As the pandemic’s effects continue to permeate many areas of entertainment and live events, CMA is here to walk alongside our members and the industry as a whole, working to provide information and resources for immediate needs while navigating our way forward. We are continuously centralizing resources and working to connect those in need with aid that is available industry-wide. As a trade association, we are advocating for our community, fostering conversation and paving the way for innovation to allow our industry to move forward together. CMA is investing in our industry and, most importantly, serving our community in need. To access available resources and information, visit CMAmics.com.
Pandemic Relief: How CMA’s Investments in Nonprofit Partners Are Aiding the Industry
By Bob Paxman
When we think of COVID-19’s economic impact on the music industry, we immediately focus on artists and musicians. They are, after all, the most obvious victims. But the pandemic’s crippling impact has been felt across the entire music community. Sound engineers, carpenters, technical workers, programmers and even booking agents now exist from day to day — really, it’s more like hour to hour — in an uncertain economic world. They need relief, recovery and hope. But where can they find that?
CMA’s Music Industry COVID Support (MICS) Initiative
The Country Music Association is offering assistance to those in the music business affected by the COVID-19 pandemic via ongoing investments in nonprofit organizations through its Music Industry COVID Support (MICS) initiative. MICS serves as a portal for key resources, helping to connect industry professionals with appropriate nonprofit partners that offer support during the pandemic. Most recently, funding was granted to Music Health Alliance, Musically Fed, Notes for Notes, Porter’s Call and The Store. These nonprofits provide services to three critical areas CMA has prioritized based on its research: food supplies, health and wellness, and career services. “As a trade organization, it is our top priority to care for our industry and its community of people when they need it most,” states CMA Vice President, Community Outreach Tiffany Kerns. “By investing in these organizations that are the experts in what they do, we are able to provide the best assistance and resources to impact as many people as possible across the industry. As we continue to look to the months ahead, we will continue to support our industry and walk alongside our community as we wait for the day that we can get the show back on the road.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, Music Health Alliance has provided assistance to more than 5,000 music industry workers, with services that include health care advocacy and health insurance navigation, along with food and medication assistance through its COVID-19 relief grant. Music Health Alliance advocates have saved music industry members more than $63,000,000 in health care costs and helped over 1,000 families avoid bankruptcy due to mounting medical bills. Their aid includes relief grants and assistance with healthcare access and navigation to clients and their families who have lost insurance coverage during the pandemic.
“We went to Washington in March [before the shelter-in-place orders] to put together a summit for nonprofits, to provide information to help music professionals with accessing health care,” remembers Tatum Allsep, Music Health Alliance Founder and CEO. “That was right around the time the tornadoes hit Nashville. Then things started shutting down because of the pandemic, and by March 15, our phones were exploding. People were calling with their stories — ‘My tour was canceled’ or ‘I’m having a baby and I need diapers and formula.’ Things like that. We had to jump in immediately.”
Music Health Alliance tapped into its JackPot program, named for famed record producer Cowboy Jack Clement, known for his generosity in feeding hungry musicians. Through this fund, Music Health Alliance provided support in the form of food relief, mainly through the purchasing of grocery store gift cards. “We literally went in person to buy gift cards at Kroger, Walmart and Trader Joe’s,” says Allsep. “These were given to musicians and industry people who had lost their income. Their most immediate need was food.” She estimates that more than 700,000 meals have been provided through those gift cards. Music Health Alliance also partnered with Second Harvest Food Bank to provide vouchers to residents of Davidson County (Nashville), redeemable at the Nashville Farmers Market for produce, dairy products and meat.
The main mission of Musically Fed has been to donate unused backstage meals to community organizations that feed the hungry. When the pandemic took hold and it became apparent that the music industry itself needed a helping partner, Musically Fed changed course. In partnership with other organizations, Musically Fed has been involved with providing food to those in need of assistance in the entertainment field. The organization has hosted drive-thru events where families can receive food and other essentials, and the MICS funding will make it possible to continue those efforts, per Musically Fed Founder Maria Brunner.
“Part of the funding was to help an initiative that we just did in Anaheim [California],” says Brunner. “We were able to distribute food to over 200 cars, in total handing out 896 boxes of food, 200 bags of produce, 2,400 bottles of water, 224 bags of personal essentials, 400 bottles of baby formula, and 600 toys to assist some of the hardest hit music industry and live entertainment workers and their families during the holiday season.”
According to Brunner, 168 boxes of dry goods were donated to Second Harvest Food Bank and 228 boxes to FoodCycle LA, for communities in extremely desperate circumstances. “Altogether, we were able to provide 18,507 meals, and we couldn’t have done that without the funding from CMA,” she asserts. “COVID is hitting the area so hard that food is very scarce. This grant also confirmed that we could continue the car drive-thrus in Nashville that we’ve been doing since September.” Brunner adds that Musically Fed is also looking at initiatives in Austin, Orlando and possibly New Orleans to help gig workers, singer/songwriters and others in the live music industry.
Notes for Notes (N4N) has been a fixture in the music community for many years and a positive influence in students’ lives, providing them with free access to instruments, music lessons and recording studio environments. At a time when youth need music more than ever before, Notes for Notes is finding ways to continue its mission while also helping industry professionals whose livelihoods have been impacted by the pandemic.
“The MICS grant will help us pilot our Playback Payback program, which pays working musicians and industry professionals to help young musicians learn and create original music inside the safety of our N4N digital ecosystem,” says Philip Giley Notes for Notes CEO and Co-Founder. “Young musicians around the country will connect with talented professionals, who are currently more available than usual and who could benefit from alternative sources of revenue. Focused on supporting artists in the industry while cultivating future artists, Playback Payback can fill an immediate need while planting the seeds of ongoing, post-pandemic music mentorship opportunities for N4N members. As our mission expands beyond the four walls of our 23 physical studios around the country, our ability to continue meeting the need of young musicians in our program depends on increasing our roster of talented producers to pair with them. The MICS grant will help N4N reach more youth while supporting musicians and industry professionals at the same time.”
Porter’s Call Director Al Andrews agrees that the funding from MICS will be a tremendous help in this time of need as they offer counseling and support to recording artists and their families. Mainly, it will allow for Porter’s Call to provide additional services to more people who need them. “When our staff does not have room in their schedules for an artist who calls with a need, we have a number of counselors whom we’ve vetted who understand the world in which artists live,” explains Andrews. “We will use those funds to pay for that counseling or for additional assessment and treatment. We are honored and thrilled to have been given this generous gift from CMA.” According to Andrews, those helped by this initiative are Country artists who need someone to confide in about the issues they’re facing. Most of the issues artists are dealing with during this time are personal obstacles, such as depression, anxiety, relationship tensions and addictions.
Nashville nonprofit The Store is a recent entity, started by Country artist Brad Paisley and his wife, Kimberly Williams-Paisley. The year-round free grocery store allows those who qualify for its service to shop for essential needs, including healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. The Store welcomes CMA’s MICS funding as a way of providing even further assistance to those experiencing hunger issues in Middle Tennessee.
“The MICS grant allows The Store to implement a more focused reach into the music industry community,” says Courtney Vrablik, The Store Executive Director. “We have been able to employ a liaison staffer known in the music community to act as a bridge between those in need and services available. We hope this will reduce the anxiety and misinformation affiliated with support services. Given that The Store is a payless grocery store, the funding will also ensure that we can continue to provide the freshest, most nutritionally dense food goods to our customers in adequate amounts.”
Last April, CMA and its philanthropic arm, the CMA Foundation, pledged $1,000,000 to the COVID-19 Relief efforts established by the Recording Academy and MusiCares.
Once the pandemic hit, the writing on the wall seemed clear and all too legible. Swift and decisive action was required. “As the shelter-in-place orders devastated the music industry, we knew we had to act quickly to provide support to the most vulnerable in our industry who were facing a loss of work and an uncertain future,” says MusiCares Vice President/Health and Human Services Debbie Carroll. “In partnership with the Recording Academy, we announced our COVID-19 relief effort in March 2020. Since that time, we have distributed relief grants to more than 24,000 people working in all facets of the music industry.”
The MusiCares COVID-19 Relief work has come to the aid of thousands of music professionals across many genres whose employment was affected by the pandemic. In addition to providing general assistance for basic needs such as food, rent and utility payments, among other services, the funds have more specifically assisted with mortgage and rent costs, allowing those who were out of work to remain in their homes.
MusiCares helps safeguard the health and well-being of music industry members through programs that address personal, medical and financial issues. “Our organization also provides everything from disaster relief assistance [to] preventive medical and dental clinics, addiction recovery and medical health services and so much more,” notes Carroll.
During the holiday season, MusiCares launched “Help for the Holidays,” offering $250 essential goods gift cards to the first 4,000 eligible applicants, to help the music community cover life’s most basic and essential needs.
Who Can Qualify?
Music Health Alliance requires three years of employment in the music industry or four credited contributions to commercially released recordings or videos. “You must show proof of need,” explains Allsep. “If you have lost gigs or lost your job, you need to present that to us. We also ask for bank statements. You can provide us contracts, liner note credits or check stubs as documentation. The best way to access all of this information is through our website.” For more information, visit MusicHealthAlliance.com.
Brunner of Musically Fed says the organization serves basically anyone in the industry who is not on unemployment. She details how eligibility is determined: “We have a select committee of industry people that came up with guidelines for vetting and speaking with those that apply. We have one-sheets that we send out to entities such as the Music Health Alliance, BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, and production and staging companies. They reach out internally to determine those that are in need and [send] them our way. Rhino Staging takes over from there, schedules cars for times to attend the drive-thru and explains the details of how the drive-thru works to the recipients.” People in the industry may also reach out to Musically Fed personally at (480) 951-1882 or visit the organization’s website, MusicallyFed.org.
For those interested in becoming involved with Notes for Notes, visit NotesforNotes.org.
Andrews of Porter’s Call explains, “Full-time recording artists can receive our services. The most clear description of our eligibility requirements can be found on our website, PortersCall.com, in the FAQ section on our menu bar.”
Anyone at or below the federal poverty level is eligible for The Store’s services. Additional information may be found at TheStore.org.
MusiCares eligibility requirements include a minimum of three years in the music industry or six commercially released recordings or videos. Carroll elaborates: “Those working in all areas of the industry — songwriters, musicians, engineers, bus drivers, crew, guitar techs and beyond — are eligible. We modified eligibility to be as inclusive as we could be while staying true to our mission.” For more information, visit MusiCares.org.
In It Together
These organizations could write volumes about all they’ve witnessed due to the economic hardships wrought by the pandemic. “There are a lot of jobs that we don’t even think about,” says Allsep. “We had one woman who came to us for assistance whose business was tour bus cleaning. We know that job exists, but it’s not the first thing that comes to our mind. Then there are guitar techs, electricians, carpenters and many more who have lost their income.”
“We continue to hear stories of people who are struggling with basic needs like food, rent or utility payments,” says Carroll. “Many music professionals are not eligible for unemployment, making the need for support even greater.”
Allsep emphasizes one especially important point: Don’t be hesitant or embarrassed to ask for help. “Everything we do here is confidential,” she says reassuringly. “No one will know that you have come to us.” MusiCares operates in a similar manner. “We realize that asking for help can be difficult,” says Carroll. “Therefore, all of our assistance is purely confidential. When an individual contacts us, those conversations are private.”
It’s vital to know that these organizations have only one key agenda: to help you, the music industry professional. Their advocacy and services are free to those who qualify. “We want our community to know that we are here for them as long as they need us, both for short-term and long-term needs,” says Vrablik of The Store.
“All of us have moments in our lives when we need some type of support,” says Carroll. “This pandemic is something no one could have predicted and it has devastated the music community. Individuals considering reaching out are certainly not alone.” As she consolingly reminds, in words we so often hear these days, “we are all in this together.”
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