Activist Spotlight: “Color of Music Collective” amplifies BIPOC and LGBTQ voices in the music industry
Free panels, networking, job opportunities for aspiring music executives
At the start of the Color of Music Collective’s panel “Word of Mouth: The Power of Digital Marketing + Promotion Confirmation,” founder and American University alumna Mia Van Allen asked an important question.
“Digital marketing campaigns can be great ways to display solidarity for social change movements to large audiences,” Van Allen said. “As a marketing professional, how do you ensure that your campaigns and marketing strategies are inclusive, diverse and impactful?”
It’s a question that professionals across the country are asking, but one that Van Allen feels is especially pressing in the music industry, which is why she created the Color of Music Collective (COMC) to amplify the voices of people of color and LGBTQ individuals in the music industry.
As a Black student, Van Allen said that she noticed a lack of representation in the music industry through her studies as a public relations major and business and entertainment minor. At her various internships, Van Allen said that she was often the only person or woman of color in the workspace.
“I dealt with imposter syndrome, and my way of dealing with that was networking with people of color … and getting their guidance throughout college,” Van Allen said. “It created this sort of mentorship program for myself and I was able to maintain those relationships.”
The connections that Van Allen made at AU gave her the idea to create the COMC. She first went to Emily Yankana, a friend and fellow graduate from AU, to flesh out the idea.
Yankana, who is Filipino and West Indian, said she was also troubled by the lack of representation of people of color and LGBTQ individuals at predominantly white institutions like AU and in the music industry.
Yankana, who graduated with a public relations degree in 2019, is determined to transfer her skills to advocate for underrepresented communities in the public relations field. She said that one way she can do that is through volunteering on COMC’s social media team.
Van Allen said that Yankana was the one who thought of making a collective of BIPOC and LGBTQ individuals in the music industry through virtual networking. The pair worked on COMC’s brand and name, and Yankana used her background in marketing and advocacy to help bring Van Allen’s ideas to life.
The collective launched in June with a free virtual networking panel featuring LGBTQ and BIPOC human resources representatives from different companies. After its first panel, Van Allen said its email inboxes and direct messages were filled with hopeful volunteers.
“That whole collaboration part is what makes us really special and what makes our community really special,” Yankana said. “I’m always so ecstatic when we add someone new to the team because it just means that I get to watch them grow and mold them into fitting whatever goals they have to achieve.”
Hana Braverman, a 2020 AU alumna who studied business entertainment with concentrations in music and information technology, said that she joined COMC as a community outreach volunteer because of her interest in the music industry and her own experiences feeling underrepresented.
As someone who identifies as half-Korean and as part of the LGBTQ community, Braverman said it was rare to see someone “like her” in the industry. She emphasized that, in the music industry, there is “blatant racism and misogyny.”
“If you are a marginalized voice and you want to work in the industry, it’s so hard to just cold call or apply online,” Braverman said. “This is a really great way to network and meet people and learn about what to expect and what to know.”
As a community outreach director, Braverman and other volunteers brainstorm panel ideas and research potential panelists to bring into the event. Van Allen said that its panels have hit capacity nearly every time.
“I like to keep it as diverse as possible — ideally different races and different sexualities and genders each time,” Van Allen said, in reference to the panelists.
While the panels give participants an opportunity to ask questions and listen to BIPOC and LGBTQ voices inside of the industry, the volunteers reap the benefits as well.
“Mia, and the whole group, [are] really keen on making sure these people that are volunteering are making those connections because we’re the ones that are really interested in working, and obviously volunteering,” Braverman said.
Aside from panels, COMC hosts BIPOC and LGBTQ writers on its blog and provides a comprehensive job board with both paid and unpaid internships and part-time and full-time jobs.
“Essentially the job board is for employers and organizations to reach out to us,” Yankana said. “This is sort of us trying our hand at coordinating that process and extending new opportunities to not just our volunteers, but the wider audience in itself.”
On Aug. 14, the organization hosted “The Listening Room,” a virtual concert featuring BIPOC and LGBTQ artists and the band BAILEN as a headliner. The group raised over $200 for Arts Administrators of Color.
Van Allen and the COMC have big plans lined up. In addition to regular panels, Van Allen has started teaching seminars at universities like New York University about racial discrimination in the music industry.
Van Allen and her team are determined to use their growing platform to create a more accessible entry to the music industry for underrepresented communities. Although they’ve already made a difference to their volunteers and audience members, Yankana said that the collective’s work is a “continuous process” to figure out how to best amplify those voices.
“It’s a tough industry and people won’t tell you secrets,” Braverman said. “But it’s nice having people who are like, ‘I understand your struggle and let’s do this together so we can see the industry in a new way.’”