In a brand-new editorial series, the Recording Academy has asked its membership to reflect on their their career journey, the current state of the music industry and what we can do to collectively and positively move forward in the current social climate. Below, entertainment attorney and Atlanta chapter governor Shay Lawson shares her open letter with GRAMMY.com readers.
I’m honestly exhausted with how often I’ve sobbed ugly breathless tears seeing images of people who look like me, my brother, my father, my husband on TV being murdered in cold blood as if this is a video game or blockbuster film instead of a real life lost, real carnage in the streets, a real atrocity that is too gruesome to be televised.
The intersectionalities of being Black, being a woman, being an entertainment attorney and holding these identities along with my responsibilities as a member of the legal system and advocate within the music community leave me simultaneously exhausted and inspired.
I’m exhausted with the energy spent pointing fingers and shifting blame that could be used to improve broken systems (including those within the music industry), create access, and nurture the next generation.
I’m exhausted with an election media cycle using American lives as pawns in a game amid a global pandemic, leaving the public with little to no real hope or guidance in one of the harshest economic realities we’ve faced in years.
I’m exhausted with all the performative outcry and allyship, only to go back to business in the following weeks with no real work being done, no real change being sparked, no real shift in the internal barometer of how we engage with each other on a day to day basis both personally and professionally.
However, I’m most exhausted with the internal dialogue I have with myself daily on what role I play in all of this and what impact my daily actions and inactions have on the world around me.
In the midst of the comfort and complacency of a less chaotic world we had the luxury to conveniently and selectively ignore the enormous impact we have in the music industry. We love to highlight our impact when we sway locked arms to sing "We Are the World" but somehow have turned a blind eye to "industry standards" that lock music creators into unfair deals for decades and drive profits to mega conglomerates while music creators struggle to make ends meet or have adequate health care, and systematically exclude women, POC and the LGBTQx communities from executive levels and real power.
But the clock is running out on that era. That is what 2020 has shown me and that is what keeps me inspired.
I am inspired by the bravery of Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas in leading the rallying cry that "The Show Must Be Paused" for us to start to do the work of creating equality in the music industry and in the world around us.
I am inspired by the work of Binta Brown, Jeffrey Azoff, Profit, and the Music Industry Coalition that is putting the funding and manpower in place nationwide to address racism, engage and mobilize young people to vote, and to enact laws that promote social justice.
I am inspired by artists like Offset and how he is using his platform to encourage former felons with restored voting rights to re-engage with the political process, to provide resources for underserved youth to be introduced to STEM through entertainment, to leverage relationships to fundraise for local communities devastated by the pandemic.
However, I am most inspired by seeing the growth and commitment to real impact in the organizations, communities and clients I serve. As a member of the Recording Academy, I can’t describe how the last four years have felt to advocate for legislation like the Music Modernization Act that has directly and immediately began positively impacting music creators. To see the shift in national advocacy conversations to include communities and equality. To be able to host Financial Wellness Open Mic sessions on a local level to give members firsthand access to government grants and resources to survive and thrive in the pandemic. As an attorney to advocate for my clients’ true value in the face of "industry standards," leverage them in positions of ownership and influence, and legally protect the legacy they are building through their works of art and works of the heart. As a regular person at the end of the day taking the opportunity to lean even harder into my humanity and be able to do so alongside my industry peers to have the hard conversations and come up with viable solutions and plans.
So maybe it’s not exhaustion that I feel. Maybe it is a fire that has been stoked inside of me. A fire built up by the disruption to my comfortable complacency when the world was a less chaotic place. A fire built up by the rallying cry put out, and answered by a music industry ready to move mountains. No more water, no more tears, maybe this time its fire to light the path to the best version of ourselves yet.
-Until the next time,
Shay M. Lawson Esq
Recording Academy Member since 2016
Governor — Atlanta Chapter
Atlanta Chapter Co-Chair Advocacy & Co-Chair Diversity