Meet the Color of Music Collective, an organization with the mission of amplifying the voices of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ individuals working in the music industry. Founded by Mia Van Allen and Marcella Desharnais, the organization is paving the path for public discussion and promotion of underrepresented communities within the music industry. Let’s just say they’re working towards reshaping the narrative of leadership and success within the overall industry. While there is a long way to go, organizations such as Color of Music Collective show the importance of highlighting stories often untold and making a serious change and impact for the next generation of artists and industry leaders.
Tell us a little bit about the Color of Music Collective.
(MIA) My name is Mia Van Allen and I am the Founder of the Color of Music Collective (COMC). Starting at the age of 18, I began my career in the music industry by managing a band in my hometown of Chicago. I was so fortunate to have gotten my foot in the door at such a young age, but I didn’t realize until later in my career the lack of diversity in the music industry. Outside of managing a band and being a full-time college student, I was lucky to be able to intern in offices from London to New York City. Even after working in some of the world’s largest cities when it comes to music, I was still always the only person of color in the room. I really wanted to create a space and community where different communities could connect and collaborate.
(MARCELLA) My name is Marcella, my pronouns are she/they, and I’m the Executive Director of the Color of Music Collective. I’m also currently working in the Release Planning department at Sony Music, managing two upcoming artists, and freelance consulting with other non-profit organizations. I grew up a performing saxophonist and always knew music was my passion. My first experience in the music business was interning with Universal Music Group’s Advanced Media department in college, and from then on I was determined to carve my own path in the industry. As a queer woman, I always felt the pressure of adhering to gender norms, to dress more feminine for interviews, and to keep my sexuality to myself. I wanted to do my part to advocate for my community, and I’m grateful to COMC for giving me the opportunity to support both the LGBTQIA+ community as well as BIPOC in music.
Why was the Color of Music Collective formed?
(MIA) At one of my previous internships, I was able to meet my now, Co-founder and close friend, Carla Hendershot. Carla is a member of the LBGTQ+ community and is also a first generation. We both really connected because we’re both for communities that are always looking from the “outside-in.” After the internship, we stayed in touch and always discussed wishing there was a community like what COMC is today. When I graduated from American University and the job market was at its worst due to COVID-19, I thought now would be the perfect time to start Color of Music Collective!
Fast forward to almost a year, COMC has grown to now having a blog, countless free and virtual networking panels that feature all BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ music executives, a mentorship program, a Clubhouse, and a soon to be masterclass series. I’m amazed by how fast COMC is growing but it really shows the importance of a space like this and how it was needed years ago.
What are some initiatives you’ve launched in the past few months we should know about?
(MARCELLA) 2021 has definitely begun as a year of growth for us already. Towards the end of last year, we wrapped up our first ever mentorship program where we matched 30 of our volunteers with 30 industry professionals who helped them learn about a music business niche of their choice (marketing, A&R, etc.). We’re currently working out the logistics of our next mentorship cohort and are really excited to give back to so many of our dedicated volunteers. We’ve also launched into themed partnerships. We were fortunate enough to partner with Def Jam for some incredible Black History Month programming and look forward to how we can bring more labels/music companies into these important conversations. We’ve also launched our official Clubhouse room, so you can join us there for some great discussions as well!
You’ve hosted a number of panels covering a range of topics as they relate to intersectionality and representation. Why is it important to you to change the narrative of leadership and success in the music industry?
(MIA) Thanks for that question. Our main goal at COMC is to elevate and amplify the voices of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ people in the music industry. Most of our members and viewers are younger people who are just coming to the industry from finishing school or from early in their careers.
I know from my own experience that it is rare to see certain types of people at the middle and upper levels in the music business. What I mean is that the most likely place to see Black people, first-generation people, LGBTQ+ folk, Indigenous people—are in entry level positions, or not at all. I was nearly always the only Black intern at an office. I was sometimes the only Black person inside the entire office. I know what it feels like to have a great idea, and a plan to execute it, that my boss loves, while at the same time not being able to “fit in” with the lunch plans of the white interns. I know what it feels when the “what is SHE doing here” looks are exchanged behind my back.
It is so important to change the way music industry leadership looks at issues of workplace inclusion, mentorship, professional development and promotion for people who have traditionally not been included at the top levels at companies. Young, diverse people think in ways that are creative and fresh. Young, diverse people are coming up with cutting-edge strategies all the time because they have their finger on the pulse of so many different strands of what is going on in society—at the same time. Their experiences are valuable.
In the end, for music companies, the inclusion, mentorship and promotion of under-represented people with intersectional experiences, ideas and strategies, will improve the productivity and success of companies as a whole.
(MARCELLA) The narrative of leadership and success in the music industry is not reflective of the culture that the industry claims. While that’s a simplistic way of putting it, what I mean is that, the music business thrives off of the art of POC, LGBTQIA+ folk, etc. So much of that music is derived from struggle, from culture, from the stories of folks who are not accurately represented in the ranks of the music industry. It’s frustrating, it’s unfair, and the least I can do to do my part is to help facilitate these important conversations. Right now, the music business is a connections business. It’s often about who you know, who will help you get your foot in the door, and the reality is that those connections are not as readily available to BIPOC, or folks who can’t afford higher education, or anyone who doesn’t have education-based access to learning more about the music industry. I wanted to do my part to break the gatekeeping of this business, and pave the way for everyone to have a more equal opportunity to pursue their passion in music.
What do you find happens when people come together on a platform to discuss change?
(MARCELLA) There is so much more power to something when it’s verbalized. When we host a panel, or a Clubhouse room, we are bringing industry executives to rising professionals and taking those steps towards less gatekeeping, and more equal accessibility. We’re pairing a passion for social good with powerful action items, and we find that ultimately, we have created a catalyst for change.
What recent discussions have you hosted that you feel attendees walked away with a new understanding?
(MIA) Recently, we hosted a panel about artist campaigns from nominations of 2021 Grammy artists. A lot of our audience members are relatively new to marketing and some are also independent artists. We constantly get asked questions ranging from how to stand out as an artist from any new marketing strategies young execs should look out for. People walked away with a new understanding of how to approach a new campaign, how to stand out in such a competitive industry, and really taking advantage of the age we’re in now when it comes to A&Rs seeking out new artists through quarantine blogs and TikTok.
(MARCELLA) We recently partnered with the Music Business Association to host a student-led roundtable. It was a discussion amongst some of the youngest game changers of the music business, diving into ways that they’ve spearheaded the music culture on campus and their advice to those trying to do the same. I know for me personally, this was a conversation that would’ve been crucial to me while I was attending college. I wanted to hear from other students who were making waves in the business, who were landing my dream internships, and who left college with job offers. We discussed everything from the importance of networking, how to make your creative portfolio standout, taking the initiative to launch your own student organization. It felt like an important conversation for our attendees who had the opportunity to ask their own questions directly to our panelists as well.
To learn more about your organization, where can people follow you?
You can follow us on all social media platforms @colorofmusiccollective. Follow us on Clubhouse as well that we just launched!