Putting Humans First in the Music Industry: What’s Right? What’s Fair? What’s Possible?

“It’s just business” is a phrase that’s often used to excuse bad behavior. But imagine a music business that actually cares about people and the art they create. It’s obtainable, writes Jessica Vaughn of Head Bitch Music, but first we have to try.

by Jessica Vaughn of Head Bitch Music

I hear a lot of people in the music industry utter the words “it’s just business” as if we aren’t all in the human business. As if we didn’t all sign up for the dirty task of mixing art and commerce.

It’s never as simple as “it’s just business,” is it?

We are seeing push back across all industries right now, but especially in creative fields. Creators, artists, and mid-level workers are sick of putting their blood, sweat, tears, and talent on the table only to have to work numerous jobs as CEOs continue to line their own pockets and push the “it’s just business” narrative. As if the art and content being created isn’t all about connection to the human experience.

For example, I see exhausted clients asking my artists to create music on spec due to their own client’s demands. If they are just starting out, maybe… but these are artists that have proven themselves time and time again for years. Are they Beyoncé? Maybe not, but that shouldn’t matter.

“It’s not just business, it’s about what’s right”

How would you feel being asked to put in the time and effort to create original work and not be rewarded with a kill fee if they don’t move forward? To not be paid for your time and expertise? It’s not just business, it’s about what’s right. We shouldn’t enter into good faith agreements like a cattle call, we should enter into them with strategy, compassion, and respect. If we can’t do that, maybe the budget isn’t there to demand the level of expertise, talent, and social impact we seek to accomplish.

I wholeheartedly believe that everything we do should be an extension of our humanity. This rings especially true for creative industries. Why else would we all choose this insane business if it didn’t start with some magical spark that made us feel closer to ourselves and less alone?

What are we truly building or leaving behind when we don’t consider the human behind the business? CEOs may be able to hide behind their billions, but most of us don’t have that luxury – so what will be our legacy? How do we build a better model and future? I believe we can do this slowly, strategically, and with grace.

My “why” has consistently been, how do I make the industry a more fair, equitable, and safe place? I think my peers often feel that this “why” isn’t a viable or accessible option, but why can’t it be?

Every business decision I make, I run through a filter of three questions, answer them honestly, and plan accordingly.

  • What’s right?
  • What’s fair?
  • What’s possible?

So often, the knee-jerk reaction is doing what’s easy. People are busy and burnt out from late-stage capitalism, and they are reacting instead of being proactive because everyone is just trying to survive.

We can’t advocate only for ourselves or else we are missing out on creating industry-wide change.

I get it, I am tired and sometimes, we don’t have the luxury of turning down work that is low-paying or generally not up to our standards. That being said, I found that running business decisions through this filter has allowed me to make accessible changes for our industry. I am able to serve my business, the company I work for, and my community and make steps towards dismantling the old ways to build an industry I believe we all deserve.

Progress is progress, no matter how small, and this is one strategy I’d like to see our industry adopt.

Imagine the business of art but one where it actually cares about people. Kind of nice, right?

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  2. Thank you for writing this article. It made me feel not so alone. I’ve built a career on doing the right thing and focusing on fairness for artists for 31 years now. This industry STILL doesn’t understand me. But every now and again, like minded people pop up and I don’t feel so alone after all.

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