Donations are just one part of the multi-faceted approach needed to fight systemic racism. But these music companies are putting their money where their mouth is.
This week dozens of music companies participated in “Black Out Tuesday,” an initiative created by two black music executives to spark productive conversations about how to support the black community. All this was in response to racial inequality and police brutality protests that erupted following the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota on May 25, and the recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and all too many other innocent black lives.
But the event also reignited conversations about the music industry’s own deep-seated diversity problem and history of exploiting and neglecting people of color. Artists like The Weeknd and Kenny Beats spoke up demanding that music companies take action beyond the social media timeline, starting with their own pockets.
“No releases should come out for the week shit maybe for the month,” Kehlani wrote in a since-deleted tweet on June 2. “And if they do, these companies need to pledge to giving the Black artists who release ALL THE MONEY MADE FROM IT.” And everyone from artist manager Ty Stiklorius to Erykah Badu and Kelis have reposted a message originally shared by University of Southern California professor Josh Kun, calling for record companies to start by “retroactively paying back all the Black artists, and their families, they have built their empires on.”
Meanwhile, after donating $500,000 across social justice organizations, The Weeknd tweeted, “To my fellow respected industry partners and execs- no one profits off of black music more than the labels and streaming services. I gave yesterday and I urge you to go big and public with yours this week.”
Many music companies have done so. All three major record labels have now committed funds to fighting for social justice, while Spotify is launching a $10 million employee-matching donation program and companies like Bandcamp and Tunecore pledged their share of profits on June 2 to the cause. Many other companies told Billboard that their own dollar commitments are soon to be announced.
As for Billboard, a spokesperson for parent company Valence Media said that the company is planning next steps. “As a company, we are committed to fighting against institutionalized racism and injustice,” the spokesperson said. “We know we have lots to learn and plenty of work ahead to do. We are taking steps to find solutions internally and externally and to use our platforms and voices in a meaningful way to create short-term impact and long-term sustainable change.”
To be clear, financial donations alone won’t solve the problem of systemic racism — changes to our laws, leadership, institutions and cultural mindset are crucial as well. But Billboard will update the below list to reflect major music companies which have newly committed funds to the cause.
Universal Music Group
The world’s largest music company, home to artists like Taylor Swift and Drake, is creating a new “Task Force for Meaningful Change” focused on inclusion and social justice, which includes a $25 million “Change Fund” that will be invested across six areas of focus, including aid/charitable giving, global, internal/institutional change, legislative/public policy, partners and programming/curation.
Under the UMG umbrella, Interscope Geffen A&M pledged an undisclosed amount to protester bail-out organizations and other charities fighting for social justice, and will not release new music for the week of June 1.
Capitol Music Group — which includes labels like Capitol, Motown, Blue Note and Virgin, along with distribution arm Caroline — pledged an undisclosed amount to Color of Change, a civil rights advocacy nonprofit, and Black Lives Matter.
Republic Records is launching the Republic Records Action Committee and will not release new music the week of June 1. It is working closely with UMG’s Task Force, which includes members of the Republic team, to allocate funds.
Def Jam Recordings said that many employees donated their June 2 salaries to organizations which operate in the Black Lives Matter space.
Sony Music Group
SMG, which is home to artists like Beyoncé and Travis Scott, on June 5 launched a $100 million fund to support social justice and anti-racist initiatives around the world.
Sony Music Entertainment says it will match employee donations to social justice organizations like the ACLU, Black Lives Matter, the NAACP, the Minnesota Freedom Fund, The Innocence Project and Unicorn Riot. The employee-matching program builds off of its similar COVID-19 relief initiative.
Notably, Sony/ATV Music Publishing chairman/CEO Jon Platt, who is the highest-ranking black executive in the music industry, also published an open letter titled “A Change Must Come.”
Warner Music Group
WMG, home to artists like Ed Sheeran and Madonna, announced a $100 million fund to support organizations which fight for social justice. The initiative is a partnership with The Blavatnik Family Foundation, the charitable institution of Len Blavatnik, who owns WMG parent company Access Industries.
WMG also made an undisclosed donation to Black Lives Matter on behalf of its labels, which include Warner Records and Atlantic Records.
The streaming service is contributing an undisclosed amount to organizations which combat racial injustice, while parent Amazon is donating a total of $10 million to organizations including the ACLU Foundation, Equal Justice Initiative and NAACP.
Parent company Apple — on behalf of its owned companies including Apple Music — donated an undisclosed amount to groups including the Equal Justice Initiative, and will match two-for-one all employee donations to those groups for the month of June.
Streaming platform Audiomack donated $20,000 total to Minnesota nonprofits the Minnesota Freedom Fund, Black Visions Collective, Northstar Health Collective and Minnesota Disaster Recovery Fund.
The online music marketplace is donating the company share of all Juneteenth (June 19) sales to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and will do the same for every Juneteenth hereafter. It is also allocating $30,000 per year to partner with racial justice organizations.
Beggars Group labels — which include 4AD, Matador, Rough Trade, XL Recordings and Young Turks — collectively donated an undisclosed amount to 18 social justice organizations in both the US and the UK, such as the Ahmaud Arbery Family Fund, Black Lives Matter and Campaign Zero.
Performing rights organization BMI will make financial contributions of an undisclosed amount to organizations that promote diversity, voting rights, social equality and racial justice.
Create Music Group
The indie distribution and publishing company, which has had clients like Jennifer Lopez and Future, donated an undisclosed amount to Color of Change.
The distribution company, which artists from Ludacris to Arizona Zervas have used in the past, donated $50,000 total to NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Color of Change, which included donating the company share of all June 2 profits. In response to requests from its artists, DistroKid also set up a portal, Artists For Justice, allowing any of its 2 million artists to automatically donate a portion of their royalties on an ongoing basis to various organizations.
The Heavy Group
The Heavy Group, in coordination with their artists, donated to social justice organizations Black Lives Matter, NAACP, The LDA, Aware LA, Minnesota Freedom Fund, Reclaim the Block and more, plus the GoFundMe pages for Taylor and Floyd.
The live entertainment giant committed an undisclosed amount to the Equal Justice Initiative.
Founder Jaime Zeluck Hindlin and her company are donating $25,000 total to Campaign Zero, ACLU Nationwide and to community bail funds, as well as launching a matching program open to the public, with a goal to match up to $5,000 in additional donations.
PULSE Music Group
The music publishing and management company and its co-CEOs, Josh Abraham and Scott Cutler, committed a combined $100,000 to organizations that fight racial injustice.
Jay-Z’s entertainment company — which has long fought for social justice through its philanthropic arm, Team Roc, and as part of the Meek Mill-led nonprofit REFORM — has on a daily basis been providing financial and in-kind support to social justice groups and organizers participating in protests, and raising funds for black and brown communities to support economic advancement through business development, job opportunities and more, according to a company spokesperson.
Roc Nation has also sent open letters to Mississippi governor Tate Reeves on behalf of Parchman prisoners and Georgia governor Brian Kemp calling for justice for Arbery; while Jay-Z had a private conversation with Minnesota governor Tim Walz to call for the arrest and prosecution of all officers involved in Floyd’s murder, among many other social justice-related efforts.
SiriusXM and Pandora
A company spokesperson told Billboard that SiriusXM and Pandora will together be making undisclosed financial contributions to organizations promoting diversity, social equality and racial justice.
Spotify is matching up to $10 million globally in employee donations to organizations which fight racism injustice and inequity, while its human resources team is finalizing a new set of initiatives to increase representation of black employees at the company, according to a company memo obtained by Billboard.
The short-form video app donated $3 million to nonprofits that help the black community disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and another $1 million toward fighting racial injustice and inequality.
Distribution and publishing service Tunecore is donating all profits from Tunecore’s distribution fee for new releases on June 2 to Color of Change.
The artist services and digital distribution platform launched by Steve Stoute is donating the company share of all June 2 profits to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Google, which owns YouTube along with its streaming platform YouTube Music, is donating $12 million total to organizations working to address racial inequalities, starting with grants of $1 million each to the Center for Policing Equity and the Equal Justice Initiative. It is also committing another $25 million in Ad Grants, its program providing free advertising to nonprofits, to organizations fighting racial injustice, and will match employee donations to the cause, which have totaled $2.5 million as of June 3.
YouTube proper pledged $1 million in support of efforts to address social injustice.
Through its newly-announced charitable arm, 10K Together, the indie hip-hop label has committed to spend $500,000 over the next five years on donations to charities fighting racism, a new intern program to empower black youth at 10K and its partner companies, and to support black-owned business in Los Angeles, where the company is headquartered. As a first step, 10K Together donated $25,000 to Color of Change.
During a two-hour Instagram Live on June 4, 300 Entertainment co-founder and CEO Kevin Liles made multiple donations, from himself and the company, to organizations including Black Lives Matter and The Freedom Fund.