Accountability in the Music Scene

Written by Julieta Vega

Content warning for mentions of rape, sexual assault, abuse.

Accountability is something we are taught at a young age. If we cheat on a test, we are asked to admit our wrongdoings, receive punishment, and learn from our mistakes after thorough reflection.

However, that doesn't always work. Sometimes the punishment fails to teach a lesson, or worse, no punishment is given at all.

Some even become trapped in a cycle of repeating the same mistakes over and over because they never learned how to take accountability. Lately, we have been witnessing the ramifications of these failures in a space that was supposed to be safe for all; the music industry.

First, let's break down what accountability means. Accountability, defined by Merriam Webster, is “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.”

In other words, accountability is owning up to your mistakes, not denying or shying away from them. While the definition seems pretty straight-forward, it doesn’t tell you how to take accountability.

That’s where the problem starts. If one is not taught how to take accountability, they would only admit their wrongdoings and move on with no action taken - a cycle that never ends. It's no secret that this cycle must be stopped. 

When the news broke out about Chicago pop-punk band, Sleep On It, allowing a rapist on their tour, fans were outraged. How could Sleep On It praise having a safe scene, yet allow an abuser on their tour?

Of course, fans wanted Sleep On It to speak out and take accountability for their actions. To say the band disappointed their supporters is an understatement.

Sleep On It willingly repeated the cycle of what many bands or artists do in the music scene: post a dreaded "notes app apology." There was no recognition of the harm they did, not only to their fans, but to the victim themselves.

This apology then opened the floodgates for many of Sleep On It's victims to share their experiences about each member of the band. Stories of manipulation, abuse, and cheating were being told all over social media.

Slowly, Sleep On It started to burn at both ends. In the midst of all of this, I looked at the mess and asked myself a question: If Sleep On It took the right steps in taking accountability, would they have saved themselves from this?

In trying to find an answer, I found myself asking more questions. What is the right way to take accountability?

Will everyone their apology if they do so properly? Or is there more than what meets the eye?

With that, I broke down how accountability should be taken and how it should not be taken. I conducted a survey and one of the questions I asked was to describe accountability.

Everyone defined accountability among the same lines of “taking responsibility,” “admitting wrongdoings,” and “understanding the actions you’ve done to others.” However, according to too many members of the alternative music scene, accountability is seen as writing a tactful and worthless apology and moving on.

Once you scratch the surface, these apologies are artists or bands making excuses, blaming others, and announcing a social media break. Oftentimes, they use language like "We’re sorry we offended you" or "We had no idea."

This language makes them seem more like the victim rather than the offender, as playing the victim seems easier rather than owning up to any wrongdoings. Appropriate behavior that should be shown is acknowledging mistakes, finding solutions on how to improve, and making the effort to change.

These behaviors can be shown by helping the community they harmed, speaking directly to the victim(s), and/or getting professional help. “What if I don’t think they put in the effort to change?”

Good question. To start, not everyone’s apology will be accepted.

What’s important to understand is who the apology is directed towards. Is it directed to victims? A community?

From there, we see if the apology addresses the people or person they harmed. Lastly, we listen to the ones they harmed.

Hearing their voices is understanding that they matter in this situation and ignoring them won’t achieve any accountability. Lastly, after listening to those affected, things can get tricky.

One side may accept forgiveness and move on, while the other side may understandably not accept it. There are also those who simply do not care and those who actively support the bands while aware of their misdoings.

“Well, which side should I go on?” Personally, I can’t choose for you. However, if you feel passionate about artists and bands taking accountability, then the choice is merely the first step.

Accountability doesn’t just mean individuals changing for the better but also changing to make the scene safer. In the survey, I asked concertgoers if they felt safe going to concerts after numerous musical acts being outed as abusers.

Over 50% agreed that they don’t feel safe attending while the other percentage had mixed feelings. Most of these responses come from fans who are underage, fans who just want to enjoy concerts just like the next person.

Musical acts allowing abusers while in the presence of their fans, especially minors, is dangerous. Accountability isn’t just calling yourself out and getting professional help but also protecting those from future trauma.

For musical acts particularly, if you witness abusive behavior, call it out. Speaking against abuse towards other groups yet not your own is hypocritical.

Starting with yourself and others around you is crucial for taking accountability. Be the promise and change you desire. 

Earlier, I mentioned a cycle that occurs in the music scene- especially when taking accountability. The cycle usually looks like this: 

The most important section of this cycle is the long break, also known as the social media break. Musical acts often abuse this part of accountability.

They understand that after an apology comes responsibility, thus they use the "break" to get the help they need. They hide.

When the band comes back, there’s an announcement of either a tour, new album, or even new merch as if they have moved on from the situation and are back to promoting their goods. What progress has been made?

What has the band done in order to improve from their behavior?

Claiming you’ve become a better person during this break, yet still abusing your power behind your sympathetic tweets is not changing. I’m not saying you should describe every detail of your journey, but your actions after your apology must demonstrate growth.

I can understand that doing music might be their only source of income but to promote goods after being accused of a heinous act isn’t helping them achieve accountability. If anything, it’s showing they only care about the money rather than the victims they leave behind as they profit. 

To take a step back, we also have to look at another crucial section of the cycle: the silence. Some groups or members don’t respond at all to avoid "cancellation" or legal troubles.

Oftentimes, larger groups may be advised to not speak and already have a lawyer representing them. But smaller independent groups don’t usually have that privilege, hence they stay silent.

For what though? To avoid having Twitter threads being made of them?

Nonetheless, staying silent doesn’t help them or the situation at all. To be frank, staying silent will only lose respect from fans and outsiders.

Again, many will say that bands are afraid to speak out because their apology might be perceived wrong by their audience. Consider this: do you think the victims were afraid to speak out?

The consequences they receive are harsher than what the band will ever go through. Yes, they will lose their income, support, and anything in between but the victims? Everything is on the line.

Day after day, victims are speaking up against the abuse they went to, and their abuse is being perceived as a joke through retweets and replies. Imagine what is going on behind the tweets. To quote Twenty One Pilots, “Sometimes quiet is violent.” 

In conclusion, the music scene needs to do better. The fact that we have to tell a 30-year-old not to abuse their power in the scene is ridiculous.

These ‘adults’ have been here longer than us yet they can’t admit to their wrongdoings. Accountability isn’t something you accomplish in under a month.

Accountability takes time. This doesn’t mean to quit music for a year but it means to acknowledge your behavior and make progress over the next few months.

Again, not everyone’s accountability journey is the same. As I mentioned before about Sleep On It, they announced their break up this past week.

They apologized to the victim, recognized that the scene will not be safe with them in it, and two members will be receiving professional help. Sleep On It did follow accountability only after seeing the backlash of their first apology.

However, accountability won’t be completed until growth is shown. Quitting could be seen as an easy way out but it is another solution to protect the scene.

Even with Sleep On It leaving the scene, we still have more ground to cover. This isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s going to take a village in order to receive change. 

As a fan, let us talk. We put our trust and loyalty into these groups and to not receive it back is painful.

Personally, telling them to speak up isn’t our job. They’re the ones that abused their power, they don’t need us to tell them what to do.

However, we will tell them how they can do better. As fans, we’re here to give them criticism, even if it’s harsh; that’s part of being a fan.

If the artists and bands don’t want to listen to us, that’s their doing. We can’t magically make them agree with us.

Some will stay hard-headed and continue to act like nothing's wrong. It should be noted, to the artists/bands that want to make a change, read this article.

Share it with your bandmates, managers, touring pals, or even bands you tour with. Below, I’ll be sharing resources on how to hold others (and yourself!) accountable, support victims, and organizations to look into.

However, as a person in power, don’t rely on others for resources. The options are limitless. Accountability is possible.

Eric, a concertgoer I spoke with, stated “There hasn’t been a successful artist who has made mistakes and accomplished successful accountability.” Let’s change that.

I hope artists and bands read this and understand that accountability is possible if they do it correctly. Understanding where you failed and how you will improve is key.

Again, below I’ll be listing resources that will not only benefit musical acts but also fans. If you enjoyed this article, share it with your friends, friends in bands, or on social media!

A special thank you to F. Williams for providing the cover! Check out his work here

An appropriate quote that, I believe, ends this article perfectly; by Toni Morrison: “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” Let us fans write and edit a new novel of responsibility.

Resources + Readings

Now & Then: Toxic Masculinity in Music Culture and DIY Spaces

8 Ways You Can Support A Victim of Violence

Accountability Can Feel Like An Attack -- Calling Out Predators And Calling Forth Community Action

Wait, am I cancelled? But I’m an ally...What to do when you get “called out” [Instagram]

Your friend is accused of causing harm: What to do and what NOT to do [Instagram]

You did something problematic, what now? [Instagram]

Survivor/Victim Resources made by Safety In The Scene

Hold Yourself Accountable and Never Be Held Back [Youtube]