Friday, March 15, 2013

SXSW: Music Meets Activism When You Get Upset

Posted By on Fri, Mar 15, 2013 at 5:05 PM


A group of panelists at SXSW, including Mike Mills of R.E.M. and Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event shared their thoughts and strategies on how musicians can make a change in the world.

"You don't have to be a huge band," said Jollett. "You just have to be upset and want to do something."

Though Jollett and his band have been involved in a number of causes, including the Wounded Warrior Project, he was speaking of the video of Neda, an Iranian woman who was killed in the unrest following the disputed Iranian election of 2009, and whose death was viewed widely on YouTube.

When Jollett and his band saw that video, they immediately set about trying to do something. Anything. Among their efforts were fundraising concerts and a social media campaign in which people tweeted pictures of themselves holding signs that said, "I am Neda," which were then compiled into a video calling attention to the crime.

Brandon Deroche, who works with a foundation started by Incubus, discussed another form of online campaign that gives users points that can be redeemed for perks, like meet-and-greets with the band, concert tickets and more. Those efforts have raised millions of dollars which the foundation then doles out to non-profits in a grant process.

But not everything has to be that complicated.

Mills discussed what it was like back before there was social media, saying R.E.M. used to hold advance listening parties for its new album with the funds going to a local women's shelter.

They also printed postcards addressed to President Bill Clinton on the inside of their CD covers that supported an act to allow voter registration at the DMV. More than 300,000 of the cards were mailed in, and the members of R.E.M. were invited to the signing ceremony.

Once, while accepting an award, the band's singer, Michael Stipe, took off a series of T-shirts calling attention to various issues.

"What you had to do then, and I'm sure this holds true now, was look for opportunies that may not stand out as a moment of activism," said Mills.

The biggest thing all the panelists agreed on, was that the best way to be successful was to focus on your own community, where you can see things that need to be addressed and where the bureaucracy to have a measurable effect isn't as thick.

"What you want to do [is] find a way to go out and do it," said Hillary Zuckerberg, director
of Artists Against Hunger and Poverty. "Do what you believe."

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