When the voice of anger filled the streets of America after George Floyd’s death, the music industry approached protest with a different strategy – the sound of silence.
Blackout Tuesday, a grassroots campaign to activate the music industry in solidarity with the racial justice protest movement that swept the country, was launched by two music industry professionals, Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang. In project website both described the effort as “an initiative made by two black women in music with regard to long-standing racism and existing inequalities from the meeting room to the boulevard. We will not continue to do business as usual without paying attention to Black’s life.”
The statement went on to say, “The music industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. An industry that benefits primarily from Black art. Our mission is to defend the industry in general, including large companies + their partners who benefit from the efforts, struggles and success of responsible black people. For this reason, it is the obligation of these entities to protect and empower the Black community that has made them disproportionately rich in a measurable and transparent way. “
The campaign, which also uses the social media hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused, was initially focused on marking June 2 as a day for the music industry to show solidarity with the black community by stopping and collectively cutting ties from the 24/7 background music that sparked many American cultures. Across the industry, record labels, streaming services, musicians, and producers join in protests, participate in various ways.
For example, while the Spotify streaming service will continue to operate during protests, it takes action to close some playlists. On Spotify, listeners will see black logos and main images on more than a dozen of the most popular playlists and podcasts, as well as all of their playlists and R&B and many podcast covers. Some Spotify playlists and podcasts will include 8 minutes, 46 seconds of silence as serious recognition for George Floyd’s long period of time strangled by four Minneapolis police officers. Amazon, YouTube, and Apple Music took similar steps, with Apple Music canceling its regular Beats 1 program for the day, and promoting the “For Us, By Us” playlist.
The record label varies in response. While many labels have released statements of support, some have taken a more concrete step. According to an internal memo that was first shared with Pitchfork Media, Warner Media Group reportedly allowed employees to take time off to “concentrate on helping themselves and others. Interscope Geffen’s A&M music label family announces that in response to their protest they will not release any music on week 1 Junest, and instead they will “contribute to organizations that help save protesters who exercise their right to peaceful assembly, layers of aid that work for systemic change and provide assistance to charities that focus on creating economic empowerment in black communities.”
Leading artists such as J Balvin, Billie Eilish and the Rolling Stones will celebrate that day, along with a myriad of artists in all music genes. It might capture the mood of many artists, Latino music superstar J Balvin posted on his Instagram account a statement in Spanish and English: “given the circumstances faced by the Black community in the United States, this is not the time to give frivolity and celebration. Instead, it is time to educate myself and my loved ones and take action. “The artist continues,” I promise from today … as a human being, as an artist, as a Latin, as a friend … to do better. ”
While some critics question whether the Blackout Tuesday replica might divert attention away from the core problem of racial injustice in America, and accuse it of being another example of partisan protest, it is clear that the initiative quickly gained real meaning and momentum. And while Americans are looking for ways to express support and solidarity to combat excessive police violence and racial injustice, Blackout Tuesday creates a meaningful way for the music industry to express its support.
In the words of Thomas and Agyemang on their website, “We are tired and cannot change things alone.” The two black women don’t need to – and because of their efforts, and the support of their allies in the music industry, they won’t win.
And that is the true voice that change will come.