Meet The Campaigners: ESEA Music

Meet The Campaigners is a series where campaigners in the music industry tell us about their organisations, what changes they are trying to make and what they are currently working on.

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Meet The Campaigners is a series where campaigners in the music industry tell us about their organisations, what changes they are trying to make and what they are currently working on. Here, Lisa Young In, ESEA Music Core Team Member,  member of the UK Music Diversity Taskforce, and Head of Digital at TaP Music talks about the work the community has been doing. 

ESEA Music is a community for East Asian and South East Asian music artists and music industry professionals based in the UK.

The collective was founded in 2021 by artist managers Tiger Hagino Reid and Hiroki Shirasuka in the wake of – and as a direct response to – the ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Stop Asian Hate’ movements, which eventually also led to the discovery of a stark underrepresentation of the ESEA community in the music industry and the arts in general. 

ESEA Music member Dorothy Hui from Sony Music UK in conversation with Grace Lee from Asian American Collective. Photo by Koto Shimada.

A full list of countries that make up East and South East Asia can be found here

Fast forward to 2023, ESEA Music now has over 300 members, including artists of diverse genres such as Rina Sawayama, Congee, Yunè Pinku, Lucy Tun, Lucinda Chua, Andrew Hung (ex-Fuck Buttons), Emmy The Great, Flora Yin Wong, LVRA, Eva Liu (Mui Zyu / Dama Scout), Matt Tong (Algiers / ex-Bloc Party), Miso Extra, Sarah Bonito (Kero Kero Bonito), and Taigen Kawabe (Bo Ningen).

The skillsets of ESEA music industry professionals span marketing, PR, artist management, legal, publishing, DSP partnerships, graphic design, social/digital, and A&R at companies including Spotify, Sony, Apple Music, Universal, Warner Music, TikTok, BBC, PIAS, Beggars Group, 4AD, AEG, AWAL, Bella Union, BMG, CAA, Nettwerk Music Group, Ninja Tune, PC Music, TaP Music, Eastern Margins, RCA, Rough Trade,, Warp Records, and many more.

Various sub-groups are focusing on raising the profile of the community and creating better representation, i.e. by organising events, identifying funding and partnership opportunities, managing digital channels and marketing, and running a dedicated mentorship programme where senior executives are offering advice to the next generation of ESEA artists and professionals.

The ESEA Music community at the last meet-up at Sony Music UK HQ. Photo by Koto Shimada.

Recent successes include obtaining valuable funding from WeTransfer’s The Supporting Act Fund, setting up a whole series of events during ESEA Heritage Month 2022, hosting two songwriting camps, organising a canal cruise at Amsterdam Dance Event and panels/meet-ups at the Spotify and Sony Music offices, as well as securing a multi-page spread in Basement Approved, a Foundation.FM radio takeover, and features in various podcasts, blogs, and magazines.

Members of ESEA Music are also currently working on a dedicated diversity survey to highlight the individual experiences and challenges within the ESEA community to the wider UK music industry.

Whilst the organisation has already managed to establish a sizable following, there is still a lot of work to be done.

PYRA headlines Spotify x ESEA Music showcase at The Sebright Arms, London. Photo by Milo Van Giap.

As the UK Music Diversity Report 2022 revealed, there has actually been a decrease in the total number of employees from ethnically diverse communities compared to 2020. Just over one fifth (21%) of individuals working in music identify as Black, Asian or from an ethnically diverse background; down from 22.3%. In addition, the number of Black, Asian and diverse ethnicity employees in entry-level positions fell from 34.6% in 2020 to 23.6%. 

ESEA Music founders Hiroki Shirasuka (left) and Tiger Hagino Reid (right) with ‘Don’t Call Me Exotic’ podcast host Annie Oh.

Another problem that the ESEA community faces is that too often they are being “othered” in those reports. In all common surveys there are various tick boxes for people from South Asian background, but no categories for people of ESEA descent other than “Chinese” and “Asian – other.” This – plus the fact that a lot of people in the UK automatically associate the word “Asian” with people from South Asian descent – makes it a lot more difficult to properly account for stats from the ESEA community and highlights the need for own research which will hopefully deliver much needed answers leading to wider action points.

Scenes at the ESEA Heritage Month writing camp in 2022 at Urchin Studios in Hackney, London. Photo by Darren Tsang.

To ensure that ESEA Music will continue to play an active part in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) efforts in the music industry, one of its core members, I joined the UK Music Diversity Taskforce. 

It’s been a big passion and mission of mine to try and facilitate positive change in the music industry and work towards a more diverse workforce and better representation for ethnic minorities – not just in entry level positions, but also in senior management and company boards. 

It’s great to find more and more people of East Asian and South East Asian descent at industry events and in boardrooms (something that I didn’t see when I started out), but we need to make sure that these professionals can progress in their career, are not being tokenised, and receive the support they need as members of a minority community. Also, discrimination against the ESEA diaspora keeps happening and it’s not being talked about enough. So I really hope that as part of the taskforce I can do my bit to stand up for our community.

As someone who was born in South Korea, but grew up in a western country like Germany and with white parents, I myself had a lot of work and unlearning to do to acknowledge and embrace my East Asian identity. And ESEA Music helped me so much with that, so I really want to give back to the community and fight our corner on a bigger scale.

ESEA Music member Lisa Young In from TaP Music is a part of the UK Music Diversity Taskforce.
Photo by Milo Van Giap for The Basement Magazine.

The organisation has exciting plans for ESEA Heritage Month in September, which will be revealed soon. They are also working on establishing closer bonds with other collectives around marginalised communities in music, such as Black Music Collective, Asian American Collective, and, and are looking to secure more speaking opportunities for ESEA music professionals.

Another ongoing goal – which I touched on earlier – is to regularly call out incidents of discrimination against the ESEA community, with the hope to provide awareness and education, establish accountability, and gain important allies and spokespeople all over the UK entertainment industry.

Find out more about ESEA Music here

New members can join here.

Find out more about UK Music’s diversity work here

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