Path With A Heart

Music and philanthropy go back at least to George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh, but is about so much more than artists throwing benefit concerts for favorite causes.

And with the advent of social media and market research techniques, the members of this panel made it clear that the impact of music business involvement in the non-profit sector has tremendous untapped potential.

But, as Dr. Jeffrey Pryor of the Anschutz Family Foundation pointed out, it is impeded by a lack of understanding of the non-profit sector and a need for more active participation on the organizational level.

“Music has always motivated people. Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger have been inspirational figures. Tying music to causes is powerful,” Pryor said to open the discussion.

“This sector needs talent. It needs to be cool to work in the non-profit sector. We want to encourage this industry to bring attention to causes and bring a level of participation.”

And, if that’s not enough of a hook, Pryor and his fellow panelists stressed that “non-profit” foundations are still businesses – and for the music business, working with them is good for business as well.

His research shows that 85 percent of college students are inspired when musicians promote causes. About 79 percent say they support musicians more when they champion a cause. “Our goal is to help build a strategy to think about this,” Pryor said.

Alexandra Mitchell of Pathfinder Solutions used the audience to underscore the research on people’s attitudes toward musicians and philanthropy. Her company provided mobile devices on each seat so people could answer questions and see the instant results. With a large contingent of college students in the room, the data matched Pryor’s research closely.

Morris is a good example of how the music industry can work with non-profits and isn’t shy about extolling the virtues of virtue when it comes to an artist’s fan base.

“I’ve probably done 8,000 concerts in my time and, besides the great feeling I get for doing these things, some of these artists have improved their fan bases and improved their standing. Bono may be a big name, but you’ve got guys like Brett Dennen just getting into it.

“There’s really a practical, realistic side to that. It’s motivating and helps develop loyalty. Look at Phil Lesh, Dave Matthews Band, Phish and their causes and then look at the loyalty of their fans. It’s not an accident. Michael Franti in the Bay Area is another example of someone who, when he plays there, his fans come out every time.”

Philanthropic work isn’t just for the artists and, of course, what benefits the artist has the effect of benefiting those around him or her.

“Organizations need leadership and points of connection. Not only is it the right thing to do but, as [Pryor’s] research points out, it is good business,” AEG Live TV’s John Rubey said. “It’s been good for our business in terms of making our agents, managers and so on think about more than, say, the publishing fee.

“We are committing resources to more than commercial enterprises. It provides more contextual relations with artists. They are in a better position to motivate if the connection is true. With Dispatch, we found the whole idea to activate media to support initiatives and go global and viral is ever growing. The results are getting better as we move forward.”

Dispatch’s Brad Corrigan was on hand to explain his dedication to giving back, as evidenced by his band’s work on behalf of social justice and relief efforts in Zimbabwe. When the band sold out three nights at Madison Square Garden last year, all of the net went to that cause.

But he acknowledges that artists and causes can be tricky business. Different artists approach philanthropy in different ways, but what matters is their heart is in it.

“Whether at a concert, church or a conference, people who speak passionately have usually had a transformative experience,” Corrigan said. “There’s nothing wrong with an artist taking a baby step to use their platform to support a cause, do the research, and so on. It’s a beautiful place to stop.

“But most impactful is an artist unexpectedly becoming beautifully wrecked by an experience. You can be who you were before that. Some may take a strong stand offstage and not alter their show. Some bring it into the shows. Some may take it too far sometimes and forget they are musicians. Everyone has a different level.

“There’s a responsibility to mentor rising talent, and how to best share stories and do benefit work. Some people want to feel that same fire. How many times have you seen it used wrong? People feel guilted out and not rocked at the heart level. You have to be genuinely transformed.”

Erin Rank of Habitat for Humanity explained that her organization prefers that those hoping to champion the cause spend some time building homes. She made an example of Jon Bon Jovi’s efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

“You can go to a New Orleans neighborhood and see a house that Jon Bon Jovi built. We want to make sure people have an authentic experience with Habitat. We can fit programs to their needs,” Rank said. “[To artists,] the next time you want to work on a Habitat house, bring 25 fans to build alongside you. That’s a nice way to inspire fans.”

Rank stressed the importance of knowing if the non-profit an artist is interested in is credible. Before getting involved with a non-profit, do the research and learn how to work with one. Ask to see the strategic plan. Learn the mission statement. Talk to managers with fiduciary oversight and make sure to deal only with non-profits with good reputations.

Doobie Brothers guitarist Patrick Simmons, after joking that Benjamin Franklin was also an original Doobie, talked about the nuts and bolts of putting a music benefit together after the “hey, let’s put on a show” idea becomes actually putting on a show.

“You have to have talent, but it doesn’t have to be a No. 1 band. I’m lucky I know a little band to help me out,” Simmons said. “But it can be local bands to present an experience. Then you need a venue to draw the community to. That comes through your non-profits. Do specific organizations have space? Who do you know in the community that can step up to help you out?

“Then you have production. People love to volunteer and are looking for opportunities to step up. If you can motivate people with your own enthusiasm, that will kick it off. Sound and lights are two things you can use. Then there are things that surround the whole production. Getting the word out to the community. Making the personal phone calls. People will be excited for the chance to help you.”

One of those Simmons can call on is Doobies manager Bruce Cohn. This year will mark the 25th anniversary of a charity golf tournament he hosts to benefit veterans and other local organizations. He bought a vineyard in Sonoma County, Calif., to which he’s added a winery and amphitheatre for concerts in addition to the tournament.

“We started a golf tournament 25 years ago. I learned how to do one in Calabasas, Calif., but overhead was too high so I got the idea to try it in Sonoma and raise money for local charities. I put in an amphitheatre and we’re going over $6 million with great people like the Doobies, Bonnie Raitt, Graham Nash, Little Feat, Taj Mahal and many others.

“We’ve been giving to local charities, Habitat, Katrina charities and the Mentoring Alliance of Sonoma County. You don’t have to put on your own event. You can volunteer.”

CMA President Steve Moore, a Peace Corps veteran with a long history of giving back to a variety of causes, was able to speak to the panel’s premise from the point of view of a non-profit executive who also happens to be in the music business.

“We’re very mindful of our funds [as non-profit managers]. We have to be good stewards. If we have no margin, we have no mission. We have to make good business decisions,” Moore emphasized. It may be a non-nonprofit, but it’s still a business.

“Some people went to the Peace Corps. Some do other things. But once you give of yourself, you’ll have a different perspective. We make a life out of what we give.”


Pollstar Live 2011 Panel Index