Playing For Change
Updated: Jan 24, 2019
5 Tips on Upping Your Live Music Charity Efforts
Artists have a unique voice when it comes to championing causes. More than just about anyone else, they have a captive audience with which they can share the causes they are most passionate about. This is true of all artists, but here let’s focus specifically on musicians, and explore Artist Social Responsibility.
In David Byrne’s book How Music Works he suggests, “As music becomes less of a thing - a cylinder, a cassette, a disc - and more ephemeral…we will begin to assign an increasing value to live performances again.” Of course, this has already happened. With the loss of record stores, music venues stand alone as the primary brick & mortar source for music culture. The venue is a temple for many music fans, and it is here that artists have complete audience attention. But what about when the artist is not on tour? With social media and connections to their fan base year-round, this reach extends far beyond the stage and provides the artist the potential to make a considerable difference to a worthy cause. In time, and with consistent efforts towards one or two charities, those charitable efforts become part of the artist’s brand.
Supporting a charity with no benefit in return is admirable, but what if there was a benefit to the artist?
The 2012 Millennial Impact Report suggests, “more than 85 percent of millennials correlate their purchasing decisions and their willingness to recommend a brand to the social good efforts a company is making.” This report was specifically investigating purchase decisions regarding major corporations and recognizable brands, but that doesn’t mean that the values of the consumer, or in our case the music fan, stop there.
International causes can provide powerful stories, but you will likely find that your fans are even more enthusiastic about supporting artists who are giving back to their community.
Obviously fans are going to venues where their favourite artists are performing, but millennial marketing, and new charitable fundraising tactics, are focusing more on making people feel better about the money they are already spending.
Even more motivated by this charitable story is the media. Your new album or tour in and of itself is not a compelling story. Collecting food bank donations at every tour stop or speaking about climate change at schools along the way is.
Have you ever asked a friend to help you move? It’s a big task, and a true sign of friendship. The day of the move, it doesn’t matter how many big strong friends are there, as long as we have a few bodies to help manage the move as a whole. This is because we don’t judge our friends based on how much they can lift – we judge them on whether or not they show up. Your charitable efforts will be viewed the same way. It is inconsequential exactly how many cans of non-perishable food items for the food bank, iPods for the seniors’ home, or winter coats for the homeless shelter, that you collect. That you are doing it, that is the measuring stick of social good.
The most common barriers to getting involved with a charity are usually around knowing what value you as the artist/venue owner/promoter can offer them. You already have a career, and a busy one at that. You likely don’t have the time available to manage the actual execution of your charitable pursuits (i.e. building a house in Nicaragua, teaching music in remote communities, or resettling refugees yourself). So picking a charity not only that represents your contribution to society, but effectively delivers upon that promise, is the greatest emotional labour one can be expected to put in.
The other main barrier is the belief that we can’t make a difference because we don’t feel we could generate enough money to donate. The truth is that you can make a huge difference in ways that don’t take a dime out of your, or even your fan’s, pocket.
Traditional marketing says that people need to see something eight times before they recognize the logo or the product catch phrase. You mentioning a charity on stage or in your social media might be the first time your fans hear about it…or the 5th…or maybe the 8th. Your endorsement builds confidence, which might one day lead your fans to support the same causes you do.
Speaking of social media, we all know that we should be limiting our “sell” messages (i.e. download my album, buy tickets to my show, etc.) to 10-20% of our social media feed. The rest of the time we need to talk about something other than ourselves. Supporting a charity gives you a chance to be passionate and engaged about a subject that isn’t you, and yet provides a topic that you can have extended conversations about through your social media feeds.
The other way the charity can help you is by promoting your shows. The social media following for an arts organization, for example, is full of fans of live music. Part of what they as a charity bring to the table for artists who support them is that they do what they can to tell their followers about your event. The least they can do is support those who are supporting them. Everything else being equal, find a charitable organization that wants to create an ongoing partnership with you.
Charitable work can also help artists to build stronger relationships with venues. If an establishment is known for doing great work in their community, then simply by playing that venue an artist can say that they are making a contribution, and by extension create a positive story to tell their fans. You make each other look good. If this reputation expands beyond the local scene, outside promoters/agents might hear about you first and even prioritize your stage as the place to put their artists when in your city.
Technology makes it easier to be philanthropic. Websites such as chimp.net allow you to run a fundraising campaign that automatically generates charitable tax receipts for your donors, imbeds media to help tell your story, and delivers that final donation right to the charity. You can build a campaign in 5 minutes and share it through your social media for as long of a period as you like.
Don’t pick a charity for the sake of doing it. If your concern isn’t sincere the fans will see right through it. Find one that resonates with you, your family, or your community. There are over 87,000 charities in Canada to pick from.
What can you do (that doesn’t involve giving money)?
Post a photo on Instagram of you wearing a shirt from the charity
Put out flyers on your merch table
Share the charities campaign video on your Facebook page
Add their logo to your website
Ask how you can become an “ambassador”