Sexual Misconduct And The Music Industry: The Burger Records Scandal

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Over the past few days, a series of allegations of sexual misconduct against Burger Records has, once again, highlighted the dark side of the music industry.

On 18 July, the Instagram account @lured_by_burger_records began ‘amplifying voices and supporting those who were victims of sexual predation by predators involved with Burger Records’. In a series of posts, the account details how minors were lured into back rooms, storage sheds and tour vans before being abused, creating what they describe as “a cesspool of trauma”. 

Following a growing amount of pressure, Burger Records first responded by announcing that they would rebrand as BRGR RECS. In their initial statement, the label apologised for “perpetuating a culture of toxic masculinity”. They stated that they would adopt a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to sexual misconduct in the future.

Among the changes would be the creation of an all-woman imprint named BRGRRRL. However, shortly after her appointment as interim president, Jessa Zapor-Gray said that she would be stepping down. She felt unable to achieve her “intended goals” within the role. Speaking to Pitchfork, co-founder Sean Bohrman declared that plans to rebrand would not materialise and that the record label was to close.

Though this has amassed a great deal of headlines, revelations like this are far from abnormal. It simply points towards a larger problem. In an industry dominated by men, the DIY music scene often fosters a culture where ‘boys will be boys’. It seems like each time allegations are publicly made, a conversation arises about what needs to change. Social media commentators and music critics condone the behaviour of the perpetrators and they are shunned. Temporarily. 

Given the issue is so pervasive within the industry, Michelle Thandekile, speaking about her own experiences of being a female music publicist, notes that “it’ll take a lot of work to dismantle” the structures in which they operate. Revealing how she was once raped whilst at work, Michelle recognises how, unfortunately, her experience is far from unique. You only have to look at interviews with male artists to see how this men’s club attitude prevails. For instance, back in 2013, in an interview with Vice, co-founder Lee Rickard was asked “How old was that girl you had sex with in my basement?” to which he replied “She was legal”. 

The first step in dismantling the misogyny ingrained in the music industry is to call out its toxicity. Being complicit is to promote these insidious behaviours. At the moment, it’s as if predators face little to no repercussions for their actions. Though Burger Records may have folded, and artists’ songs removed from streaming sites, there is nothing stopping them resigning or re-releasing their music. Just as Dr Luke has been able to stage a comeback, producing Doja Cat’s ‘Say So’ no less after allegations of sexual and emotional abuse by Kesha, the industry continues to give these men a voice. 

Simply put: apology statements and the unsigning of artists mean nothing if they are token gestures.

For an overhaul to be truly successful, victims must be listened to immediately. Whispers of sexual misconduct should not flow through dark corridors, but should be raised, and action taken. As Hayley Williams wrote on social media, by turning a blind eye to sexism, organisations create a virtuous cycle of abuse. Male musicians see the behaviour occur, either engage directly or become complicit, and then see no repercussions for the aforementioned behaviour. In turn, this keeps the wheels of the system turning. 

Organisations must do more to protect vulnerable individuals. Survivors of assault deserve to know that something similar will not happen to them, or others, again. Conversations may be tough, and change incremental, but the movement starts now.

Words by Lucy Robinson

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