By Joel Beckerman, founder and CCO, Made Music Studio
There is nothing like a pandemic lockdown to induce some much-needed introspection. For some, it manifested as a deeper focus on quality family time, rediscovering the outdoors, or picking up a new hobby. For many, it was about activating on causes near and dear to them – sewing home-made masks, sending food to frontline health workers, taking to the streets in support of Black Lives Matter, demanding the end of police brutality, continuing the fight for racial equity and justice for all people.
We’ve all come through the other side of 2020 changed. Like many, my colleagues and I at Made Music Studio took time to reflect, reevaluate, and assess if our actions were in line with our values. What we saw did not mirror who we wanted to be. I recognized that as the founder and CCO of a leading sonic branding studio, our failures were my failures.
The trigger for me was Blackout Tuesday. We participated along with many others who work in the music and media industries. Shutting down our digital channels and blacking them out for the day. But the next day our President, Lauren McGuire, and I came to the exact same conclusion. What’s next? Where do we go from here? Public stance is important, but hollow if not backed up by meaningful action. And we committed to action.
We realized that the intersectional fight against racism is integral to who we are and at the heart of what we stand for as a progressive, creative company. And as founder, my ongoing work would be focused on provoking change – to do whatever it takes to rebuild our company in order to redefine what it means to be an actively anti-racist company.
The first step for us was to revisit our values. Core to our mission is “being in service to our audiences” and “creating iconic music and sound,” but there was no explicit language on anti-racism or inclusiveness, no stated policy commitments to back up our intent. We realized we had fundamentally and unknowingly been maintaining the status quo of white privilege. It was frankly, horrifying. I recognized that if we didn’t change how we operated at a foundational level, we would ultimately be holding ourselves back from creating the best. To serve our audiences, we needed to look more like our audiences.
We determined that even our name was holding us back. When I began the company more than 20 years ago, “Man Made Music” was meant to be a play on words. Music by people, for people, and a tongue-in-cheek reference to the last three letters of my last name BeckerMAN. Dropping the “Man” from our name became a clear and necessary change. It simply didn’t speak to who we are or how we want to be seen in the world. But a name change was just the most visible piece of what would need to be a complete transformation of our business.
We have to take stock of our responsibility in the world. The music and sound we create is part of the soundtrack of the lives of millions of people every day. Yet the people who create this music and profit from it are predominately white and male. Black, Brown, Indigenous, Latino/Latina/Latinx, Asian and female and non-binary people are seriously underrepresented in our field, which is music for media, brands & advertising, a multi-billion dollar business. There is a paucity of data out there. But a recent 2020 USC Annenberg study found 5% of music producers are female (up from 2% in 2018), which means we can deduce that the number of Women of Color as well as Black, Brown, Indigenous, Latino/Latina/Latinx, Asian, and non-binary producers is an even smaller percentage.
We also knew we couldn’t do this alone. To help keep us accountable we brought on a key partner with Aida Davis and Decolonize Design, a community organization committed to disrupting the DEI Industrial Complex. Her approach, centered on Belonging, Dignity and Justice and recentering marginalized groups, is what we have embraced to help define our transformation.
We made a commitment to be an actively anti-racist company and clear policy changes and benchmarks were instituted. A company committed to hiring and advancing Black, Latino/Latina/Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, female & LGBTQIA+ people – groups underrepresented or disenfranchised by the music industry. A company committed to being a better partner to our clients, by educating ourselves on institutional, intersectional racism in the music industry and production process.
Our next step into transformation was to rewrite the rules around our hiring practices. We were fortunate to be in a place where we were growing and needed to bring in new talent to the company. By removing all names on resumes as well as any educational history, we would only evaluate resumes based on work and life experience moving forward. This shift fundamentally changed the applicant pool into the most diverse group of candidates in our company’s 22-year history.
Every facet of our organization, from internships to vacation policies, employee reviews and how we communicate with each other, needed to be re-cast. Change had to be measured quantitatively. With our built-in biases, we knew we had to set goals on the percentage of new talent who are BIPOC. Other metrics we’ve committed to are longer term, which will measure a more equitable ethnic and gender balance in our leadership team. There is really nothing like having role models who look like you or share your cultural background to inspire and elevate others.
We are committed to looking at this every day. To measure our decisions against our BDJ values. To ensure that this is our primary filter in our creative culture and in our creative decision-making. Transformation does not happen in one day or in one policy change. This is a long-term commitment that will take hard work. The biases of white privilege run so deep in our culture. We can’t change the world, but we change our little corner of it.
We made a commitment to become a company whose music is made by you, us, him, her, them and two-spirit folks. A company whose creators are representative of our greater global community. A company whose creators are not just representative of our greater global community, but who have influence.
Last month we introduced Made Music Studio to the world. A company with more than 20 years of history-making iconic sound and music, re-“Made” – without limitations or borders, with an open invitation for all to show up as they are, without condition. Inclusive of all audiences and all makers of sound and music. We invite you to join us on our journey.