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Music community rallies around Black Out Tuesday initiative amid global Black Lives Matter protests

By | Published on Monday 1 June 2020

Black Lives Matter

A plethora of music companies and industry organisations will tomorrow halt their operations for 24 hours in response to the controversial death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week, after several days of protests across the US and elsewhere in the world in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Numerous artists, executives and companies from within the music community publicly supported those protests on social media this weekend, many also signing up to the Black Out Tuesday initiative.

Floyd died last Monday while being restrained by four police officers. During the incident, one of those officers, Derek Chauvin, placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, despite Floyd insisting “I can’t breathe” and then becoming unresponsive. All four officers were subsequently fired while Chauvin has been charged with murder.

Police say that Floyd physically resisted arrest after being accused of trying to pay for groceries with a counterfeit $20 note. Video footage of the incident does not show how the altercation began, but in that video he is clearly heard saying “please, I can’t breathe” and “don’t kill me” as he lies on the ground with Chauvin’s knee pressed upon his neck.

The death of Floyd, who was once a member of the Houston-based hip hop collective Screwed Up Click, has reignited anger over police killings of black Americans. It’s also put the spotlight back on the socio-economic inequalities found across the US based on race, and the continued everyday racism that occurs in society at large and inside its corporate and political institutions, in America and elsewhere.

The divisive politics and contentious statements of President Donald Trump, and the widespread social and economic stresses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, have obviously exacerbated things further, resulting in prolific and at times violent protests.

Many music companies – including divisions of all three major labels – posted similar statements to their social media channels this weekend supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and committing to do more to fight racial injustice.

Most also committed to take part in Black Out Tuesday. In its statement, Sony’s Columbia Records explained: “This is not a day off. Instead, this is a day to reflect and figure out ways to move forward in solidarity. We continue to stand with the black community, our staff, artists and peers in the music industry. Perhaps with the music off we can truly listen”.

Universal’s Capitol Music Group stated: “In solidarity with out black colleagues, artists and loved ones across the country who are reeling from the senseless taking of another innocent black life, Capitol Music Group will not be conducting any business on Tuesday, June 2, in observance of Black Out Tuesday”.

Meanwhile Warner’s Atlantic Records stated: “While this is only one day, we are committed to continuing the fight for real change. We will be using this day to collectively reflect on what we as a company can do to put action towards change and we will be taking steps in the coming weeks and months”.

Many more independent music companies and numerous individual artists have also pledged their support for Black Out Tuesday, most using the hashtag #THESHOWMUSTBEPAUSED on social media.

Of course, most of the music industry’s offices and venues are closed already because of the COVID-19 shutdown. Therefore, how each participating company and individual artist and executive chooses to implement Black Out Tuesday will probably differ, though disconnecting from digital channels and reflecting on what active steps the industry could take to facilitate tangible change seems to be key.

To have real impact, obviously longer-term initiatives will need to come out of this coordinated day of action. In a memo to staff, Universal Music boss Lucian Grainge announced that he had appointed the company’s General Counsel Jeff Harleston “to lead a UMG taskforce to accelerate our efforts in areas such as inclusion and social justice”.

That could include, Grainge said, “raising our voices in Congress, providing additional employee education and assistance, enhancing our philanthropy [and] using the power of our astonishingly vast catalogue to effect change – everything will be on the table”.

He concluded: “Music has always been a driving force for inspiring social change. The voices of our artists and the songs of our songwriters have changed the world. And they will continue to do just that. We will amplify those voices. We will address these issues”.

Those companies signed up to Black Out Tuesday seem likely to stand down their operations globally, not just in the US, while many British artists and music companies have also backed the initiative. Quite what impact it has in the short term – and, more importantly, the long term – remains to be seen.

The CMU team also plan to participate in Black Out Tuesday, meaning our editorial and other operations will pause for 24 hours.