2 minute read 

In mid-2020, individuals on social media posted black squares across platforms like Instagram, creating a massive ripple effect. During the surge of the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with news of racial violence brought to the forefront by the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the decision was made to initiate a blackout. A number of record labels spoke out in response and solidarity, including Universal, Warner Music Group, Sony Music, and Interscope Geffen A&M. Although some had mixed feelings about the meanings behind the trend, the hashtags #blackouttuesday and #theshowmustbepaused became a global phenomenon. 

The Show Must Be Paused is an initiative started by two music industry executives, Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas, who started as colleagues at a record label. One day in late May, they both agreed that the following Tuesday (June 2) they would take a day to reflect on world events, and contacted some friends within the music industry who all agreed to do the same. The response spread like wildfire. At its core, TSMBP was created with the intent to put the music industry on notice. “Based on our experiences, the music industry’s racial disparities were reflective of how they are in the rest of society,” explains co-founder Jamila Thomas. “There have been decades of inequality that everyone had gotten used to since the business was overall profitable; there didn’t seem to be an urgent need for change. Once we all took a moment to peel back the layers, we realized that the same racial disparities that plague society also affect our day to day work life.”

The TSMBP founders also observed that Black employees and executives were finding it increasingly difficult to achieve upward mobility in an industry that they helped fortify. “There also seems to be an unspoken rule that no matter the circumstance we should push through and make it happen, but there’s a fine line between staying focused to make ‘it’ happen and ignoring what’s happening,” adds fellow co-founder Brianna Agyemang. “The racial disparities ravaging the country have been in place for generations and there has become a sense of tone-deafness that is now too loud to ignore.”

The call to action demanded changes to equal pay, as racial disparities within the industry pay structure became glaring. What followed were labels taking a greater stance in creating Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, while also making changes to their traditional means of operating. This included some record labels even removing the term “Urban” from their catalogs, as it became an unspoken stigma that prevented Black artists from diversifying in other genres.

The founders returned again in September with a list of demands for music companies. This list was comprised of tenets, including the following:

  •   Transparency, where companies were urged to hire third-party agencies to analyze their company’s diversity measures, promote fair and equal pay for all, as well as take an audit of the number of Black directors at music companies.
  •   Action & Accountability, which in addition to expansive health benefits and tuition reimbursement/student loan repayment would include taking action against any racial violations that occur within the workplace.
  •   Recruitment, Professional Development, & Growth, which places an onus on promoting the upward mobility of Black employees in an effort to create more Black executives and board members.
  •   Civic Engagement, including days off to vote or participate in activism, but also adopting new practices that work to build the company’s social consciousness.
  •   Alignment & Partnership, placing the appropriate leaders in Diversity and Inclusion roles so as to better continue this movement and prevent it from being a short-lived moment of action.

It may have started with a black square, but it certainly didn’t end there – the two women made history. “We hope the music industry at large can take a deeper look at the systems that are in place and how they affect the success and growth of employees,” Agyemang says. “A better system and internal structure produces a better output.” As organizations like The Show Must Be Paused take actions into their own hands for building a better workplace within the music industry, many other industries are bound to follow suit and incorporate their tenets into changing their own respective industries.