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CRACK

Niks Delanancy on how Black Artist Database is changing the music industry

© Thomas Murray

04.06.21
Words by:

Last year, the world stopped. And then it protested.

After being thrown into a Covid-induced pandemic, the world was forced to reckon with another deadly virus: in particular, the grip of racism on America and across the world. Protests and demonstrations erupted; the collective cries that called for justice for George Floyd swept over the internet. As industries looked inwards, the music sector, too, examined its role in a wider, systemic framework.

Born from this period of global turbulence was Black Bandcamp – a Google sheet formed between a group of friends that went viral overnight and grew into a community-based platform. Initially a database of Black musicians and producers – bearing the slogan: Everyday is a good day to support and buy from Black artists – the platform has since become a vital resource for the music industry. It’s linked to Bandcamp, of course, and provides users with shuffle and search functions to find music from Black artists across a full range of genres.

It’s been one year since the launch, and the team have recently announced they’re expanding: Black Bandcamp is now Black Artist Database (B.A.D.) and it’s exponentially grown. Widening its focus on artists, the database now comes with the new [pause] initiative, a mix series, a Patreon account, editorial output, and includes profiles on Black creatives working across a spectrum of media roles.

Co-founder Niks Delanancy – who also DJs as NIKS and can be regularly found on the airwaves via stations such as Noods – meets me over a Zoom call. We dive into how the platform started, what it now encompasses, its mission and how it’s changed the music industry.

NIKS © Courtesy of B.A.D.

How did Black Bandcamp first come about?

It was launched, I believe, on the fourth of June. Myself and a few friends thought, what can we do to contribute and do our bit? Beyond donating to charities, there are actually tangible things that can be done to create change. This doesn’t mean overnight, it means creating natural, structural change within an industry where there isn’t any sort of framework. If you look at the electronic industry, there is zero accountability, or any sort of structure in place for people to address issues like racism or homophobia.

So we created the Google Sheet. We started with 30 Black producers on there – like Jeff Mills, Afrodeutsch – this was UK time, night time. [We] posted on our socials and then the next morning there were 400 names on the sheet. I was like, OK, this is called momentum which I didn’t expect. It wasn’t even just the UK, there were people being added in Africa and Australasia. At one point, [the spreadsheet] locked everyone out, including ourselves, so we had to wait until 1am to lock everyone else out and just give access rights to me.

A handful of friends went through them; we were voluntarily doing that. The next month Bandcamp were donating Bandcamp Friday to NAACP, and there was also the Juneteenth. That’s when I reached out to a couple of friends who are developers. The next morning, we had the website. Since then it’s grown. Now we’ve got 3,500 Black-owned labels, producers, artists and bands. It’s an industry-wide thing that everyone should take pride in.

© Thomas Murray

When did you decide to rebrand as Black Artist Database and what led you to that decision?

We got to this year where we were like, we need to go to phase two because everyone knows we exist, but we need to extend beyond just existing. How do we maintain that engagement with our users online? We’ve rebranded, we’ve gotten a new name, we’ve got a new website, we’ve got a new creative database which you can sign yourself up to. And then there’s a lot more things that are going to be coming out over the next few months.

What are some of the new features and why did you feel it was important to add them in?

We were getting a lot of emails from publications saying, “Do you know a Black writer who knows about this particular genre from the 90s? Or do you have Black journalists who would feel comfortable talking about the early years of UK funky?” That was off the back of them wanting to do editorial pieces which were focused on Blackness, and that was them reactively responding to what was happening. There’s all these publications that want to write about Black trauma – which is something I take issue with – or Blackness in these short bursts of Black History Month or the Black Lives Matter movement. And then that’s it. That’s the end. On the flip side, [there were] writers who had reached out to us being like, “I’m being asked a lot by x publication to write for them. Well, I don’t know if I feel comfortable. I’m obviously going to say yes because I need money – everyone has to pay the bills – but I don’t feel comfortable just being asked to write about a Black thing, and then leaving.” So with that, we’ve created a Black artist database where you have a list of writers, journalists, editors, graphic designers – and their profiles are there.

baby k © Courtesy of B.A.D.

That removes reaching out to us; now you can go directly to a streamlined database. Hopefully conversations will shift from, “Can you write about this? This is our fee” to “Do you have a portfolio we can look through? What do you charge?” When people are put in positions of power, people treat them as if they are powerful. So if we amplify these Black creatives and put them at the forefront, then those publications that come to them aren’t going to be dictating the fee or aren’t going to dictate what they write about. It will be the other way around and hopefully what will happen is that there’ll be long-term contracts whereby Black creatives aren’t just being asked to write about Black trauma, but they can write about whatever they want.

There’s a couple more search functionality features that are being implemented for a couple of weeks, to expand on the music discovery process. And if anyone hasn’t used the random shuffle, it’s great. I use it once a week.

Can you walk me through the new [pause] initiative?

[pause] is a framework which essentially looks to help platforms, publications and brands in the music industry work towards a more equitable workplace. That’s a very broad objective in that it means something different to each person. Is it: how do we hire more Black staff? Is it: how do we ensure that we’ve got more Black artists and more genres of Black origin on our music streaming services? For larger brands, it could mean: do we have enough Black people in leadership and decision making [positions]? Which means that when we do things such as brand partnerships, we’re doing it more consciously with more Black or queer collectivism platforms.

KMRU © Courtesy of B.A.D.

For a lot of companies and brands, their objectives and goals for the next 12 to 24 months have changed a lot. A lot of the industry isn’t equipped with the tools and mechanisms to do that, which is the unfortunate truth. How can a Black writer truly flourish in an environment? To talk about, reach out to people and write about topics that they really want to write about in an environment that they might feel concerned, or nervous about? That’s what [pause] is and we’ve got a lovely team of experts – people that have been in the industry for two, three decades. Black people, of course, who have a lot of experience in this area.

It’s very much a collaborative initiative in that it’s a two-way thing where we work with you. Last year there was a lot of cancelling and calling out, purity testing – holding people accountable. But I think cancelling isn’t necessarily the right way because you can’t actually cancel something or someone unless they are already at a level where they can be cancelled, but because they are that level they will never be cancelled! Cancelling is very abstract. It’s not real. It’s an idea that people like to think is true to make themselves feel like they’ve done something, but you haven’t actually because when a company liquidates or dissolves, they’ve not been held accountable. What [pause] does is work collaboratively to resolve them, and then implement tools and mechanisms for the next 3, 4, 5 years. Because remember, it takes a long time to actually implement change and see the outcome.

Christine Kakaire © Courtesy of B.A.D.

“It's crazy to think that, as a producer, you've maintained yourself in a world that hasn't been there to serve you at all”

T-N © Courtesy of B.A.D.

Can you tell me more about your team? At the beginning, Black Bandcamp ran on volunteers. How has your team changed over the course of the past year?

It’s definitely expanded. I’d say there’s about 20 core team members, and about 15 volunteers. It’s growing so rapidly, but it’s been great because it means we’ve got representation. Representation is really important to ensure that we’re as many different communities as possible. That’s not to say that we represent every corner of the globe where Black producers are present, because that’s not the truth, but we’re committed to doing so. It’s so interesting because we work in so many different time zones: Africa and within Europe. Our team in Australia is nine hours ahead of us; America, they’re minus eight hours. It’s been really fun.

The volunteering element is people who reach out to us and, on a rolling basis, want to support in any capacity that they want – whether that’s administering submissions, the backend element of the website. We have a functional team, but we very much still do have volunteers who commit a lot of time and support.

You’ve also launched a new mix series. Can you tell me more about that?

That’s going to be done on a monthly basis, we’ve already got the first four lined up. It’s on a cycle of four different continents, and we cover the spectrum of your more blockbuster DJs – one of the founding fathers of the Detroit techno scene. The next two aren’t your blockbuster DJs but they’re producing DJs that people know. And then you have your more beginner DJ starting up their career. So we do have a process behind showcasing and shining a light on the variation of DJs out there, whether that’s in terms of the sound, the region they represent or where they’re at in their career.

“This first step in creating an infrastructure, where there's Black ownership, will open up a lot of opportunity for other Black creatives and artists”

Whose music have you recently found via Black Artist Database? Someone we should be paying attention to?

So I ran shuffle and the first person I got was a musician from the Democratic Republic of Congo. His name was Santana Mongoley – not electronic. It’s very much a rumba, soukous, jazz kind of vibe.

Are you able to track how many people access the site and then continue on to work with Black creatives?

A piece of content we’ve got is an infographic which shows all kinds of stats and figures. Pageviews, what the journey looks like, where people are visiting – we capture all of that. Because it’s also integrated into Bandcamp, they created an invisible tag on their end, so they also track the journey and we track the journey. We capture figures like what countries people are viewing from, the gender split, how long you visit the site for if you’re returning. It’s endless.

Are there any interesting bits of information you can highlight?

People between June and August who visited Bandcamp via our website stayed on the website for two and a half minutes longer than they do if they go straight onto Bandcamp. To me, that’s testament to expanding on that kind of music discovery process. You’re consciously going on the website, you’re putting more time into listening to music and discovering more artists.

It goes to show your engagement rate has been high.

It’s very high. On average, people spend five minutes and 11 seconds, which doesn’t sound long, but it’s really long. If I go watch a film on Amazon, I know what I want to watch; I go watch it, and then I go off it. Whereas with this kind of process, it’s much more conscious and meaningful. There’s more of a rounded journey, as opposed to going on Bandcamp just to quickly add to your basket.

There are other moving parts too, such as the launch of your Patreon account. What else have you got coming up?

With the Patreon, that’s a combination of supporting a brand new platform and initiative, and also having early exclusive access to this print series that we’ve got, which is honestly so good. We’ve also got a referral code that we’ve done with Mixcloud. With that, you get three months free. That’s to encourage as many Black creatives out there to create, for free.

Shiba Melissa Mazaza © Courtesy of B.A.D.

It’s been a year since you launched Black Bandcamp. What effect has it had on the music industry and its lack of framework?

Now we’ve got a system and a database, there’s no excuse. As it’s picked up such great momentum, it’d be interesting to observe the line-ups that have come out and actually hold people accountable. You’d be missing a great opportunity, and you’d be silly to not keep up with the times and the changes going on in an industry that you sell tickets and make money from. You’d be daft to not keep up with everyone’s discourse. Not to say that Black people are a trend, but there’s a movement that’s happening and if you’re not part of it, then no one’s going to accept what you’re doing.

One of my big things is ownership. Even just this first step in creating an infrastructure, where there’s Black ownership, will open up a lot of opportunity for other Black creatives and artists.

Have you had feedback from Black artists and creatives on how the platform has benefitted them?

A lot of feedback I’ve had from Black artists, producers and creatives is the confidence that they’ve had in being able to speak openly and express themselves as a creative without thinking about backlash. Now we’ve got a structure and system in place which is to amplify Black folk, giving Black people the confidence to amplify themselves as individuals. There’s so much power in, as a producer, being confident to shout about what you want to shout about without being worried when there’s a system to back you. Now, we’re only one system, but think before us. There wasn’t any; all the publications and music streaming services that we can think of are white-owned. So it’s crazy to think that, as a producer, you’ve maintained yourself in a world that hasn’t been there to serve you at all, in any way, shape or form; not there to support your back, to amplify what you’re doing, to put you at the forefront. And now we’re in a position where that’s changing.

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