Former Beatport Employees Allege a Toxic Workplace Where Fear Ruled
Illustration: Daniel Zender

Former Beatport Employees Allege a Toxic Workplace Where Fear Ruled

The powerhouse dance music retailer preached inclusivity and diversity, but ex-staffers say bullying, sexism, and casual racism was pervasive.

It was June 24, 2020, and Ava, a label manager at the online electronic music store Beatport, was dreading an upcoming Zoom meeting on the company’s social activism. (Ava’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.) Like many companies suddenly grappling with the George Floyd protests, Beatport was exploring what it could do to improve its approach to issues of race and diversity. Ava, one of a few Black employees in Beatport’s Berlin office, was among the approximately eight staff members from the German and American offices attending the interdepartmental meeting with CEO Robb McDaniels.

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After Floyd’s death, Ava had been talking with her peers at other music companies, including SoundCloud and Spotify, and felt that Beatport’s response was lagging behind those of the rest of the industry. On May 30, 2020, she emailed McDaniels, who joined Beatport as CEO in 2017, to ask him how the company intended to address the Black Lives Matter protests. In a phone conversation later that day, Ava said McDaniels told her that Beatport wouldn’t post about BLM on social media because he felt that would alienate their core customer base. (In response to Ava’s claim, McDaniels told VICE that he never said he was worried about putting off customers with a pro-BLM post, but that he had “sought out input from others as to whether or not our customers and community saw it as our role.”)

On the call, Ava said, she pointed out to McDaniels that two of Beatport’s highest-selling music genres—house and techno—originated from Black and LGBTQ communities. “It felt like I was giving [the CEO] an elementary history lesson about the Black origins of techno,” said Ava, noting that McDaniels did not seem to know of the Belleville Three, the inventors of Detroit techno. “I also had to explain how [techno] was inherently political when it was adopted by white spaces after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He didn’t seem to know any of it.”

The Belleville Three was made up of Black musicians Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, and Derrick May. In the 1980s, they made trips from Detroit to a burgeoning Chicago house music scene, which was spearheaded predominantly by gay Black DJs such as Frankie Knuckles and Ron Hardy. Back home, the Belleville Three created a new and influential genre: Detroit techno. Today’s booming electronic music scene features mega-festivals drawing hundreds of thousands of fans and multi-millionaire DJs who are predominantly white. Much of it draws on the innovations of Black creators from ostracized communities in small clubs and warehouses. 

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“He said that African tribesmen have been killing each other since the dawn of day.”

As challenging conversations about systemic racism unfurled across the world, Ava found it galling that Beatport was profiting from “the marginalized pioneers of the scene” while appearing to not want to “say or do anything that might alienate Beatport’s core customer base of straight, white bros.” As she remembered it, McDaniels seemed to get defensive about the invocation of Black music history, retorting that he knew Black people were involved. “I would never say something as ignorant as that,” McDaniels wrote to VICE, calling the allegation “false.” When McDaniels was asked by VICE if he was familiar with the Belleville Three, he said that he wasn’t, but that he knew “the origins of house and techno in Chicago and Detroit and that these are the sounds of the streets in Black neighborhoods.” He later sent a follow-up email, writing, “I Googled the Belleville Three and immediately felt like a dummy cause of course I know Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. I just forgot the name of their group.”

In a May 30, 2020 email to Ava, McDaniels thanked her for an earlier chat and readings she provided, and suggested setting up interviews with influential DJs to talk about their experiences with racial injustice to promote on Beatport’s social channels. He ended the email with a postscript “P.S. a CEO friend just sent me this,” including a link to a YouTube video called “Life of Privilege Explained in a $100 Race.” In the viral video, Adam Donyes, a white Christian educator, asked a group of young people to step forward each time they can answer “yes” to a question about their background. (“Take two steps forward if you grew up with a father figure in the home.”) Eventually, in a demonstration of privilege, Black students were visibly segregated at the back and white students at the front. The video, McDaniels wrote, “is a good summary of the underlying, systemic issues that protests and violence don’t solve....these are real world problems.”

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By the time the June 24 meeting commenced, Ava was on edge. Her fears were realized when a conversation on systemic racism veered towards the slave trade and colonialism. That’s when, she claimed, McDaniels said something that shocked her. 

“He said that African tribesmen have been killing each other since the dawn of day,” she recalled. It was all the more stunning to Ava that the CEO’s comments came in the midst of a meeting ostensibly meant, in part, to address Beatport’s response to the extrajudicial violence against Black people, often arising from dehumanizing stereotypes of them as inherently violent.

Ava felt her face burning. She asked McDaniels to name these African tribes. He just said that he wasn’t a history expert, she recounted. She didn’t say much for the rest of the meeting. 

McDaniels told VICE that this recollection was “completely false.” He said he did not single out African tribesmen, and that he thought the conversation was about protests in Colombia and “within the context of violence happening everywhere in the world…so Africa unfortunately is not immune to that.” (Ava said she never had a conversation with McDaniels about protests in Colombia.) He continued, “History is one of my favorite subjects. And most of what I read in my spare time is history…I never would say that.”

But another colleague, Tracy, whose name has been changed for privacy reasons, was also in the meeting and supported Ava’s recollection. She remembered being so shocked that she almost didn’t believe her ears until Ava asked McDaniels to name the tribes. “I was like, ‘Fuck, this is real,’” she recalled. “What is this kind of view, like, so outdated?” After the meeting, Tracy said that Ava reached out to her on Slack to vent about what happened. “She said, ‘I can’t believe this,’ and then I was like, ‘OK, it’s what I heard. This is true.’”

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Beatport CEO Robb McDaniels on the Music Notes stage of Web Summit 2021 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Sam Barnes/Getty Images)

For those seeking a career in the industry, getting a job at Beatport felt like scoring a golden ticket. In 2004, the company was established in Denver, CO, as the first online electronic music store of its kind. Employees, many of them hobbyist DJs and music enthusiasts, were often starry-eyed at the prospect of living and breathing electronic music, meeting the biggest names in the industry, speaking on panels at international events, and getting put on guestlists at clubs and festivals.  

“As a 24-year-old new to Berlin, who wouldn’t want to work at a place like Beatport?” said Bree, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy. “As cheesy as it sounds, it was a dream job. I loved music, I loved meeting people in music, I loved traveling to clubs and seeing artists, and this job that I was promised on paper sounded like it would allow me to do all those things.”

Beatport is an industry leader in selling and streaming club music. After its parent company emerged from bankruptcy in 2016, Beatport reported a total revenue of $41.6 million in 2020, according to an internal document shared with VICE. Landing a spot on the Beatport charts, where the top-selling tracks are displayed on its homepage, is still highly coveted by artists, and its YouTube channel features exclusive sets by superstar DJs including Carl Cox and Sasha. Beatport also enjoys partnerships with major international brands such as Ballantine’s whiskey and Microsoft, and the company may be on the verge of growing even more influential. In 2020, according to the internal document, Beatport netted an additional $36.1 million from recent acquisitions Loopmasters (which sells sample packs for music producers) and Plugin Boutique (a software company producing online synthesizers and samplers). The producer tools sector, according to entertainment research firm MIDiA, may be worth more than $1.8 billion by 2027.

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Recently, Beatport has promoted messages of diversity and inclusion across its platforms and with various initiatives, including a $100,000 commitment to fund the best idea to accelerate gender parity in the dance music industry. “Beyond the dance floors, we’re committed to building an inclusive and equitable workplace that embraces diversity and values individuality among our employees, artists, and partners,” Beatport announces on its About page. “Inclusion is part of our DNA and fundamental to the well being of our community. At Beatport, we stand against discrimination of all genres.” 

She said [he] told her not to spend so much time on [Black History Month] and not to only work on things that are about Black people and Blackness.

But many who have worked at the company describe the leadership’s approach to diversity and inclusion differently. Over 16 months, VICE interviewed 22 current and former Beatport staffers who alleged incidents of racism, sexism, and bullying, and claimed there was a generally toxic work environment. VICE also reviewed emails, Slack screenshots, and other documents. One source, who worked for Beatport part-time and mostly from home, said that the company had recently improved its office culture, while another said that they saw a better side of the company after switching departments. (Beatport offered to provide VICE with sources who would “share positive experiences” about the company, but VICE did not take the company up on its offer due to the risk of implicit pressures and potential distortions in employees providing statements at the behest of their employer.) Many of the interviewees said they were scared of potential professional and legal retaliation from former and current Beatport leadership—at least two interviewees pulled out of participation in the story after initially speaking to VICE citing fear. 

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Ava’s story of casual racism within company leadership was hardly rare among the employees whom VICE interviewed. In early 2016, when Ava was on maternity leave, her colleague Bree took over some of her duties and received a pay increase (pushed for by a female manager) for taking on extra work. She recalled that then-general manager of the Berlin office Terry Weerasinghe, a British-Sri Lankan man, made a joke about how to use her increased income, suggesting that if she wanted to take over from Ava, she would need to invest in some darker makeup, and then giggled. (Weerasinghe, through a lawyer, at first did not confirm or deny the alleged incident, but later, his lawyer issued a blanket denial of “any allegations which have not previously been specifically denied.” His lawyer also asserted that many claims formed a “broader allegation” that he “does not respect diversity but nothing could be further from the truth.”) 

Other Black former employees also reported what they felt was a hostile and belittling work environment, particularly relating to issues of race. In February of 2017, Kaia, a Black curator whose name has been changed out of privacy concerns, was compiling lists of timeless house and deep house tracks for Black History Month. She said Romain Pouillon, then the director of curation and business intelligence (now a senior vice president and general manager), told her not to spend so much time on it and not to only work on things that are about Black people and Blackness. In a statement, Pouillon told VICE that any suggestions about resource allocation “would have been aimed at striving for diversity of content” and “at no time did I ever create a hostile and belittling work environment relating to issues of race.” McDaniels also relayed that Pouillon urged employees to take “an inclusive, diverse approach” to their curation in line with the company guidelines. In response to this statement, Kaia questioned the ongoing erasure of Black contributions at the company. “Why would it be diverse [spotlighting other races] if it’s Black History Month? It doesn’t make sense,” she wrote.

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Some staff members felt that cultural insensitivity towards minorities and women was an ongoing issue. In a November 26, 2020 email sent to staff titled “An American Tradition,” McDaniels expounded on Thanksgiving, writing, “Now, I also understand that the whole basis of the holiday may be rooted in an unwarranted take over of a nation and its Indigenous peoples…but let’s just focus on the family part for the sake of this note.” McDaniels wrote in an email to VICE that he gets “asked to write inspirational or motivational emails to a global staff all the time” and had wanted to express his gratitude in a tough year, but felt that it was strange not to mention the origin of Thanksgiving when he “had issues” with it.

Beatport, according to Ava, initially resisted requests to make a statement about the George Floyd protests of 2020. But on May 31, instead of expressing explicit support of the Black Lives Matter movement, the company put out a statement on Instagram that read “Tolerance, diversity, and social justice have always been at the core of our global DJ and electronic music community.” And it announced that it would donate the day’s proceeds to the NAACP to demonstrate the company’s commitment to “Justice For All”—a phrase which some staffers thought was tone-deaf. It seemingly echoed “All Lives Matter,” a controversial rejoinder to Black Lives Matter negating the uniquely systemic struggles of Black people which the movement seeked to highlight. 

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“It’s my experience that sometimes doing is better than yelling, building is better than fighting, innovating is better than judging.”

In a statement to VICE, McDaniels wrote that a diverse group had come up with the phrase “Justice for All,” which was “intended to be as inclusive as possible,” but he that “could understand that some people may have perceived it as a poor use of words,” and, “at the end of the day, not everyone will always agree with everything we say.” He also told VICE in an interview that he thought the controversy over the phrase “All Lives Matter” didn’t materialize until after the “Justice for All” post, that company leaders were doing what felt like the “right thing to do” at the time, and that they would have had to go “back in time” to make that connection. (In the US, at least, the phrase was controversial enough in 2016, four years before the George Floyd protests, that the New York Times published an article titled “Why ‘All Lives Matter’ Is Such a Perilous Phrase.”)

As Black Lives Matter protests spread around the globe, McDaniels sent an all-staff email on July 6 that some perceived as discouraging protesting. “What you do with your personal time is none of my business, but when it begins to consume your work time, it negatively impacts our collective ability to execute our business. Over the long term, it’s just not sustainable. While we want to encourage social and political action, both as individuals and as a company, we also want to ensure we all are striking the right balance,” he wrote. “It’s my experience that sometimes doing is better than yelling, building is better than fighting, innovating is better than judging. Over the next six months, I want to encourage you to keep going back to your healthy, inspiring outlets like reading, enjoying nature, making music, and generally finding some peace and happiness in your life.”

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McDaniels told VICE in an interview that he noticed that some employees “were getting so emotional about everything that it was impacting other people at work.” While he said he thought it was “awesome” that some staffers were “making this world a better place,” he felt a responsibility to provide a “safe place” for those who did not want to engage in conversations like those around the George Floyd protests. Describing 2020 as the most challenging year of his “life as a CEO,” McDaniels said that he felt that conversations about these issues were “affecting our business,” as well as the staff’s “happiness level and productivity.”

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The Beatport Lounge at Miami Music Week in 2015 (Photo by Sergi Alexander/Getty Images)

As several Beatport employees recount it, several men in leadership positions at the company engendered an environment where fear and misogynistic remarks pervaded. One leader in particular, Terry Weerasinghe, touted his commitment to “diversity and inclusivity” to VICE, citing his work as an ambassador for the #metooforthemusic campaign and promoting diversity and inclusion as a board member for the Association for Electronic Music. Multiple people who worked with Weerasinghe recalled a different attitude with staffers. 

In March 2017, Bree and another female colleague got approval to build a landing page to promote International Women’s Day on the Beatport site. The pair were clear from the outset that the initiative would be to build reputational equity for the brand—not a profit-driven strategy. But Bree said Weerasinghe, then the general manager of the Berlin office, appeared furious when the project’s engagement figures did not reach expectations, and Bree claimed she found out from a female manager that Weerasinghe said that the company couldn’t do anything like that again and that he was not happy with Bree and the initiative.

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A couple of months later, Weerasinghe accepted an invitation to speak on a panel about women in electronic music at the International Music Summit in Ibiza. “I said, ‘Don’t do it, send one of us,” Bree recalled she said when he asked her opinion. “It’s a really bad look, a male talking about female issues. But he went, and he did it.” 

Shortly before Weerasinghe was due to speak on the panel, Bree said he called another male manager in Berlin who went over to her desk and asked for the audience engagement data from their International Women’s Day landing page. “I was like, ‘What, the campaign that he scolded us for?” Bree said. “And he was like, ‘Yeah, he wants the figures in case he wants to talk about it on the panel.’” 

Weerasinghe, through a statement from his lawyer, wrote to VICE that he did not recall being asked by a former employee to send a woman in his place. He said his friend Andreea Magdalina, founder of shesaid.so, which was a co-presenter of the panel, extended “a personal invitation” and he was “proud to accept it.” Weerasinghe’s lawyer wrote that he was “committed to driving positive change in this area” and involved in shorter campaigns for International Women’s Day in subsequent years, but he was “understandably frustrated by the lack of success” with the 2017 campaign and, given that outcome, was justified in commenting that it did “not make sense to run the campaign for a whole month again.” His lawyer also asserted that he involved other employees with shesaid.so events and allocated funds for female staff to represent Beatport. Two women who worked for Weerasinghe said they had no recollection of him encouraging female staff to participate in shesaid.so events or allocating budget specifically for them. “I never once had the opportunity to even travel to Hamburg on the train to meet the accounts I looked after,” wrote Ava. 

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“At some point you start to believe [the criticism] and you end up in this downward spiral where you feel worthless.”

According to two employees, Weerasinghe, who held executive roles at Beatport for seven years, allegedly made derogatory remarks about pregnant staff members and new mothers. After one American woman came back from maternity leave, both Bree and Ava said that Weerasinghe asked what kind of mother goes back to work so soon after having a baby. He also said that the woman wasn’t thinking straight, according to Bree. When another female manager in Berlin who was about to take her maternity leave made a decision with which he disagreed, Bree said he blamed it on hormones.

Weerasinghe’s lawyer wrote that he recalled one “mistaken comment” he made about a colleague “not thinking straight because she was pregnant” and that it was “not intended maliciously.” He did not recall and strongly denied making other derogatory comments to or about pregnant staff or those who had recently returned to work from maternity leave. He also claimed that he made a comment to the effect of “who makes a mother go back to work after six weeks.” But he claimed that he was criticizing SFX, the name of Beatport’s American parent company at the time, not the new mother, and he claimed that the context was SFX’s attempts to apply universal benefits, which he “lobbied SFX executives” against on behalf of European employees to ensure that they kept European benefits (US benefits would have reduced maternity leave). Ava and Bree claim that the mother in question was an SFX executive herself. And the mandatory minimum for Berlin employees’ maternity leave was set by the German Maternity Protection Act, a law by which an American parent company would have to abide. 

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Several staffers who worked under Weerasinghe describe him as a “bullying” manager, prone to targeting not just women but also staffers who were shy. Ex-staffer Dan, whose name has been changed to protect his privacy, recounted that Weerasinghe told him during a performance review that he did not receive any of Dan’s emails because he filtered them into his trash can and only got emails from senior-level people in the company. “Terry bullied those he knew he could,” recalled Bree, while Ava wrote, “​​Terry kisses up. And kicks down.”

Mary, then a senior marketing manager, said that Weerasinghe told her she was not fit to be a manager and was just someone who should execute tasks, and that he frequently reminded her of the idea that you’re only as good as your boss thinks you are. (Mary, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, had five years of project management and marketing management experience at this time.) She said Weerasinghe regularly derided her music tastes and told her that she didn’t understand techno. “He said I don’t know anything about music and my music tastes are cheesy,” Mary recalled. “Not only to my face but he said that in meetings with everybody there.” 

Mary said that he started piling work on her and the bullying intensified to the point where she was afraid to go to work. “At some point you start to believe [the criticism] and you end up in this downward spiral where you feel worthless,” she said. “I went to the doctor and I was not sleeping well and I had panic attacks and he said, ‘It sounds like you’re on the verge of burnout.’’’ Mary ended up leaving the company. “It was really not good for my health, and I also really didn’t want to go back to that office,” she said.

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“Romain and Terry slut-shamed her to the entire office. It was one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever witnessed in my life.”

Other employees said the denigration didn’t stop with Mary’s departure from the company. In a meeting about her exit, Weerasinghe insinuated that she had been in a sexual relationship with a former Beatport executive, recalled Ava. “[Weerasinghe] said that she wasn’t qualified for [the job] and that she’d been underperforming and that’s why she’d been fired. [He said] the reason she got the job wasn’t based on her attributes as a marketeer—[it] was based on something else.” 

While she was at Beatport, Mary—who said her platonic friendship with an executive seemed to cause jealousy at the company—confronted Weerasinghe about the rumors and he denied spreading them. She recalled that he said that he had heard the gossip but that no one believed it. In a letter from his attorney, Weerasinghe rejected that he spread the “underlying rumour or insinuated that was how the employee got her job.” He admitted to calling Mary’s music tastes “cheesy” and telling another employee that his emails were filtered into the trash. He also communicated that he accepts that the comments were “unprofessional,” but they were never intended maliciously or discriminatorily, and that he was “overworked and stressed” at the time.

Weerasinghe also denied, through his lawyer, any allegations of bullying and attributed any “shortfallings” to “fighting for the survival” of Beatport, whose parent company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy during the year he became general manager of the company. He also denied discriminating on the basis of sex or race but apologized if his conduct caused distress to others. Since then, Weerasinghe said he has gone through extensive coaching, and claimed to VICE that “his management style today bears no resemblance to that period.” But his lawyer wrote that it was important to note that Beatport turned a profit, which he claimed saved jobs and brought in investment, by the end of 2016. A former staffer also recalled Weerasinghe’s belief that he helped rescue Beatport from insolvency. Ava wrote that Weerasinghe “fostered a culture of indebtedness and was continually reminding us that our positions were on a knife edge and it was only due to him that we still had jobs following the SFX restructuring.” 

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Eleven former Beatport staff members spoke with VICE about Weerasinghe’s behavior, which some say caused them to suffer panic attacks, take sick leave, or seek therapy. Three ex-employees told VICE they felt he bullied them out of the company, which he strongly denied. While Weerasinghe left his full-time job at Beatport in March 2020, he remained on the Board of Advisors at the Association for Electronic Music for another year and is currently chief operating officer at electronic music platform Boiler Room. (After the publication of this article, Boiler Room sent a statement to VICE announcing, "We have mutually agreed with Terry Weerasinghe that the recent allegations about his time at Beatport have made it too difficult for him to continue in his role at Boiler Room. Whilst an internal review has not uncovered any allegations of a similar nature at Boiler Room, Terry will be stepping down with immediate effect.”)

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DJ Erick Morillo performs at the 2011 Coachella Festival (Photo by Michael Tullberg/Getty Images)

Weerasinghe wasn’t the only executive who allegedly made misogynistic comments to Beatport staff. Romain Pouillon, according to former employee Kaia, allegedly described the desk where the all-female marketing team in Berlin sat as that island over there with hormones, which he said he stayed away from. Pouillon, in a statement from the Beatport lawyers, “strongly” denied making the comment. 

Another former Beatport staffer, Tom, whose name has been changed for privacy, alleged that Pouillon also spread the rumor about Mary. Tom said every time had a meeting with her, Pouillon would comment that she had fucked the executive. “Romain and Terry slut-shamed her to the entire office,” claimed Tom. “It was one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever witnessed in my life.” Another ex-colleague also confirmed hearing Pouillon say in a meeting that Mary had slept with this executive. Pouillon, in a letter from Beatport’s lawyers, said that he was aware of the rumors but “strongly” denied saying that and “tried to steer conversation away from such personal subject matter.” In an interview, McDaniels told VICE that the rumor of a relationship between Mary and the executive was “common information” and that Pouillon is “very, very French” and “still learning English” but "never used the word like ‘fucked.’” 

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When asked by VICE for comment about its work culture, Beatport lawyers responded that it “does not deny that team members faced considerable pressures as the company emerged from the bankruptcy of SFX” and “accepts that as a result of these pressures, there were occasions during this period when some management styles could have benefited from improvement.” But Beatport said that terminations and shifting roles were “due to financial struggles” and denied any “discriminatory behaviour.” While some of the incidents reported to VICE occurred during Beatport’s 2016—2017 bankruptcy period, other incidents occurred well after, during a time when the company was internally exulting positive financial reports.

Following the departures of several prominent female staff members over 18 months, McDaniels called two Zoom meetings with Beatport’s women staff in May and June 2021. During the first meeting, McDaniels presented an in-house report from September 2020. The report showed that of the 114 staff members at that time, 26 were women, 87 were male, and one was non-binary. “In terms of ‘promotions’, your male colleagues received 17 and others received 6 during the same time period. This ratio is in line with the ratio of total employees,” he wrote in a May 18 email, reviewed by VICE. In a statement, McDaniels claimed an internal study revealed that women were paid higher and promoted faster than men at Beatport, but did not provide the study as requested by VICE. Instead, a lawyer responded, “We have advised our client not to provide [it] to you.”

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Some former employees alleged that the company’s leadership, hiring, and promotion seemed to be dominated by mostly white males. McDaniels told VICE that Beatport doesn’t track its employees’ ethnicities, only their countries of origin. He also provided a chart showing that the company was 73.4 percent male, noting that there are very low numbers of women in software engineering, a pool from which Beatport needed to recruit. And he contended that while he worked to promote diverse hiring, senior management positions don’t open up often, and Beatport had acquired other companies run by men.

“I think the culture is really, really sick. It’s really sexist and really macho.”

Several women expressed that they felt excluded from opportunities for advancement or didn’t have a voice in the direction of the business. One former female employee claimed that when she asked McDaniels how she might join the C-suite, he told her not to worry about the executive team, that his executive team wasn’t a real executive team anyway, and that she had a close relationship with him, so she didn’t need to be part of the executive team in order to speak to him. McDaniels responded, referring to a different employee who had apparently expressed the same sentiment, that, “Even if she didn’t report directly to me…it didn’t mean she couldn’t have the same access and working relationship with me.”

Nellie, whose name has been changed, was made a director at Beatport in 2020, but “I was not treated like a man director,” she said. She first spoke with VICE shortly before leaving the company. When she was told she’d be made a director in a few months time if she performed well, Nellie said she took on additional responsibilities and projects while executing strategy and managing new hires. “I feel like I went on my own battle. I never got that push that a few of the other guys got.” But once she achieved her goal, she felt her new title seemed to be meaningless. “Technically, I’m one of the most powerful women at Beatport on paper, and yet I feel I have zero say in anything,” she said at the time. “I had to push to be part of some meetings with the higher management and, in general, people would speak over me or rephrase what I would say.”  

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McDaniels contended that Nellie was only excluded from a meeting on the acquisition of Loopmasters, which did not relate to her job functions. Nellie, who said she now felt respected at her new job, replied that she “wouldn’t have wanted to” attend all meetings, but she didn’t feel that she had “as much influence in business decisions as my role should have implied,” and felt she had little “strategic visibility on the business” and “no sync up” with infrastructure and tech team leads. “Other directors had access to information from the top that I didn’t necessarily have,” she said. 

During the first meeting with the women of Beatport, McDaniels seemed to put the onus on fixing the company culture on those subjected to inappropriate language and behavior. “When you hear something a colleague says that you think is not appropriate, give them the benefit of the doubt that they just said something stupid and ignorant,” McDaniels told his female employees. “Pull them aside and say, ‘That wasn’t appropriate.’ If they are apologetic and understand it, we should be appreciative, and hopefully you’ve done your work. If you feel at all that that causes any issues with that person, come talk to me.” 

McDaniels wrote to VICE that he had “intended to promote a healthy dialogue” in situations where one person may “simply not have known they said something that was offensive.” Several male employees also claimed the workplace was sexist. “I think the culture is really, really sick,” said one. “It’s really sexist and really macho, which you see in so many different ways.” He cited what he believed was a dearth of women in executive roles and witnessing his female colleagues having to take on additional tasks for months to be considered for a promotion while many male staff were seemingly promoted automatically. In an interview with VICE, McDaniels said that he saw “a culture where the males in the office would sometimes…speak over other people” in the Berlin office that emanated from bankruptcy and harsher deadlines and that he had to tell them to “please stop interrupting" to “let the women in the room speak.”

Some former staffers contended that a climate of misogyny was established early on. In Beatport’s earliest years, the Denver office was staffed by music nerds and female dancers, recruited from the local clubs by co-founders Jonas Tempel, Bradley Roulier, and Eloy Lopez. “We joked that the only people who worked at Beatport were DJs, promoters, and go-go dancers,” said Tempel in a 2018 interview with Electronic Dance Magazine. In a statement from Beatport lawyers, Tempel characterized his comments to VICE as “a light-hearted response about the company’s club origins” and noted that “we are beyond grateful to those who were with us from day one…including the go-go dancers.”

“These women excelled in their positions,” said Dan, who worked in the Denver office, of the women working in Beatport in the early days. “They all knew how to do their job, but you could still tell there was an air of superiority over the girls. [Tempel, Roulier, and Lopez] brought them in there to do these jobs, and then it was like someone was always watching over their shoulder.” 

Even more than 15 years after its 2004 founding, attitudes that prioritized male relationships seemed to pervade at the company, said employees. In September of 2020, Tempel, who became chief revenue officer a year after returning to the company in 2019, took to the Beatport Slack channel to mourn the death of his friend, superstar DJ Erick Morillo, who died of “acute ketamine toxicity” on September 1, three days before he was due to face court on charges of the rape of a fellow DJ in his Miami home. One employee recalled Tempel saying that Morillo was challenged by his personal demons, and encouraged the company to remember Morillo for his contributions to the electronic music scene.

A number of staff members risked speaking out on Slack to challenge one of the company’s co-founders about celebrating an accused rapist in a public forum. “I know too many victims with lives torn apart to give a fuck about his dope beats,” wrote one. Following the pushback, Tempel’s message was deleted, he apologized, and Beatport’s general counsel Brandon Shevin sent out a company-wide email the day after Morillo’s death telling staff  to “be careful with our word choices on Slack, as well as how we choose to react to others.” Shevin warned that if “Slack devolves into a platform that makes others feel unsafe or unwelcome, where language is intended to intimate or shame others, we will need to change our Slack policy (and re-think our team dynamics as well).” In a statement through the Beatport lawyers, Shevin wrote that he sent the email because of “an exchange between two developers” in “the best interests of all staff” and “I stand by that decision” because individuals were being “called out for voicing an opinion” in political conversations.

“It was ten years earlier [Kobe Bryant] had been accused of raping a girl? Are there inconsistencies in that view? Do we forgive some people and not others?”

After Mixmag published an investigation detailing Morillo’s 30-year history of sexual assault and sexual harassment, Tempel called a “family meeting” to “sort things out together” over Zoom. In a September 16, 2020 email reviewed by VICE, he wrote he was “deeply apologetic” for the “disappointment created by my comments” about Morillo. Tempel wrote in a statement sent to VICE by the Beatport lawyers that he did “not intend to undermine the seriousness of the allegation” and had “learned that the harm he caused overshadows the fact he made some popular music.”

In an interview with VICE, McDaniels acknowledged that the allegations against Morillo impacted “the entire community,” and then compared the response to Morillo’s death to the collective eulogizing after the passing of Kobe Bryant, who was accused of rape in 2003 and settled out of court after prosecutors dropped the case.

“It was ten years earlier [Bryant] had been accused of raping a girl? Are there inconsistencies in that view? Do we forgive some people and not others?” McDaniels mused about staffers in the Beatport office who seemed to be shocked when Bryant died. “Not that I’m saying Erick Morillo should be forgiven—what he did was horrible. But I think it’s important for us to be consistent as a society.”

McDaniels also noted that while 2020 was a time of greater consciousness about “everything going on in society,” he felt the company had to “create a safe place for all employees” and “that there’s a place and a time for these conversations and it’s not always in global Slack channels at work.” McDaniels pointed out that some Beatport employees were “complaining” about the “toxicity” of conversations about racial justice and gender equity and “just want to tune it out” and “focus on their work.”

The Beatport CEO’s words highlighted a main challenge to social progress—how profits, productivity, and comfort do not necessarily neatly align with upending societal inequities, despite corporate value statements. Or as Martin Luther King Jr. famously put it in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” how white moderates claim that they agree with the goal sought by civil rights advocates but can’t agree with the methods and are “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice” when it comes to substantive social change. 

“What really gets my goat is just how two-faced and disingenuous it all is—what is projected to the outside world and then the reality of what is going on behind the scenes,” said Ava of how she viewed her time at Beatport. “You do only really survive in these spaces if you’re willing to put up with a lot of shit.”

Annabel Ross is a Brooklyn-based freelance journalist who has written for the Guardian, the Age/the Sydney Morning Herald, the Daily Beast and Resident Advisor. She won The Drum’s award for Best Investigative Journalism in 2021 for her work on sexual assault in dance music for Mixmag. You can find her on Twitter.