LONDON, ENGLAND – JUNE 03: Protesters wearing face masks, hold up placards and raise clenched fists … [+] during a Black Lives Matter protest outside the Houses of Parliament on June 3, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. The death of an African-American man, George Floyd, while in the custody of Minneapolis police has sparked protests across the United States, as well as demonstrations of solidarity in many countries around the world. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Tuesday, June 2, 2020 was a historic day for the music industry, as artists, music companies and many others joined together for #TheShowMustBePaused initiative, stopping their daily routines to listen, learn and support protestors of George Floyd’s death and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. For many, the day offered the chance to join the front lines of protests, but for others, being physically present, for a variety of personal or professional reasons, was not an option. For musicians looking for alternative ways to support these efforts, the answer may be right in front of you: create a song for a soundtrack to the movement.
History has shown that music can impact a movement by uniting people and, in some ways, providing a pathway to invoking change.
Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Godd*m” was written in response to the murder of Medgar Evers and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, where four young black girls died in 1963. Simone performed the song at the historic 1965 Selma March while standing on empty coffins. Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” became the anthem for the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. In 2015, protestors in Cleveland, Ohio chanted the lyrics to Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” in solidarity while gathering for the Movement for Black Lives as Sandra Bland, a black woman arrested at a traffic stop in Texas, died in her jail cell. NWA’s “F*ck Tha Police” became the soundtrack to the 1992 LA Riots after the beating of Rodney King in LA by several police officers.
Artists, whether smaller independent musicians or larger established names, can contribute to these movements in a variety of ways.
Songwriting can help channel your energy, whether in support of a movement or in response to the oppression that caused the need for it. Studies have shown songwriting to relieve anxiety, depression, PTSD and more, overall benefitting mental health. Inspiration can be found in social commentary, community discussion or personal reflection. While writing a song for the protest can provide support, there are several additional ways for musicians to offer assistance.
Donating royalties or proceeds from livestream performances to advocacy groups or bail funds for protestors are significant ways to make a difference. Creating movement-inspired merchandise (while adhering to all trademark laws) to donate proceeds is a personalized way to offer assistance. Songwriters, record labels and publishers can provide movements with free licenses to protest songs to create a soundtrack to their collective video footage.
Rioters and looters have impacted many local businesses, and these merchants––especially black-owned businesses––need support. Providing your music for complimentary soundtracks for business’ promotional videos is a great, no-cost way to offer assistance. For merchants in need of marketing content, the opportunity to connect with local videographers and musicians for awareness videos or filmed in-store performances is a great way to support your local community. Associating yourself with these businesses will allow you to introduce your fans to more local merchants, which can help stimulate your local economy when it is most needed.
Musicians can also take the opportunity to create virtual gatherings (or physical, post-pandemic) to partner with organizations affiliated with these movements. Fans have overwhelmingly shown support of livestreaming concerts from their favorite performers, and using your virtual stage as a platform to connect over social issues provides the opportunity to inform, listen and learn from your audience.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put musicians and business owners in a difficult position from losses incurred from the halt of physical gatherings. The current tension brought on by the series of police-related violence has many wanting to show their support, but financial donations or presence on the front lines may not be an option for everyone. There are many ways to find creative and free/cost-effective solutions for those who wish to provide support, and these movements can use all the assistance they can receive.