UCLA women’s basketball alum Kacy Swain combating systemic racism in music industry
Kacy Swain is tired. It’s exhausting to her to watch protesters — people who look like her — still needing to demand equality after centuries of oppression. Then she sees the images of crowded streets, emboldened protesters and police officers replayed on the news and on social media feeds. It’s the same messages from years past.
“It feels like a lifetime, a generation of frustration just boiling to the top,” the former UCLA women’s basketball player said.
Swain is ready to put her frustration into action.
Four years after graduating from UCLA, Swain is working to fight systemic racism in her corner of the music industry at Blue Elan Records, an independent record label based in Westwood. Swain was promoted June 12 as the company’s first chief social initiative officer, a role created in light of the Black Lives Matter protests. She will lead Blue Elan’s efforts to diversify everything about its practices from the artists the label signs to the people who provide its office supplies.
The change is well overdue, co-founder Kirk Pasich said.
“I was probably one of those people who thought it was OK to be nonracist as opposed to being antiracist,” said Pasich, an attorney who founded Blue Elan records in 2014 with his son Connor. “We’ve kind of straddled that historically as a label: being antiracist and nonracist. But now we’re going to be aggressively antiracist.”
The two U.S. teams would have more leverage together, especially with the threat of a double-barreled work stoppage heading into 2022.
Swain, 26, is responsible for overseeing and implementing policies that support the label’s commitment to equal rights. The Blue Elan staff is already racially diverse, Swain said, so with co-workers who are Black, Asian and Latino, she was met with enthusiasm in her new role. The chief operating officer and chief business officer are also women, and Swain now joins them at the executive level.
Blue Elan’s roster covers a variety of genres including alternative, indie rock, folk and blues with artists including Gerry Beckley, a founding member of Grammy-winning rock band America, and Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Janiva Magness. However, the lineup is not as diverse as its staff would like, said Connor Pasich, the company’s president.
To present opportunities for other artists, Swain is working to launch an incubator program aimed at providing access to the music industry for college-aged artists through education. Blue Elan will provide a free six-week course about the ins and outs of the industry with each lesson hosted by an experienced executive from the label. Swain hopes to release the program by fall.
“I believe one of the biggest ways we can create change is by providing access and spreading knowledge,” Swain said in a text. “We want to provide access to those who have been failed by a system that doesn’t benefit them a chance to learn, ask questions and make connections.”
Systemic racism seeps into the music industry beyond just who is performing and producing hits, Swain said. Blue Elan is also looking to work with Black-owned businesses for needs such as event spaces used to host album-release parties and catering companies that supply food for late-night recording sessions. Even the label’s office supply partner, which provides the mailing supplies for copious amounts of promotional material, was up for a change when Swain discovered a Black-owned supply company.
“If you ask somebody else in the business, they’ve got relationships, but those relationships all tend to be, being blunt about it, with the traditional white-owned businesses,” said Kirk Pasich, who is white. “It’s easy to fall into that. So we are pulling ourselves out of that.”
Promoting Swain, who has been with Blue Elan for four years in various positions, most recently as a project manager, was an obvious choice, Connor Pasich said. Swain was one of the label’s first interns as she started stuffing CDs and inserts and driving around town picking up records. Swain had no experience in a record label or business, but she attacked it with “quiet determination,” Kirk Pasich said.
It was the same attitude she had on the court.
The 6-foot-3 forward helped UCLA to the NCAA tournament in 2013 and 2016. She was a two-year starter in a five-year career derailed by injuries that helped lead to her next career path.
When Swain tore her anterior cruciate ligament as a junior, she felt determined to attack the rehabilitation process and return to the court. A meniscus injury during her redshirt senior year brought the opposite reaction.
“I felt kind of a relief,” Swain said.
For some WNBA players, a strictly quarantined season, a pandemic and social unrest were reasons to pass. For Parker, those were reasons to play.
She realized for the first time in her life that she didn’t want to play basketball professionally. The injury widened her vision, UCLA coach Cori Close said.
Swain was the team’s unofficial DJ on trips and always loved music. Reaping the rewards of staying at UCLA through a coaching change before her freshman year, she secured an internship with Blue Elan through UCLA and Kirk Pasich, a longtime donor to women’s basketball. She wanted to see what the music industry was about.
Swain has no personal musical talent, she said with a laugh, but values her role as someone who can assist artists in promoting and releasing their creations.
“That’s a beautiful power they have, and being able to get that out into the world, that’s my contribution,” Swain said. “It’s the most fulfilling thing to me, and it’s something that I really want to be a part of forever.”
The current moment in history makes her job even more meaningful, Swain said, as she helps the label navigate an evolving social climate and a pandemic that’s eliminated all opportunities for domestic tours. Music heals, she said. It expresses feelings people can’t always verbalize on their own. It unites.
“Music is very vital, and once events can come back, I hope that there can be a lot of events that will bring people together to just kind of see we are all the same,” Swain said. “We’re all human, and we deserve the same rights and freedom to exist without fear.”
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