Toronto, Canada, stands on business when it comes to the Black talent that’s being cultivated in its backyard.
Home to household names such as Tamia, The Weeknd, and Drake, among many others, Canadian musicians have been known to place their stake in pop culture across the globe, oftentimes having to leave their hometowns to make a name for themselves.
To change this narrative, one collective is working to ensure that these artists and other professionals in the music industry have the tools and resources that they need to thrive at home first, before taking their talent on the road.
Shifting The Culture Forward
Advance, which serves as Canada’s Black music business collective, hones in on not only empowering Black professionals on the support side of the music industry but elevating them with the resources to survive and thrive in the often cutthroat arena.
“Anybody who supports and helps to develop the creative is what we focus on,” Advance Executive Director Keziah Myers told AFROTECH. “The reason being is because we recognize a really large gap around who is on stage and who is behind stage.”
She continued: “If you look on stage and recognize that the stage is representative of the culture, but you look backstage and realize that it’s not diverse at all and you don’t see anyone who even understands the culture, then how is that authentic? And how are we ensuring that the creative, the artist, the producer, the talent is seen and heard if, on the other side, you have someone that’s so detached from that experience that they can’t relate.”
Created as a solution to the looming problem of Black people being left out of power-making decisions within areas such as labels, collectives, investors, and so forth, Advance has remained committed to carving out space for music professionals to have a shot at a more equitable future.
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Teaching The Business Of Music
A key program for Advance involves the Music Industry Discovery Program where grade 11 and 12 students get the chance to learn everything, from the work of a publicist or data analyst to how social enterprise keeps the music industry afloat. The program even brings in parents to share with them the ins and outs of the business and to address any concerns they may have about their children stepping into the world of music on a more global scale.
“The reason the parents are involved is because coming from a community like ours, many parents have heard the horror stories of the music industry, or they automatically think you’re going to be a starving artist… They don’t understand what the infrastructure is,” Myers explained. “We bring students and parents into the scenario to help them learn about sustainable career paths within the music industry.”
Beyond just doing the groundwork with the creative, Advance also takes things a step further by advocating on their behalf within music labels.
Myers recalled the moment that things took a shift within the industry as a result of social change following the murder of George Floyd in 2020.
“As soon as George Floyd was murdered the labels were like, ‘Shoot, we have no Black people here, let’s hire,'” Myers said. “But then what you’re starting to see is the Black people are not supported within, or they’ve given them contract positions. So, if I’ve given you a contract position, or there’s no upward mobility and mentorship that’s happening, then now what, right?”
While Black music departments and positions have been created, oftentimes they don’t have the same funding as other departments.
“Now it’s Advance that comes in and says, ‘Hey, Label X, what if you actually funded the department the same way you fund the others?'” Myers explained. “And then the president there will say, ‘You know what that’s a really good idea. I didn’t think about it.'”
What’s more, Myers and the team want Advance to be able to have conducive collaboration with those powerhouses in the music industry so that everyone can continue to get a piece of the pie. That’s why they are working one creative and one label at a time to ensure that it happens.