In part III (below), Christine and Marc talk about the trouble with diversity inside the major labels and the music industry. Christine introduces Marc to the idea of “Cross-Genre Training” and “Random Pairings”. She suggests that the problem is not in the lack of diversity in the people coming into the music business, the problem occurs when they try to move up the corporate ladder. Christine also suggests that people need to get uncomfortable in order to change things. The interview ends with a few rapid-fire questions from the audience in attendance. Christine offers up tips and tricks on making your way into the music ecosystem.
The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Marc Brown: You are part of an employee resource group called The Link at Warner Music, and it is for employees of colour and allies with the Warner Music Group. What are some of the things that are important to that group within a company? It doesn’t need to be specific to Warner because I’m almost certain that this is the same everywhere.
Christine Osazuwa: This is very much an industry as a whole thing, but representation is incredibly important. If you look up or if you look to the right or left, and you see no one that looks like you or has a background like you, you see no one that has an experience like you. It’s challenging to see yourself higher up in the industry.
We’ve had a lot of conversations about the ethnicity and gender pay gap to make sure that there’s transparency there so we can work on improving that, for example.
We’ve had conversations about genre and how to become a label president or high up in a major label without having a pop background but a hip-hop background or a dance background. Like the idea of “cross-genre training” so that people are more well rounded. Because if people are told, “Hey, we expect you to be this, this, and this to get here,” but you don’t train people to have this, this, and this, then what’s the expectation?
We have a lot of conversations about that and also about career coaching to make sure people feel like they have guidance and support within their careers. Also, just building a sense of community, we have an initiative called “Random Pairings” literally once a month during lunchtime. We pair people together randomly just so they can meet new people.
So the initiative is a bit of everything.
Marc: Can we talk about the “cross-genre training”? I am fascinated! Explain the core idea around that or the core problem.
Christine: Of course, if you look at the backgrounds of most of the people that run frontline labels, so that would be label heads, most of them come from an A&R background. A position in A&R is very popular with those that reach out to me and want to talk. It makes sense in a lot of ways why you would come from an A&R background and end up as a label president. However, I would argue that there are plenty of jobs within a major label that could also run a label.
When it comes down to it, one of the issues is a lot of label presidents, as I’m sure many people have noticed, are all white men. There are some exceptions, but very few and far between. A lot of those people have backgrounds in pop music, so they would say, “Oh well, this is the person who signed blank, an Ed Sheeran or a Bruno Mars, or whomever.” Which is great. However, a lot of our black employees at many of the major labels tend to have a background in hip-hop, rap, R&B, and other traditionally black music. So what do we run into when that person, a black employee, is at a Senior Vice President or Vice President level, and they want to move up to label president? All of a sudden, they’re essentially told they don’t have pop music experience. However, no one ever trained them in the pop music experience. No one ever gave them the opportunity to work in pop music, and no one told them they needed to work in pop music in order to become a label president. Suddenly when they want to become a label president, all of a sudden, they need pop music experience. Therefore, it seems that anyone that has aspirations to be a president or anyone that’s working really in any genre of music should have exposure and experience in other genres so that when the time comes if they want to progress in a direction that is broader or more general, they have that experience. There are no barriers in their way to becoming that label president or becoming that label head because now they have various levels of experience in different genres.
If you never give anyone an opportunity to work in a different genre, but then you say they must have that genre… then really it’s the fault of the company and not the fault of the person.
Marc: So, is there a lack of diversity of people coming into major labels?
Marc: So the problem is that the diversity of the employees decreases as people move up?
Christine: Very much so. There are plenty of studies out there. One of my favourites in the UK is the UK Music Diversity Report done by UK Music. It shows that there is a proper amount of representation at the lower quartile across the music industry in the UK, but you see that drop off as you increase further up. So as you get to Director levels or Senior Direct levels of VP, SVPs, and up, that’s where you start seeing less diversity from a race and ethnicity standpoint.
A lot of times, you’ll see companies that will say, “Oh yeah, we’re going to hire more people from Historically Black Colleges to get more interns and entry-level people in. But we have plenty. That’s not where the issue is. It’s more about promoting internally, the retention within the company, and also bringing in people at the level they deserve to be at when they come into the company, and that’s where we see that drop off when we see people dropping out of the industry system to go elsewhere. That happens at the Mid to Senior levels.
Marc: Do you see that as something that the companies are aware of, or do you feel that even getting Senior management to understand that, that is where the problem is?
Christine: It’s becoming more apparent, a louder problem that can’t be ignored. I think the issue is that people don’t know what to do about it, and to be honest, some people might be afraid of what the solutions might be. I think it sounds really good to say you’re going to bring in more diverse interns, but no one thinks about what those companies are actually doing about their existing employees. There is an acknowledgement of the issue at this point but I don’t think anyone’s figured out what the solution should be yet. That puts us at a bit of a standstill because I think that’s the harder part, of course.
Marc: A lot of people say, “How do you broaden your network in general?” So not necessarily just diversity, but like you talked about with Measure of Music, this idea that it wasn’t necessarily on purpose, but your network is so broad and has different types of people. I think a lot of us work in smaller companies or live in certain bubbles, or we don’t know certain people who do different jobs, back to even talking about looking for jobs and networking. How have you been so successful at broadening your network? Do you think about it consciously and actively, or is it just that you’re naturally drawn to meeting different people?
Christine: I think it comes down to the fact that you have to want to. I’m not saying you have to manufacture it, but you have to want to. No one likes being uncomfortable. But sometimes you have to be uncomfortable, to be in a space that you’ve never been in before.
I think one thing that’s challenging, something you’re used to as a person of colour, especially if you’re a person of colour that grew up in an area where you were not the majority, is that you are continuously the minority. I’ve written some pieces about this, but essentially, when I grew up, I had to have a full understanding of black culture, and I also had to have a full understanding of not-black culture in order to survive through my day-to-day. The opposite doesn’t exist for most people. The opposite doesn’t exist for a lot of people.
To understand a different culture, you have to actively step out of being comfortable. As I said, a label president can have a very long history working in pop music but never have been working in hip-hop or rap or R&B and will be completely fine, but it doesn’t work the other way around. You really have to be uncomfortable and put yourself in situations and places that you would not normally be. I don’t think there’s any other way around it because if you go to the places you always go, you’re going to meet the people you always meet. If you want to meet new people and have new experiences, you have to try new things. To talk to new people, you have to reach out to new people. If you’re not willing to do that, you’re always going to be with the people you always see, which is a very comfortable life, but it’s not the way you’re going to develop diverse opinions and voices around you.
(at this point, questions from the audience start to roll in)
Marc: Are you getting any DMs? Are there a couple that you want to take?
Christine: I think I can answer the first question that came in. Someone asked how I knew how to get into the music industry when I was really young? I’m gonna date myself, but I think I had a Craigslist search for music, and anytime any job anywhere mentioned music, I would find it and reach out. On LinkedIn, you can search for music at all times, on Twitter, etc. I also go on Podcasts. There are plenty of podcasts that I listen to so I can understand the music industry. Do yourself a favour, and if you can, reach out to people on LinkedIn. Before you reach out to them, do a Google search and listen to some stuff they’ve talked about. Before my last interview for a job, I reached out to the person who was previously in the role, and before I reached out to him, I listened to a podcast he was on. There are a lot of different ways to learn about the music industry that doesn’t require you to just reach out to people.
Someone else asked how I work with a label but also stay authentic? At the end of the day, it’s your brand. Put your foot down as much as you want, say you’re not going to do this, or I’m going to do this. You don’t have to, but you can justify your actions, and if you can, the labels will actually work with you. Sometimes, labels get a bad rep from people thinking, “Oh, they’re going to tell me what to do, and they’re going to make me something I’m not”. People ask, “Oh do you use data to tell artists what type of music to make?” and I’m like, no artist is going to listen to me tell them that the perfect pop song is 115 beats per minute! Artists would scoff at me and go back to what they were doing. We don’t dictate to artists what they should or should not do, and we don’t tell them what they have to do. Instead, we just give them suggestions. If artists don’t want to take the suggestion when you’re working for a label, you have that choice, and if you don’t have that choice, that’s not the label you want to work with long-term. You should have that choice at all times.
Someone asked me about the key music data. The Spotify API is fantastic. It’s free and easy to use and learn. It’s how I learned how to use Python, using the Spotify API. Chartmetric has great data, it’s more of a UI, but they have an API that you can also use. They have a UI for Chart Metric that I love. Spotify Charts is readily available. Last.FM has some really cool data as well. There are tons and tons of places. Genius has a really cool API. Think about what type of data you want to play around with and go from there rather than the other way around because you could be looking all day, but there are so many different options when it comes to data.
Why is pop music more desired?
So yes, hip-hop is the most popular genre in the world. Pop music is much more desired because pop music has always been much more desired. That is much more of a situation of that’s how it’s always been, and that’s why things go that way. But yes, hip-hop overall is the biggest genre in the world. But not necessarily the biggest genre in every country. That’s another component to think about, pop music absolutely thrives in places like the Nordics, and hip-hop has a struggle. Especially hip-hip created by none white rappers. Something to keep in mind as well- the world is more than just the US and the UK.
How do you turn data into revenue?
Know your audience, and get your audience to spend money on things. That’s basically the easiest way to turn data into revenue. If your audience likes to buy merch, make some merch. Or, if they like to go to shows, book some shows. Perhaps your audience is a streaming audience. You better put out a whole lot of music and hope they stream it a bunch.
It’s really about knowing what your audience likes and doing that.
Marc: That’s a very good way of explaining it. We could spend an hour talking about how to turn data into revenue, and basically, what you’re saying is to listen to what people are telling you and react to what they’re telling you.
Christine: That’s how most of life works, to be honest, if you think about it. At an even higher level, most of how life works is to listen to what people are telling you and do that thing. People reach out to me and ask how to get a job doing this thing, and I always tell them to look for a job description that tells them what to do for that job and then do the thing that the job description says.
Marc: You make everything sound so easy, and I think that’s important because ultimately, you can accomplish things if you just try it. If everyone thought things were too hard, they’d never give it a go.
Any last questions before we go?
Christine: Someone asked about communicating.
For me, I always talk to everyone. Sometimes, when people are on LinkedIn, they’ll reach out to every VP they can find at a company, and I say you could always just reach out to the Coordinator because they probably have way more time. Reach out to the Coordinators, the Assistants, and Marketing Managers, rather than the VPs and SVPs. My inbox is quite full-on LinkedIn, so I cannot imagine what those people in higher-level roles and what their inboxes look like.
A question about diversity:
I do not know how the whole industry is planning on combating things. Someone mentioned that they are now hiring a lot more people in Diversity and Inclusion roles. I will say as a PSA that black people and queer people can do other jobs in the music industry besides being Head of Diversity. I do not think the music industry has gotten that memo yet, so hopefully, in a few more years, they will figure that out. Hopefully, there will be some good changes that happen with those hires that will involve those people being offered other roles besides just Head of Diversity.
Marc: OK, Christine, I wanted to thank you so much for this conversation. It’s been so nice! We’ve done a couple of things together, but I don’t feel like I’ve been able to properly get to know you, so it’s been really great to chat.
Christine: Thank you, Marc! Thanks for having me. Jamie, thanks for being amazing as always.
Thank you, everyone, for all of the questions. I’m sure I missed many of them, and I’m so sorry. Please feel free to reach out! Thanks for the time and for listening to me talk for so long!