Musicians and professionals cited low wages, poor protections against harassment and discrimination, and lacking institutional support. But co-author René Kladzyk says there is hope.
The start of a new decade offers an opportunity to reflect on how much has changed in the past ten years—and to imagine what the next ten years will look like. The Music Industry Investigative report, a project co-authored by The Creative Independent‘s Willa Köerner and musician René Kladzyk, seeks to diagnose the current state of the music industry and make proposals on how to create a better future. Building on nearly 300 survey responses from musicians and other industry professionals, the report reveals how far the music industry has come—and how far it has to go—when it comes to being fair, equitable, and inclusive.
AdHoc spoke with Kladzyk—who performs as ZIEMBA and recently authored a list of music industry organizations run by women and non-binary people—about her involvement with the report and its key findings. In addition to helping write the survey questions, Kladzyk has also authored an accompanying guide on how people can take charge and work to create a better future for the industry.
Kladzyk makes it clear that her intentions with the report and her guide were not to feed into the defeatism surrounding the industry, but rather to provoke conversation: “It’s not okay for people to passively accept the current state of the music industry if you work in it. I’m looking forward to being part of a whole big movement for changing it for the better.”
“I made a choice to approach talking about the music industry from the position of hope, but I certainly also feel dread if we don’t do anything about the very serious problems we face.”
One of the chief take-aways from the report is how difficult it is for both musicians and industry professionals to make a living in music. Only 17 percent of the musicians and 33 percent of the industry professionals surveyed said they were always able to pay their bills every month, pointing towards the financial precariousness that people in the industry experience. Having an alternative source of income is a necessity for many musicians, with over two-thirds of musicians stating that their music only accounted for zero to 20 percent of their income.
Streaming services were another theme, with 61% of industry professionals identifying them as the sector most in need of change. Kladzyk says that part of the issue is that “the payment structure of places like Spotify is directly making it so musicians can’t earn a living off of their music.” However, she also says that it is important for consumers to educate themselves: “I think most of the general music consuming public don’t realize how harmful payment streaming platforms like Spotify are for the survival of musicians.”
The report points to other structural issues within the industry that make it inhospitable to professionals’ careers. In the wake of #MeToo and the various sexual harassment allegations that have hit the music industry, there is a clear need for workplace ettiquette reform. Despite this, less than half of industry professionals said their organization had protocols in place for sexual harassment or discrimination.
At companies where there were sexual harassment or discrimination policies in place, more than 80 percent of respondents said they were followed. Kladzyk said that sexual harassment and discrimination policies are “not that difficult to implement” and are “something that could have a profound effect if greater priority was placed on really simple methods, like improving workplace safety and fairness.”
At their core, these policies help to protect and support people within the industry. When 21 percent of musicians feel that no sector in the music industry has been helpful to them, as the report suggests, there is a clear need to restructure the relationships at its core. Reflecting on the recent death of Juice WRLD, Kladzyk stressed the industry’s need to protect the people it is utterly dependent on for its bread and butter, which are the musicians. “The support structures that are in place are woefully lacking, and so much of the nature of this industry leaves musicians feeling incredibly alienated, desperate for income, working all the time, and burning out,” she said.
The report revealed how in the absence of institutional support, musicians are looking locally for guidance, with 80 percent of musicians highlighting how help from fellow artists and collaborators was instrumental in navigating the industry. Musicians also reported being able to lean on their friends and local scene, with 65 percent noting that their social circle helped them gain traction in the industry. “Being able to have things like a mentor or collective or some sort of grassroots support system for surviving is incredibly important,” Kladzyk says, noting in her guide that community-building is integral to changing the future of the industry.
Diversity continues to be an issue when it comes to booking, with 70 percent of musicians reporting that less than a quarter of performers were people of color at shows they attended or played. 41 percent of musicians said that across gender lines, less than a quarter of performers were cis-women, non-binary or transgender.
While TRNSMT organizer Geoff Ellis recently told BBC Newsbeat that a lack of diverse line-ups can be attributed to the fact that more women need to be “picking up guitars,” Kladzyk is of a different opinion: “I do think that the music industry is becoming more diverse and inclusive in terms of musicians. I don’t see that change happening in the leadership of music industry organizations.”
This diversity divide between industry professionals and musicians is reflected in the report, with 83 percent of industry professionals saying that more than three-quarters of their company’s leadership positions were held by white people. Nearly 70 percent said that more than three-quarters of those in leadership positions were cisgender men.
Both the report and Kladzyk note that a continuing barrier to diversifying the music industry is the presence of a gatekeeping class—echoing the sentiment that inspired Kladzyk’s Future Music Industry list. Kladzyk says that this gatekeeper class is “fairly homogeneous, it is mostly affluent straight white men. That has a really direct effect on what music gets elevated and amplified.”
While the results of the report may seem grim, Kladzyk hopes it sparks an ongoing conversation about how to make the music industry better. And the future that Kladzyk imagines, which she outlines in her guide, starts with personal reflection, collective action, and small, local changes. “I make choices everyday about what shows I’ll play, what venues I’ll play at, who I’ll work with,” she says. “All those decisions have a ripple effect in the industry on who gets elevated and who doesn’t.”
Kladzyk ended our conversation with a few words of wisdom for those looking to get started in the industry. “I think probably the core of my advice would be to make sure you are doing it because you love doing it and you have something to say that you want to share with the world,” she says. “Not for external validation. If you are getting into the music industry for fame and fortune, I’m sorry, but the odds are not in your favor. But if you derive joy out of the process then it is worth it, music is amazing.”
If you would like to contribute to the Future Music Industry list or contribute to the conversation about the future of the music industry, you can reach out to René Kladzyk at firstname.lastname@example.org.