Letter From Ray Waddell, President Of OVG Media & Conferences
“Music expresses that which cannot be said, and on which it is impossible to be silent.”
― Victor Hugo
As a man who has built a career on words, it is somewhat confounding that they fail me now. And, as a white, middle-aged (if I’m lucky) man, the case can be made that I am the last person who should be commenting on the injustice-driven turmoil that is ransacking our country as I write, a country that is already wounded in the wake of a poisonous virus and the resulting shutdown that has brought the industry we love to a screeching halt. The irony is not lost on me, and I am humble in my attempt here, but I must attempt.
I believe the dearth of live music, sports and entertainment has wounded our hearts and deprived us of critical medicine. However necessary, we have been shut down for too long, without the common purpose that unites us and allows us to put those things that divide us away, if only for a short while. That may be part of the problem, but it is definitely not the root of the problem. Even worse than COVID-19 is the ugly racism, injustice and lack of opportunity still facing so many Americans today, and specifically African Americans, a dangerous, inherent wrong which has (again) come to a flashpoint in the wake of the disturbing death of George Floyd. This is a nation that is hurting, and this situation has to change.
I don’t feel comfortable publicly commenting on these times at all, but perhaps that is the point. Indeed, we have plenty of more appropriate voices weighing in, and better words than mine are there, if you listen for them. I am sensitive to the extreme of virtue signaling, or even the perception of it. Moreover, I’ve always felt the role of a live entertainment trade publication is to serve the industry, foster good business and be a platform to move the industry forward in terms of best practices and good ideas. I still believe that, but I’m not sure we are moving forward, at least to the necessary degree. Best practices include fairness and opportunity.
Here we must view this through the lens of live entertainment and, as a white male, I can say with authority that this industry is still too white and too male, and it’s incumbent on all of us to work to make it less so. More than 20 years ago, I covered extensively the legal action brought by the Black Promoters Association (BPA) against the leading promoters and agencies of the time, a $700 million discrimination suit that basically charged that black promoters were excluded from working with white artists and major black artists. A federal court ultimately ruled against the BPA, though some companies settled prior to that ruling. Though I believe the BPA made some good points, I cannot speak to the merits of that decision; I reference it only to say that these issues have been a thorn in the industry’s side for as long as I’ve been doing this, and well before. And that’s sad, because I firmly believe that this business owns a moral compass, strongly held empathy and a desire to do good like few others. The industry has proven this many times, and generally has been a beacon of hope and progress, and the first to speak out in the name of justice and good will. The artists, frankly, demand a social conscience, and the industry, though not without its problems, is honored to nurture that process.
But it’s time to move forward to a noticeable degree. We need more diverse representation, here in our pages and everywhere. Efforts are being made, and leading companies in our business are more focused than ever on inclusivity. And it shows: the first live music conference I programmed in 2004 was overwhelmingly dominated by white male speakers, the titans of the industry, and few made notice of it. Try that now, and you’ll get your ass kicked, and deservedly so. For young people from under-represented segments of our society to know that people like them can be – and are – leaders in our business, they need to see people like them in leadership positions, on our industry panels, in our trade media. With that in mind, we launch with this issue a new recurrent feature, Voices Of Live, an ongoing segment that will feature the stories of the creative, courageous people who are affecting change and serving as leaders, focused especially on those who have faced challenges, under-representation and discrimination. If we have been part of the problem, we can be part of the solution.
Like so many others, my heart hurts for this nation right now, and I struggle to find the right words. Frankly, I’m terrified of using the wrong words. But, just as I wrote earlier that it will take courage to bring this industry back post-pandemic, it will take even more courage to be an effective voice for positive change in our industry. We want to be among those voices, and if ever there was a time for the collective purpose of live music and people united in positivity and passion, now is that time.
“Music can change the world, because it can change people.”
President, OVG Media & Conferences