the cultural resetJanuary 2021
a conversation with the color of music collective
by Nick Schon
Watch the interview here ︎
The Color of Music Collective is a platform that promotes and creates discourse around the business side of the music industry and how it relates to or impacts marginalized creatives. A piece of the collective's larger initiatives includes an editorial space that highlights BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ musicians and sound artists. Called The Cultural Reset, they host interviews, review albums, and curate up and coming artists music into playlists. The idea driving Co-Directors Nick Lee and Shannon Ervin is to eliminate the tendency for BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ artists to be marketed toward an audience reflective of their demographic exclusively. To expose their works to a greater, more mainstream audience that ordinary entertainment media fails to exact.
Nick Schon: Unfortunately, Shannon Ervin couldn't be with us today.
Nick Lee: Both of us couldn't meet today, but The Cultural Reset is definitely run by both of us.
NS: It does say that you are Creator and Editor-in-Chief. How do you share responsibility within your roles?
NL: Basically, Shannon and I work together to manage the volunteers, manage the Instagram page, and everything else. But as a brief intro on what the Cultural Reset is, it's a platform that is a subsidiary of the Color of Music Collective. What we focus on is uplifting BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ artists specifically in the music industry. That includes writing album reviews, and conduct artist interviews, so we talk with a bunch of different BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ artists that are big change-makers in the industry. That allows them to tell their stories, unfiltered. And we also curate playlists every Friday that feature songs that are specifically by BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ artists. We do a lot and it's a lot of coordination, but we have a great team of about 18 volunteers that we work with. They're fantastic, everyone is really pumped about the mission, and everyone works together to bring it to fruition.
NS: It's a great platform that you have. Where did the concept come from?
NL: Okay, so, I came up with it in late July. Essentially, once I joined the Color of Music Collective, I noticed they have an emphasis on BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ inclusion on the music business side of the entertainment industry. So, I was thinking it might be best to also have this component for artists specifically. One of the biggest problems in the music industry [with artists] is that they have these music business people, these big actors -- these gatekeepers essentially -- that are limiting the access of marginalized groups to the larger industry because they don't think they'll sell, they don't like the content they create, they don't think it's marketable to wider audiences. The music industry as a whole throws these people out because they want to find somebody that fits the cookie-cutter, white-cis version of what can sell as an artist.
That was a big problem for me when I was thinking about the music industry. And I figured that 2020 (hopefully, never again. No more 2020!), everything with the protests that were happening during the summer, BLM, and so on, I thought that this would be a good way to have a tangible impact on an industry that's often overlooked when it comes to inclusion. TV's already had it's sort of "movement", they've had the Me Too movement, they've had this movement toward diversity and inclusion-- it's happening, it's working in television and film. With music, there's a standstill. We still have artists that are segmented into certain genres according to their sexuality or their race. Mainstream news is not really going to cover the entertainment industry. But I figured that this is an industry that really needs [the coverage]. And this is an industry that I really want to tackle with these efforts.
NS: Does that come from any personal experience working within the music industry?
NL: The majority of my experience is working in television and film. I interned with the Daily Show, CBS News, and I worked with Tamron Hall and ABC. But I sing, and song-write and I have performed at various venues. I've seen discrimination happen on the venue's side of things. Occasionally, a venue will say that they want an artist that fits their target audience, the people coming to the venue. On the surface, that makes sense, it makes good business sense. But if you look at your audience and you're only finding artists that appeal to them, and they look a certain way and have the same cultural connection...that can lead to a lot of exclusionary practices.
I remember hearing a conversation like that in a venue and was like, "Oh, I don't like that". I haven't experienced anything that was outright, in my career. But I've seen it and I know that it exists.
NS: Is there any criteria when deciding which artists to interview or review?
NL: Absolutely. One of the biggest staples that we have is that the lyrical content of an artist's music-- if it has lyrics-- cannot have any derogatory language towards any marginalized groups. We make sure all the artists that we cover, all the artists we feature on our playlists, on album reviews don't have any of that.
We also like to talk to artists that are activists in their own right too. Not all of the artists we interview are, but we try to find them because they have a unique perspective when it comes to how the music industry operates. Rather, they have a distinct awareness about how it operates. They definitely have a lot to bring to the interviews when they talk about what it's been like, for them and their peers, navigating the industry.
NS: You ask a lot of the artists you interview about industry politics and climates, so what are your thoughts about those types of things?
NL: I have many of them! I think the easiest thought is that it's stupid. I said before, I think that there's a big problem when it comes to the music business's approach to artists of color and artists that identify as LGBTQIA+. There's this inherent segmentation that happens with them in terms of marketing. So if an artist were to come out of the closet. People think that they're straight before, then after they come out, the marketing and the target audience shifts towards LGBTQIA+ audiences instead of just mainstream audiences as they were appealing to before.
I think a really good example of this is Sam Smith. That's what happened to their career. They created a lot of mainstream music that everybody was singing, you could find it everywhere. "I know I'm Not the Only One", "Stay With Me"-- all around the world. And then after they came out as non-binary, me personally, I haven't heard as much from them since. So I really think that's a big problem on that end [the industry's end].
On the BIPOC end, we talk to our artists about this type of stuff too. For example, if you are a woman of color, specifically a Black woman. If you're a Black woman that's going to embark on this industry and navigate the industry, people are going to expect you to be Beyonce, Rihanna, or Nicki Minaj. They're going to expect you to get up on stage and you know, "shake it", or whatever, and do exactly what those artists do. And the truth is that's not something that everybody wants to do with their own art or their image in order to make more money.
We're hoping with The Cultural Reset to be able to bridge that gap. We want to become a platform that is the go-to platform for music industry professionals to find talent or see who's out there with talent and read about their experiences in order to try to change their own business practices. To better the way that they do business. We want to be a platform where young creatives that are BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ can see these incredible artists that are just killing it. We also want to be a platform where the average person can come and listen to new music
NS: You bring up a good point about artists that belong to a specific social category, then being marketed toward that specific audience, instead of just anyone else. It reminds me of terms that people use to describe artists like, "This is a 'female-fronted' punk band". Why can't they just say, "This is a punk band"?
NL: Oh, my goodness. That's another huge problem! We actually talk about this with Victoria Canal, an artist that we interviewed. She's disabled-- she's missing one of her arms. She is an incredible musician, incredibly skilled! She would talk about these experiences that she's had with corporations that would invite her to perform and how they would use her for photo-ops, but then they would leave her out when it was time to talk about something else. In the sense that they wanted her disability to be on camera for PR purposes to show that they're a company that cares. But in actuality, they do nothing to support her, nothing to support disabled artists or people with disabilities in general. She noted that and she noted the way that it made her feel. But she also noted that the reason she continues to do what she does and book those types of events is that she wants somebody at home, someone like her, to be able to look at her and think, "I can do that".
I think that what you were talking about is another huge issue. It's just performative activism that serves an image and nothing more.
NS: Have you noticed ways that the music industry is changing?
NL: I hate to be a pessimist. I'm sure that there are things and improvements happening. But from what I can see, I think the same problem, especially with marketing is still happening. I think that there are artists that are producing music that everyone could enjoy, but they're being marketed to a certain group of people only. I'm trying to think of something good, but I haven't really seen much of it change. But hopefully, we are the change. Hopefully, we can be that change and fuel that.
NS: What are some other ways that people can interact with your platform?
NL: Well, one is to visit the website and read the interviews we do, to visit the artists on social media. I hope that people can read the articles and find the artists and actually listen, stream, and buy their music to actually support them. I also want to mention that we are always open to new volunteers as well. If you want to become a part of the mission, you can reach out! People can listen to our playlists too. I think that is one of the most effective ways to support the artists that we're putting on our platform because that's actual money, that's actual revenue for them. You're actually helping then.
I want to mention that we are moving into visual content as well. Right now, the majority of our artist interviews are written or they're audio. Eventually, we are going to transition into this format that allows people to see the artist tell their story face to face.
NS: Any really amazing artists? I mean, I'm sure they're all good.
NL: They're all really good! It's so hard to choose. Actually, I'll say this. We just interviewed an artist and his interview's going to drop this Wednesday (1/14/21). His name is Mel Semé and me… I think I may have actually cried during the interview. It may have happened, I'm not quite sure. I think I teared up a little bit. But I love his story because he talked a lot about where he came from, why he does music, whom he writes his songs for. His entire journey throughout the industry. We talk about the industry with the other artists as well, but his interview was focused on just being an artist. It just felt really personable and really good.
We also talked to Shenna, she's an American Afro-Syrian artist. She's an example of Black women being pitted against Beyonce, Rhianna, these famous Black female names in the industry. She has this pop sound and makes this kind of soulful music, but that's just not her performance style. We got a lot of information about what it's really like navigating that scape and how the music industry treats women in general. I think she was telling us that she got taken to dinner by somebody that promised to help with the production of her album or something. She thought it was a business meeting, but she got there and it turned out to be a "date". The guy tricked her into a date! Disgusting, right? It's gross. So, that was really insightful.
We talked to Jazzy Mejia, she's a part of this internationally-known girl-group called G.R.L. She talked to us about how important it is as an artist to know everything you can, to learn everything you can, to be able to do everything yourself, to not rely on other people or actors in the industry to support you and your career. That's something that she did when she left G.R.L. and started on her own path. She learned production, she learned so much stuff and made her own connections. Now she's starting to thrive as a solo artist.
NS: I know you mentioned looking forward to the visual platform. Is there anything else that people should keep an eye out for?
NL: I would say that we're really starting to branch out with our social media. Right now, we're building our Instagram @tcreset. What we're starting to do is build up a feed with what's called a "Cultural Reseter Series". We're going to be posting infographics each week that are focused on different people or musicians and give different facts about the industry. We're going to feature stuff like songs that were movements in music, facts about artists that were revolutionary, and some things that they did. We got a lot of stuff coming, we're growing and we’re in it for the long-haul.