Music, Service and a Long Overdue Strategy

The music industry must be smarter, and speak with one voice as an industry to be recognized as a force for good. Combined, we have the untapped potential of millions of live music fans, waiting to make their nation a better place.
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This post was co-written by Matt Wilhelm, co-director of Calling All Crows.

With the recent passage and signing of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which expands AmeriCorps' ranks from 75,000 to 250,000 members annually, the music industry needs to devise a single strategy to leverage new federal funding to mobilize fans to volunteer.

Consider a few inspiring examples of our industry's recent involvement in service:

Stefan Lessard of the Dave Matthews Band led a beach cleanup in San Diego with the Surfrider Foundation to commemorate the September 11th Day of Remembrance & Service. Phish and the Waterwheel Foundation recently challenged fans to serve 8,000 hours in their communities before their Festival 8 over Halloween Weekend. EFFECT and The Voluntour spent the summer leveraging the President & First Lady's United We Serve campaign; pulling more bands and, in turn, more fans into the world of volunteerism. Our friends Brett Dennen and John Butler have teamed up with CLIF Bar's GreenNotes program and demonstrated what's possible when the private sector puts the power of the corporate dollar behind service to "protect the places we play."

It's a great start, but we still have a long way to go. Together we must do more, be smarter, and speak with one voice as an industry to be recognized as a force for good. Combined, we have the untapped potential of thousands -- or millions -- of live music fans, just waiting to make their community, nation, and world a better place in very specific, hands-on, tangible ways.

Nearly every other day while State Radio is on tour, Calling All Crows, the band's human rights organization, coordinates pre-show service projects with local nonprofits and social service agencies. Members of the band, our crew, and area fans unite to address critical needs in each city. For instance, last week in Lawrence, Kansas, we cleaned out a storage space with the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and next week we'll kickoff the second leg of our fall tour with a beach cleanup at Long Wharf Nature Preserve with Save the Sound in New Haven, Connecticut.

We're building sustainable, local networks of volunteers that can be mobilized through service to address communities' most pressing challenges like hunger, homelessness, and an ever-neglected environment. Calling All Crows' Action Leaders (super fan volunteers in each city) help to identify projects in their area, coordinate with local nonprofit partners, promote the event, recruit other volunteers, and then tell their stories of service through photos, video and blogs. The impact is tangible and the experience contagious for all involved.

State Radio's road crew includes three AmeriCorps alumni, who have each committed a year or more of their lives to full-time service. Leading the charge is my partner, our tour manager, and Calling All Crows co-founder Sybil Gallagher. In September 2008, Sybil came up with the idea to incorporate service into our daily touring schedule. Since we started, our volunteer participation has quadrupled, mirroring national trends. According to a recent study by the Corporation for National & Community Service, 441,000 more young adults volunteered in 2008 than 2007 -- an increase from 7.8 million to more than 8.2 million.

Just as President Kennedy so convincingly captured the imagination of a generation and inspired our nation's young people to join the Peace Corps in the 1960s, we need to appeal to more spokespeople across music genres and draw up a blueprint for how to best reach Americans. With an increase in AmeriCorps positions and a new Social Innovation Fund, we have the opportunity to leverage federal dollars to support music industry nonprofits to achieve their goals by empowering fans to serve.

Calling All Crows is just one organization in the live music scene that could benefit from the energy and idealism of AmeriCorps members. Now is the time to acknowledge both the power of music to bring people together and the power of service as a strategy to address our country's most dire and urgent challenges. It's time to fuse the two forces and AmeriCorps is poised to be a big part of the solution.

A successful demonstration of this fusion is the inaugural class of MusicianCorps Fellows, which recently completed their national training camp in preparation for a full year of service in schools, neighborhoods and hospitals. Music National Service founder Kiff Gallagher, who served on the Clinton White House team charged with creating AmeriCorps in 1993, provides an inspiring example of what's possible when we think critically about ways to best leverage music to meet civic goals.

Under unprecedented presidential leadership on the issue, it's clear that the music industry is (finally) looking for its place in the service movement. In the spirit of Woodstock 40 years ago, tremendous pockets of energy and enthusiasm for volunteerism have been popping up around clubs, theatres, and amphitheatres from coast to coast. There is no time to waste for like-minded artists, nonprofits, and corporate sponsors to unite in common cause and develop a single strategy for mobilizing musicians and their fans through service.

This week, more than 90 prime time television programs will highlight volunteering as part of iParticipate, an initiative of the Entertainment Industry Foundation. What a powerful message we could send if more than 90 musicians highlighted volunteering by serving alongside their fans over the course of one week in 2010. Consider our impact. Consider our potential.