How HeadCount Posted Its Best Summer Numbers Ever In A Pandemic

Courtesy HeadCount
– HeadCount Reborn
During the pandemic, HeadCount has expanded its digital reach – including by providing ordinary organizers with touchless resources to register protesters at demonstrations.

Many across the political spectrum have said this year’s presidential election will be America’s most consequential in a generation, and before the coronavirus pandemic struck, nonpartisan voter registration organization HeadCount was gearing up for a gargantuan 2020 to meet the moment.

“We were on the Billie Eilish tour, which had just kicked off,” HeadCount executive director Andy Bernstein says. “We expected to be out on the road this summer with Dead and Company and Halsey and Camila Cabello and Green Day. Those were all big tours that we’d lined up that obviously went away – but what didn’t go away is all of our digital presence, and we doubled down on that and really expanded.”

HeadCount’s adaptability has meant that, even without its ubiquitous, clipboard-toting presence at concourses in stadiums, arenas, theaters and clubs, the organization has been as strong in 2020 as ever.

“We had our best June, July and August ever,” Bernstein says. “We registered more voters in each month than we ever had in a previous June, July or August, and September and October are usually by far our biggest months. So we fully expect to exceed our goal, which is 200,000 voters registered and a million voters directly engaged.”

To achieve its 2020 success, HeadCount harnessed practically every digital tool at its disposal.

First, and most importantly, have been the concerts. Although HeadCount hasn’t been able to hit the road with artists, the organization has continued to stage streaming events, like “Vote Ready, A Concert For Voter Registration,” an August event presented in conjunction with Fort William Artist Management and Live From Out There that delivered viewers a show featuring members of The War on Drugs, Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, TV On The Radio and several others – provided fans verified their voter registration status beforehand.

Even many streaming events that aren’t put on by HeadCount directly will feature integration with the organization going forward, thanks to a new partnership with ticketing platform Eventbrite that allows event organizers to add a free voter registration option as an add-on for ticket buyers.

“It’s all about going where music and event attendees are,” Bernstein says. “Obviously there aren’t concerts – our numbers would be much bigger if there were concerts – but a lot of people use Eventbrite for virtual events, so there’s a nice steady flow of events. That company, they know they have a huge platform and they worked within their existing structure to put voter registration in front of thousands of people.”

Eventbrite is just one of several partners HeadCount has across the music business; the list also includes Live Nation, AEG, LiveXLive, Spotify, Atlantic Records and ASCAP, and HeadCount provides resources for companies in the music industry that want to help their employees contribute to the get out the vote effort.

And HeadCount is offering fans physical concert opportunities – once such gatherings are safe again, of course. More than two dozen major festivals, including Bonnaroo, Coachella, Outside Lands, Firefly, Hangout, Electric Forest, Stagecoach, Okeechobee, Something In The Water and LOCKN’, have partnered with HeadCount to provide VIP tickets to their 2021 events for prospective voters.

Courtesy HeadCount
– Digital Dominance
HeadCount executive director Andy Bernstein has led the organization to a successful 2020 against the odds.

HeadCount has also utilized the direct-to-fan capabilities of the digital sphere to engage potential voters. The organization’s new Vote Ready campaign offers fans who verify their voter registration status the chance to win video chats with major artists from Camila Cabello to Phish. (Dubbed a “Year of Phish,” HeadCount’s partnership with the jam legends also promised to hook up a lucky winner with a year’s supply of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream, two tickets to any Phish show once it returns to the road, and a year’s access to the band’s LivePhish+ concert archive.)

“For Camila Cabello’s audience, we found that about 40% of people who went and checked their voter registration status went on to register to vote,” Bernstein says.

Registered voters can still enter the contests, and more established acts like Phish and Dave Matthews Band tend to have fewer unregistered fans enter their contests. But, Bernstein explains, plenty still used the opportunity to check their status and “it really adds up.”

“The same sort of tactics that might work to market music and live music certainly work for promoting voter participation,” he adds.

Meanwhile, HeadCount’s nonpartisan status remains critical to both its mission and its success. The increasingly polarized American electorate sometimes deters musicians from becoming involved in politics, but HeadCount is “the alternative to being partisan, the alternative to getting caught in the political muck,” Bernstein says. More than 400 artists participate in what he describes as “a coalition of the willing,” where musicians come to HeadCount with ideas and the organization helps to realize them.

Artists of all stripes can find resources and helpful tools for driving political engagement on HeadCount’s online hub. So can ordinary citizens. According to Bernstein, as protests surrounding the killing of George Floyd erupted across the country in late May, HeadCount found itself fielding registration inquiries from demonstrators, leading the organization to create the United We Vote hub, which provides interested parties with QR and text codes to facilitate contactless in-person voter registration.

As the November 3 election draws nearer, HeadCount is only ramping up its efforts. Earlier this week, the organization announced Just Vote, a massive campaign in partnership with Global Citizen supported by artists including Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, DJ Khaled, Quavo, Usher and Nicky Jam that will continue to engage voters by offering exclusive experiences, performances and memorabilia.

“One of the things I’m really excited about is to have [promoter and chair of HeadCount’s board of directors] Pete Shapiro and [Global Citizen co-founder and CEO] Hugh Evans, two of the true visionaries when it comes to combining live music and activism, both out there furthering HeadCount’s mission,” Bernstein says. “It truly puts us in a position where we can have the most impact we’ve ever had.”

As myriad crises roil the United States, Bernstein remains optimistic about voting’s power – and the power of musicians to stimulate fans to become involved in the process.

“When people connect with music and musicians, it’s not just like buying a hamburger,” he says. “In some ways, it reflects who they are as a person. Your musical taste is an imprint of your soul. When you bring conversations about democracy and participation into these moments, you’re really getting people when they are their true selves.”

And music offers a way to engage voters without the mudslinging that defines so much of contemporary political discourse.

“There are so many opportunities out there to give a positive message, and in a country that’s very divided, the one thing we can agree on is that democracy is a value and that the system flourishes when people’s voices are heard,” Bernstein says. “Our agenda is simply to get people out to vote.”