciolla, LA Stadium & Entertainment District senior vice president Christy Castillo Butcher, WME partner Kevin Shivers and USC professor Dr. Stacy L. Smith for a wide-ranging conversation about the advances the music sphere has made — and the challenges that remain.

Diversity issues, unsurprisingly, impact every aspect of the industry, from venue and touring personnel to agency staffs to the creative teams surrounding artists themselves. The guiding theme of the panel was that rectifying these problems requires teamwork: Professionals at every stage must integrate hiring and business decisions, holding themselves and their peers accountable.

As the founder of USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, Smith has worked to promote diversity in both Hollywood and the music business. With a background that includes the 2018 paper “Inclusion in the Recording Studio?: Gender and Race/Ethnicity of Artists, Songwriters & Producers across 600 Popular Songs from 2012-2017,” her expertise provided a useful academic framework for the discussion.

“It’s really figuring out what’s the lever and what’s the way to communicate to folks that something needs to happen, quickly, because there’s an oppressiveness in hiring that needs to change,” said Smith. As an example, she noted that 73 percent of female music artists are women of color — and confirmed with Shivers that agencies have nowhere near a matching level of diversity in their staffs.

“A lost opportunity,” she said. “In the live space, in the agencies, in the management teams, if a woman of color isn’t on your team, you are completely out of touch with the norms of this country.”

Next, Smith outlined the tangible effects of the lack of diversity. According to her study, one of a group of ten specific men writes 23 percent of popular songs. “Ten men set our views, culturally, through lyrics, about what’s important,” she explained, noting that music industry professionals “should be terrified, because they’re literally losing resources left and right without thinking more creatively to be inclusive in their executive ranks all the way down to who’s on their crew.”

So, where do we go from here? As Martin noted in one prompt to the panel, diversity inequities are entrenched and rectifying them overnight would lead to many people, particularly white men, losing their jobs.

Julia Lofstrand
– Diversity Panel
Kevin Shivers (left) and Dr. Stacy L. Smith (right) discuss diversity in the music business.

“It starts with the younger artists,” said Shivers. “I don’t think artists that have been on the road for 30 years or 40 years are willing to fire their crew, nor are we asking them to do that.”

Instead, it’s about encouraging fresh talent to make diverse choices when selecting their teams, because “artists have the biggest influence over everybody.” Added Shivers, “We’d love the Rolling Stones to fire half their crew, maybe, but it’s probably not going to happen.”

Artists need diverse collaborators on and off the road, which is why Asciolla said Spotify launched its EQL Studio residency program. In partnership with Berklee College of Music, the initiative helps to place female engineers and producers with technical expertise at studios in London, New York, Nashville and other cities.

While artists and creatives may lead the charge, the problem obviously goes beyond them — and Butcher said that companies in the business must take more substantial steps to increase the diversity of their hiring pools, even when such a route requires more effort.

“It’s going beyond the first layer of your pool of candidates,” she said. “Sometimes, that first round may look all the same and you can have some really great candidates in that first round. But you need to pull back to the second layer and do a little more outreach.”

Low-wage, entry-level positions themselves may be discriminatory from a socioeconomic perspective. “It takes buy-in from leadership, because it’s gonna take money,” Butcher said. “When you talk about a first-generation person who graduated from college, their family may not have the resources to support them and help them pay rent because they’re taking an entry-level job at a very low salary where another person has resources.”

But, Martin said, “the importance of recruiting goes beyond just bring people into the building and offering them jobs.” From mentorship programs to equal pay initiatives, businesses must foster an atmosphere of equality for workers. Shivers, for instance, told the audience about WME’s Empower Initiative, which ensures senior staff members interface with younger ones, particularly minorities, to verify professional growth. 

As Martin observed at the panel’s conclusion, the topic could span many 45-minute discussions. But looking forward, avenues exist to accelerate positive change in the field. “The first thing we need is a landscape analysis to understand exactly who gets to participate where in the live space,” said Smith.

Diversity initiatives also hold financial incentives, on top of being the morally correct thing to do. “It comes down to good business and profitability,” Butcher said. “These are your guests, your fans, this is your customer, your client. … You always look at the bottom line: You’re going to spend some money to get there initially but you’re going to reap the rewards on the upswing.”