XOTV WEEKLY: How to Create an Inclusive Music Scene

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Everything XOTV

Photo by Wolfgang from Pexels
Though it’s been nearly 6 months since I’ve been to a live show, I can still smell the unfortunately familiar sweaty-beer combo wafting through the air. The pulsing beat of the muted kick drum against my foam earplugs; my eyes squinting to find a familiar face in a stranger’s dim, purple-tinted basement. Although in recent years, I have put my blood, sweat, and tears into live music, these good memories are more often bittersweet. While I miss meeting my friends at the bar for a night of local music, I could go without the multiple uncomfortable conversations with men too old for me. As much as I loved running a venue, I will never miss the times I had to kick out a man getting too close for comfort. And while my days of running live sound gave me an incredibly useful experience, I wish I had a dollar for every time a man came up to do my job for me. 

But the sad part is, these experiences aren’t unique to me. In fact, it’s difficult to find a non-man involved in music who has not been through at least one similar incident. And unfortunately, the people who perpetuate this unjust behavior don’t simply disappear--they get promoted. They get signed, hell they even make their own record labels and then sign all their equally creepy friends. They fund massive festivals and use profits to further oppress marginalized groups. They don’t even try to hide it; maintaining the harmful slogan of “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘N’ Roll.” 

As depressing and unjust as it is, we have more of an opportunity to change the status quo now more than ever. The music industry as we know it is falling apart--venues are closing down, big artists and producers are being accused of sexual assault and abusive behavior, and the increasing accessibility to the music industry due to streaming services are all contributing to rapid change. However, creating a safe and equal scene can’t be done simply by witnessing the fall of previous leading figures. As participants of the music industry, it is necessary to not only take responsibility for the way sexism and other forms of exclusivity are prevalent to every scene, but also recognize that we have the duty to keep people safe through ongoing preventative and reactive action. 

Here’s a hard pill to swallow: every participant of the music industry has internalized and normalized the systemic injustices against marginalized people within. In order to build a better industry, you cannot have an ‘Except Me!’ attitude, like I originally did; this statement applies to everyone and every scene. Slowly I have come to realize that the whiteness of communities I have been heavily involved in is not simple happenstance. The support I receive as a feminine-presenting person of color has hints of objectification and white guilt. And the mistreatment of non-men in the scene has as much to do with creeps as it does with the people who turn a blind eye when it happens. Once we collectively acknowledge this responsibility, some solutions for disabling the normalization of this behavior materialize.

There are many physical and immediate ways to keep marginalized people in your community safe. Holding friends and strangers accountable for inappropriate behavior is the main way to ensure that you are perpetuating a safe environment. I guarantee that some of your people may be doing sketchy things without you even realizing it. Paying attention to people making/receiving unwanted advances, believing others in your community when they shed light on abuse and harassment, and using your privilege to stand up for underprivileged people are all very real ways to undo the normalization of this mistreatment. For example, it is white peoples’ job to call out their racist friends. It is men's job to call out their male friend who was giving unwanted attention to a non-man. It is a venue runner’s job to kick out people who make showgoers uncomfortable. It is your job as a consumer of music to de-platform problematic artists. And if you can’t handle that responsibility, you don’t deserve the privilege of being a part of the community. Simple as that.

As important as it is to call out problematic behavior, it is equally important to uplift and purposefully make space for marginalized members of the music community. This will likely not be easy, as the music industry is purposefully exclusive towards marginalized communities. This is the reason that the DIY movement began--to allow artists, who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity, to participate in a musical community. The rising popularity of DIY as simply a method of creating (doing it yourself), rather than a movement, has caused this ethos to slowly be erased, and marginalized people often find themselves left out of communities they created in the first place. It will take time and continuous effort to create spaces that are truly safe and inclusive, but it is absolutely our responsibility as participants in music communities to do so. Ways that we can do this include donating to and streaming DIY and other independent artists, employing independent journalists, tour managers, musicians, booking agents, audio engineers, and other musical community members, and actively preventing power structures within the industry regardless of who is in power. 

At the end of the day, the inequalities that exist within the music industry are nuanced, and it takes a lot more than individual action to dismantle these power imbalances. But taking personal responsibility and action is the least we can do to prevent the monopolization of a beautiful art form. I think we can all agree that everything is falling apart, but we should look at it as an opportunity to build it back up to be inclusive, safe, diverse, and sick as hell.

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About the Author:

Photo by Monty Daniels

AJ Frankson is a Journalism & Media Studies graduate of Colorado State University and is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area. As a music photojournalist, they reported on local & national artists and the Fort Collins music scene until switching focus from reporting on the scene to participating in it. They have since begun releasing and performing music as Janet Earth and have played a plethora of shows at local Colorado venues, created and maintained a DIY music and art venue, and they have always been eager to find any way to support their local art & music scene. As a believer that music is a universal language and means of expression that should be all-accessible, their goal is to help create a music industry that is inclusive, safe, and sick as hell.

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