Black Women Music Executive Survey 2024

The enduring impact Black artists have on music as an art form can’t be overstated, pushing forward all genres – and many times creating new ones – from folk to hip-hop to house. As part of Pollstar’s celebration of Black History Month we reached out to several Black women executives who help bring music to live, with the aim of learning more about the state of the industry from their perspectives including their biggest accomplishments, challenges, takes on DEI and more. Look out for part two of the survey next week.

Survey Participants
Grace Blake
Programming Director at City Winery NYC Hudson Valley and Concerts in the Vineyard

Mari Davies
VP, Booking and Talent at Live Nation Urban

Kara Hailele-Griffin Coleman
Director, Marketing + Product Development at WMG Global Catalog/RHINO

Heather Lowery
President & CEO at Femme It Forward

Tobi Parks
Owner of xBk, Co-Founder of D Tour, VP of National Independent Venue Foundation, Entertainment Attorney

Yves C. Pierre
Agent at CAA

Grace Blake

What were your biggest professional accomplishments in the last year?

Grace Blake: Live entertainment is at my core and ethos. This motivated me to actively aid in preserving the industry during the pandemic and become involved in The National Independent Venue Association, ultimately accepting a seat on their board and re-elected in June 2023, serving my second term. … A highlight for me was the second annual NIVA Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2023 [where we met] with our Congressional representatives to advocate sweeping ticketing reform. NIVA teamed up with several live event organizations and professionals to form Fix The Tix – a coalition advocating for a better ticketing experience for fans. The aim of its campaign is to create a roadmap for Congress for comprehensive ticketing reform, from protecting fans from fake tickets to eliminating price gouging.

Another highlight was working alongside two strong creative women and colleagues, Rhiannon Klee and Vanessa Robinson, to launch two month-long initiatives for Black History Month and Women’s History Month at City Winery, respectively titled “Still I Rise” and “Fierce Light.” Throughout February and March, City Winery will donate a portion of select wine sales to Sounds of Saving a 501(c)3 music and mental health non-profit that provides awareness, education, resources, and direct paths to treatment — especially for youth and marginalized communities.

Mari Davies

Mari Davies: Producing the largest festivals in Georgia (One Music Fest), Pennsylvania (Roots Picnic) and Washington, D.C. (Broccoli City Fest). Also, collaborating with VP Harris twice in 2023 (CNN’s Celebration of Juneteenth and a hip-hop 50 celebration at her home). And being part of SZA’s development is certainly a career highlight for me!

Kara Hailele-Griffin Coleman: Showing up as my whole self every. Single. Day. That, for me, is always a BIG one! But my crowning achievement for 2023 – hands down – has got to be leading the dynamic team that celebrated the 50th anniversary of hip-hop with a yearlong, multi-tiered, award winning campaign: THIS IS HIP-HOP AT FIFTY. (whispers loudly We won TWO Clios for it!!)

Heather Lowery: While my biggest professional accomplishment is leading a platform that empowers and celebrates women of color, I’m proud of so many of Femme It Forward’s remarkable achievements this year. Some that jump out are hosting our second annual GiveherFlowHERS Awards Gala, which again honored various trailblazing Black women in entertainment, including SZA, Brandy, Teyana Taylor, Jordyn, and Jodie Woods; promoting and selling out shows for Brent Faiyaz’s “F*ck The World It’s A Wasteland” tour; the third year of our Next Gem Femme mentorship program, which featured a groundbreaking partnership with Google Pixel to launch the Femme It Future Scholarship, the first scholarship since the inception of the program; the inaugural Femme It Forward GRAMMY Weekend High Tea, a curated event for GRAMMY honorees and music industry executives that honored Coco Jones, Summer Walker, and Halle Bailey and celebrated the impact and leadership of women in music; and finally our first ever My Sister’s Keeper (MSK) Empowerment Summit, held in Atlanta for participants in Next Gem Femme.

Tobi Parks: My biggest professional accomplishment last year was being part of the team that launched NIVF’s Venue Operations Experience (VOX) program. VOX is a four-month workforce development program for selected participants from under-recognized groups in the industry (BIPOC, women, genderqueer or genderfluid, LGBTQ+, and people with disabilities), who are interested in careers within live entertainment venues. The program provides venue and job-specific training through an eight-week virtual gamification program, a two-month paid internship in a local host venue, and a simultaneous three-month mentorship with an assigned industry expert.

Yves C. Pierre: My biggest professional accomplishments came in the form of my work as an agent and as a mentor. I saw success with emerging clients like RINI and Ambré sell out shows with their first headline tours, along with established performers like Lil Yachty get back on the road and sell out their biggest tour to date. As a mentor, I was recognized for my commitment to helping young women find their footing in the entertainment business through the Next Gen Femme It Forward mentorship program.

2023 has been deemed a “Golden Era” for the live business by many – do you agree and why? What opportunities do you see right now for your business?

Blake: I disagree. 2023 may have picked up steam with more artists touring projects and a nice year of return to live … But is it yet the golden era? I think it is still coming. Given so many creators of music and the proliferation of more screens, technology, AI generation, etc, more and more real physical spaces are going to be improved and created. Take the Sphere, on a large scale, and City Winery, on a smaller scale, but both are significant upgrades in the venues to experience live. More and more great “rooms” are going to be created and thus, the Golden Era is still in front of us as a reaction to all the technology in our daily lives.

KaraHailele GriffinColeman
Kara Hailele-Griffin Coleman

Davies: We saw groundbreaking tours in 2023 (Beyoncé and Taylor Swift). These tours had such a major impact culturally and economically – really remarkable. I think catalog is what’s moving right now so there’s a real appetite for nostalgia talent. We’ve had major success with acts like Jodeci, SWV and Dru Hill and a very successful anniversary tour for Jill Scott. I foresee more 2000s acts making a splash in the touring and festival spaces – Hello, USHER! Can’t wait for that tour! And the Lovers & Friends lineup is absolutely insane!

Hailele-Griffin Coleman: I disagree, actually – but wholly on the basis of semantics. A “Golden Era,” by definition, denotes a bygone time. Like it happened, and is no longer. I’m not sure we can call it an era just yet. Residencies came back in a big way last year: Usher!! Adelle! Festivals were in full swing again: Coachella, Gov Ball – even Lovers & Friends is blowing people’s minds with their proposed lineup in ’24. And the Mega-Concert-turned-Theatrical-Experience definitely had whole cities in a chokehold for the better part of 2023: Thanks, Bey, Thanks, Tay. But it’s not over. Far from it. Madonna is healthy and back blowing out stages. Keith Sweat and Foreigner are both bidding us a long farewell Tour. Joni Mitchell just sold out two Hollywood Bowl shows, erasing a nearly 25-year absence from the Los Angeles live music scene in mere seconds. No, I’d say, if anything, what we’re witnessing is a renaissance. And I’m trying to be front row for all of it!!

Parks: I think a lot of the multinational promoters are in a “Golden Era,” but it is still very difficult for small, independent venue operators and promoters. No doubt, things have gotten better since reopening post pandemic, but a lot of local operators are still facing tough challenges including more competition (dare I say anti-competition) from said multinational corporations, patrons spending astronomical amounts on large arena shows leaving less to spend on club level events, battling predatory ticket brokers, fans drinking less, general costs increasing, and still encountering folks every day that are just attending their first club show post-COVID. Independent operators do not have hundreds of other shows, venues, or financial interests in other parts of the live music value chain to offset these losses.

In terms of opportunities, I do feel confident in the ways some indie promoters/venues are addressing these concerns. Many of us are working together on cooperative/collaborative booking, we’re getting into artist development and working hand in hand with new artists to build platforms that not only nurture the artists’ development but ensures a long-term relationship with those artists and the indie promoters/venues with whom they partner.

Heather Lowery Headshot 2023
Heather Lowery

Pierre: We saw consumers spend money on artists across genres – whether they were emerging or established – which economically created a healthy touring business. In the past, we saw a huge jump in the festival model, but 2023 showed that artists are getting back to the business of selling actual hard tickets. I think there is an increase in the number of options as it relates to promoters than in previous years – this gives our clients more options to find the right promoter for their business.

In the last year, what have been the biggest challenges for you and your business? And how has your company adapted?

Blake: The pandemic lowered the bar on the excuses to miss or cancel a show without understanding the repercussions for the venue which relies on the food and beverage to sustain itself. From a programming perspective this seems to be the new normal, and as a business not being able to recoup that loss nor hold an artist/representation responsible or accountable affects us greatly.

Hailele-Griffin Coleman: I think a big challenge was returning to the office full-ish time. And working in the shadow of a pandemic … What are the priorities now? What is feeding our productivity and what is crushing it? I honestly think we’re still adapting there …
I also think that because music sits at the intersection of entertainment art and technology, we’re constantly staring down the barrel of changing tech. At the start of 2023, we were deep in the weeds on Web3. We invested significant time and energy into developing sleek NFT offerings and growing our footprint in the Metaverse. But by the end of ’23, AI had rapidly evolved and it sort of forced us to shift focus a bit. My company in particular is embracing it all, but trying to stay ahead of the curve AND be profitable AND be good stewards to our incredible artists & repertoire is not without its challenges.

Tobi Parks

Lowery: It’s been no small feat to build, scale and grow the business. However, it’s been all that much more rewarding to see it all pay off and everything come to life with the help of one of the best teams in the business.

Parks: For a lot of smaller, local venues like mine, we do a lot of local shows and many local music scenes were devastated by COVID. Helping to rebuild our local artist ecosystem has not only been one of our biggest challenges but is also one of the most rewarding. Our venue, as well as others, are making investments in our local scenes to not only help our local artists build local platforms but helping them build audiences across markets with our D Tour network venues. We’re building an ecosystem in which artists and venues/promoters are working together to raise one another up.

Pierre: I think we saw the start of the festival model beginning to course correct. The festival model was thought to be a large part in building an artist and in 2023, we saw several festivals that were considered staples cancel or not return. As concert agents, we’ve had to double down on the concept of building an artist’s touring history by strategic timing and starting small to gradually build up. We are continuing to ensure they are truly spending time developing before jumping out on the road.

How do you believe the live industry is doing in terms of diversity, equity and inclusivity? Do you think it can be improved and if so, how?

Blake: The industry as a whole has still so much further to go. However DEI is at the forefront of City Winery’s thought processes, and we are constantly seeking to promote diversity, equality, inclusion, and a sense of belonging in the workplace. We pride ourselves in fostering an environment that invites people from all walks of life into our ecosystem and gives them a chance to proverbially “Be on stage.” From weaving DEI into our new employee orientations and cultural training sessions, celebrating and recognizing diverse events such as Black History Month, International Women’s Day, and Pride, through consciously building equity into the engine of our hiring systems and practices, it is something that City Winery treats with purposeful intention.

Davies: I’m proud to work with a team coprised of 99% people of color at Live Nation Urban (a JV with Live Nation) with a nearly equal split of gender representatives but this is unfortunately, extremely rare. My personal goal and contribution to improving diversity and inclusivity in the live space is seeking out qualified candidates from under-represented backgrounds and giving them opportunities and mentorship. Nurturing talent and compensating them properly is the key to then retaining talent and developing them into leadership roles and positions.

Hailele-Griffin Coleman: I think the live space has a unique set of challenges because it’s so layered, so assessing its health means asking a myriad of questions, constantly. There’s the most visible layer: the artists, themselves – do they have all the opportunities available to them to reach their audiences? Do they have the same opps as others to ascend to higher levels/larger rooms/more prestigious venues? Who (besides ticket sales) decides this?? There’s the venues, too — do we see equitable ownership? a commitment to diversified staff? Are they accessible to all? The agents and agencies behind these artists & venues — how diverse are their staff? And their executives? What are they putting forward as company priorities? What are they treating like passion/pet projects? Is everyone’s voice being heard? The Crew! The lifeblood! Are they being well represented and duly compensated? Are there safety nets and diverse opportunities available at all levels of the strata? I think there’s always room for improvement, you have to keep asking the questions and pushing for change at all levels.

Lowery: The live industry has made some strides but there is always room for improvement. This is why I created Femme It Forward. Especially at the executive level, there is not enough diversity, equity, and inclusivity. Executives are the decision-makers, and until I see more decision-makers reflect the world we live in, there is plenty of work to do.

Yves C. Pierre

Parks: We can always improve diversity, equity, and inclusivity. There are still far less people of color, folks with disabilities, women, and LGBTQ+ individuals in leadership positions in the industry. Yes, there are more, but I can certainly say as a queer, Black, female venue owner/promoter, I’d love to see more diversity in the rooms I’m in ’cause it’s lonely. Yes, we’re out there, but not in the numbers we should be.

The work NIVF VOX program and its program director, Christy Culver, are doing is groundbreaking and is really walking the walk of on these issues. The program’s design and execution have DEI at its core and, though still in its early stages, is showing tremendous and very promising results. I feel confident the work NIVF is doing is going to change the landscape and build a more diverse industry leadership into the future.
We, as an industry, need to focus on intentionality. It’s not enough just to hire a more diverse workforce, but we also must be intentional in developing and supporting that workforce. Instead of continuing to ask minority identified folks how to improve the industry, we should be asking those with industry power what they’re doing to improve it.

Pierre: I think we’ve seen a decrease in DE&I efforts beyond just the music industry, but the county as a whole. Despite current divisions, I believe DEI work is more important than ever, and I think it’s our collective responsibility to make space for all under-represented voices, as well as the next generation coming behind us.