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  • Writer's pictureAaron Howard

The Truth About Inclusion Part 1

Updated: Jul 20, 2020

There was a songwriting and music conference held every year in Nashville. The conference, called Contemporary Songwriters and Musicians, attracted the best songwriters and musicians in the long as they were country music songwriters and musicians. This conference, while calling itself Contemporary Songwriters and Musicians might as well have been called "Country" Songwriters and Musicians. Almost all of the nightly concerts were headlined by country music artists, the songwriting workshops were led by songwriters specializing in country music, and almost all of the leaders who organized the conference were either country music songwriters, producers, and executives.

Eventually, the organizers of the conference realized that they were not doing a good job of reaching songwriters and musicians from other genres of music. 80% of conference attendees were affiliated with the country music scene, and they realized that the conference would have greater impact if they reached beyond the insular world of country music to attract a wide array of songwriters and musicians. The conference leadership team hired a marketing firm to help them market to pop, rock, hip-hop, R&B, and alternative acts. They traveled to different cities scouring coffeehouses and nightspots in order to find songwriters who they could offer scholarships or reduced registration fees in order to persuade them to attend. After months of hard work recruiting and getting the word out, it was finally time for the conference to begin.

The marketing campaign worked! That year the conference had its highest attendance, and songwriters and musicians representing country, pop, rock, hip-hop, R&B, and alternative genres were all in attendance. All week the musicians attended workshops on songwriting, the music business, musicianship, and vocal improvement led by the conference team or their friends in the music industry. The majority of workshops were still headed up by country artists, but that's because the leadership had a hard time finding other musicians and songwriters who they could trust and who wouldn't charge exorbitant rates. The nightly concerts were headlined by a roster of mostly country music artists, but that was because those artists garnered extremely high ticket sales, and the high attendance levels helped pay for other conference expenses.

Needless to say, the feedback that the Contemporary Songwriters and Musicians Conference received was mixed. Even though about half the conference attendees were non-country music songwriters and musicians, they reported feeling as if the conference still catered to mostly country music artists, and that it ignored their specific gifts, talents, abilities. If things stayed the same, they stated that they most likely would not return.

Diverse But Not Inclusive

The conference had diverse attendance, but it was not inclusive. Because diversity refers to the presence of different traits and backgrounds, one could argue that the conference was diverse in that it had musicians and songwriters from all over the nation and from a multitude of genres in attendance (although one could also argue that the conference was not truly diverse since the musical diversity was primarily amongst conference attendees), which also meant there was gender, racial, and economic diversity. However, the conference was not at all inclusive. Inclusion refers to whether people feel that they belong and whether they feel valued for what they uniquely bring to the table. The hip-hop artists probably didn't feel that they belonged, nor did they feel that their particular gifts as lyricists and producers were respected. The same could be said of the pop, rock, and R&B artists. The conference seemed to communicate to them, "you are welcome here as long as you do it our way, which is the country music way." As long as the songwriters adopted the methodology taught by the country song writers, and as long as the musicians played the way that the country music players taught them, they could belong. And some did.

Some of the musicians and songwriters (besides the ones who already were in the country music industry) enjoyed learning from the workshop leaders and clinicians and were simply happy to learn from some of the best and brightest in the music industry. But for every non-country music singer, musician, or songwriter who felt they belonged, there were about four others who felt that they didn't. In the debriefing session, the team realized that once again they had missed an important opportunity to expand the reach and influence of their conference. For the next conference, they decided that they definitely had to do things differently.

Your Turn

Answer these questions with other people from your organization:

1) What should the conference do differently next year?

2) Do you find their economic reasons for retaining country music artists in visible and leadership roles valid?

3) What issues and problems may occur based upon your suggestions?

4) How can the conference overcome these potential negative outcomes?

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