March 15, 2021

Racial injustice in the music industry

The modern music industry is built almost entirely on Black art. The wealth that rightfully belonged to Black artists was stolen outright and to this day continues to grow outside their communities. No one artist could come close to paying the debt we owe to the Black originators of our modern music and their children and grandchildren. As an individual I have recognized the unfairness of the life I live in relation to the deprivation of people whose work mine is but a shadow of. I’ve tried to compensate for those inequities in both my public and private life. It hasn’t been enough.

I’ve often thought there should be an industry-wide plan to address this enormous injustice. Considering that our business prides itself on its progressive ideals and commitments to social justice, I’ve waited, thinking we would eventually put some type of sustained tithing in place — some initiative that would allow us all to redirect a portion of our revenue to the communities that have been deprived of it. I’ve resisted being the one to initiate such a plan for reasons I find unpersuasive now. I feel it’s important to pledge my personal commitment to paying this debt, and to publicly ask every one of my peers to work toward doing the same.

What I propose going forward is a program that allows songwriters and musicians to direct a percentage of their “writer’s share” revenue to organizations that assist and support Black communities. This could take the shape of a box to check on rights management contracts, putting it at the foundation of our business. Or it could take another shape entirely. I don’t possess the expertise to manifest this initiative, but I can begin to do my part by committing 5% of my writer revenue to organizations that are working toward racial justice, which include but are not limited to Movement for Black Lives and Black Women’s Blueprint.

To BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, and all other organizations that collect and disburse songwriter’s royalties, I ask you to please investigate a way to implement such a program. To industry leaders: please join me in forming a coalition. My small contribution alone is a sincere but insufficient gesture. Hundreds of us joining together could provide some tremendous relief. Thousands of us committing to a reparations initiative could change our business and the world we live in. Black Lives Matter. Thank you. 

- Jeff Tweedy