Aloe Blacc, Singer/Songwriter
Noelle Scags, Co-Lead Singer, Fitz & The Tantrums; Founder, Diversify The Stage
Noelle Scaggs, with the help of friends and colleagues in the live space including Nine Inch Nails tour manager Jerome Crooks, founded Diversify The Stage in 2020 as pandemic shutdowns and justice demonstrations gripped the landscape. She’d noticed the lack of people of color, women and LGBTQ+ workers behind the scenes for years, but when her work with Fitz & The Tantrums paused, she took advantage of the respite to build an organization that continues to grow.
She was interviewed for the Rainmaker II session of Pollstar Live! on Feb. 9 by fellow artist, singer, songwriter and friend Aloe Blacc about her experience and the DTS inclusion initiative.
“The inclusion initiative itself was created in collaboration with a lot of folks,” Scaggs said. “I wanted to talk to people who make our career go, like agents and production managers.
For the inclusion initiative itself, we’re looking at the pledge and the things that we’re asking are very simple. Consider hiring a person from an underrepresented group. Assess your business. How are you marketing? Where are you looking for new recruits? Are you going to the same sources that are only giving you X, Y and Z? That’s a habit that’s formed in your hiring methods. The idea is to assess, then to educate, and then provide these stepping stones, plant little seeds.”
It’s important to be able to identify areas in which employers could potentially find candidates, and planting kernels into the minds of people who otherwise don’t know such jobs exist.
“The next step is for companies to assess how they are going to create accountability standards,” Scaggs continued. “For your company, for your venues, for artists like myself, to make sure I’m not the only one on my stage who looks like me. How are you going to support my act?
“Provide resources to artists on this path. Put something in your rider that communicates you are not taking any racist memorabilia or tolerating racist behavior or intolerance in any way. Once it’s on paper, you have to run with it. Artists can be impactful. Jerome [Crooks] says, ‘If an artist comes to me with a request, I’m going to do everything to make it possible because I want to keep them as a client.’”
Blacc pointed out that vetting potential employees is a part of the program, too.
There are already in place several databases among organizations for populating hiring pools and are in the process of being shared, Scaggs explained.
“NeverFamous.com was created by Jerome Crooks to have diverse populations in the infrastructure. You have to have a certain amount of experience, and referrals are definitely recommended. Pretty much all of the databases that we’ve collected have been shared with us through agencies that have kept their own databases, and we’re really trying to bring them into one place where people can resource and find people quickly. They are all vetted, and you would interview them like anyone else.”
Another goal is educating agents and managers about the artist and tour ecosystem about the importance of having diverse crews and why it matters. As Scaggs explained of her first tour, “It was like 10 guys and me. The little sister. There’s things you can’t have when you’re the only one. And we have our energy – even the guys can tell the difference, and they’ll say we won’t tour without women again!
She acknowledges there are challenges to finding and nurturing potential talent to bring into the live entertainment world, not just in the immediate landscape but for the future.
“It comes down to education,” Scaggs stresses. “We’re trying to capture high school students. What do they know about construction? I didn’t know what my agent did until we became friends. You have to extend the education to a student who otherwise didn’t know it existed. If the pool is shallow you have to fill it. If you’re a STEM student, into technology or robotics, there’s a million jobs here in music. You have to emphasize in our school systems that these are not throwaway jobs. People can create careers and can travel the world even if they’ve never before left their neighborhoods.”
It’s also important to remember that the Diversify The Stage inclusion initiative is not limited to people of color. Inclusion, diversity, equity and access reach across the spectrum of the human existence. There’s a lot of territory to cover and it helps to know the terms and language used when discussing diversity.
“I have to give some love to Dr. Sharoni Little (head of Global Inclusion at CAA). She really helped put together those huge programs that started with just a small cluster of the things that we can look up while we’re going through this process. But what we felt was really important is when you’re having a conversation with someone who doesn’t identify with your ethnic background or your race, they don’t know how to ask the question.
“They don’t want to offend, so they often don’t ask. I’ve had conversations with tour managers that wanted to hire a Black woman but didn’t know how to word it, or didn’t think it was OK to say it. But they really want to diversify and specifically want to support Black women in this side of the industry.”
Blacc wondered how far off Scaggs thought society is from the point where achieving diversity no longer has to take a conscious effort but becomes second nature.
“Well, we can’t be colorblind,” she responded. “I think when people say they are colorblind is, they blind themselves from my experience because you don’t know how to respond. But I have a lot of faith in the next generation – they’re really powerful spirits – and I hope we get there.
“The fact that I got Live Nation, AEG, UTA, WME, CAA and all of them together to help me create this [program] gives me faith. I didn’t know what was going to happen – I thought I might get two or three to sign on – but these companies looked, listened, felt, and put their name on the page. We’re trying to see it happen globally. I’m getting emails from folks in the UK that want to create a version for the UK that works and functions in that space. You know, communities want to do it. So the word is getting out and there’s activity starting to happen.
“Just imagine having a tour with folks who have lots of different experiences; that’s what music is about. Music is the universal language and the diversity that stands on the stages each and every day should be reflected in all of our business.”