There’s no doubt that 2020 has been a year of change for everyone — myself included. We’re navigating new ways of creating, communicating, and living our daily lives.
As musicians, it’s important that we learn how to use our skills not to exploit the benefits of community, but enhance them. Now is a time for lifting one another up. And you’re in a unique position to contribute, because music and creativity can be a healing force.
But that said, it can be tough to know where to start. So here are five ways you can start making a difference in your local community.
Figure out what your passions are
First up, before you start organizing for others, you’ll need to get organized on what you are personally passionate about.
What causes do you want to support? What groups do you identify with? Make a list of the organizations and nonprofits in your community, and find out what kind of work they’re doing. Read their mission statement, then sign up to volunteer with them. If you’re not sure what direction to go in, getting acquainted with these organizations’ programming will help.
We all have personal stories about why we get involved with any given cause, and these stories help make change happen, influence our policymakers, and get others involved and on board with the mission.
When Nashville was rocked by a tornado this past March (right before the COVID-19 lockdown started), jazz songwriter and activist Alayna Renae was already volunteering with political organizations and getting more educated about local government.
“The day after the tornado,” Renae tells me. “I sat in a Senate hearing that was allegedly canceled. During that hearing, I watched local politicians push forward bills that would affect the lives of Nashvillians, whether they knew about them or not. Since my city was mourning vast devastation, I knew that they wouldn’t hear about these life-altering bills for months to come. Sure enough I was right and I saw a need to call musicians into direct action for our community.”
Renae then founded the organization Nashville Musicians for Change to: “Mobilize musicians into becoming conscious activists by educating each other at a peer level about local organizations and government.” Renae hopes that she can help her fellow musicians show up to do the work needed to create positive change and use their fan bases to bring awareness to the issues affecting their community.
Educate yourself (and your peers)
To learn about what’s going on in your local community, you’ll need to start learning how it all works where you live; and how things get done.
Do you have a city council? How about a local representative you can talk to? What are they working on right now? What have they committed to doing in the coming months/years?
In fact, why not go the extra mile and set up training seminars or informative webinars just like this one organized by Renae, to educate both yourself and your fellow musicians about what’s going on all at once. Bring in experts, set up a Zoom meetup, or even start a blog to share valuable, informative resources.
We’ve been taught to think our government systems are hard to access and impossible to reach, but I’ve personally learned it’s quite easy to talk to your local community leaders. State representatives, city council members, and senators are usually happy to schedule a phone call or meeting to hear out their constituents.
Donate to causes you care about
Now, I know this year has been hard on many musicians. I’m in that boat as well, and so are most of my colleagues. But if you’ve got the funds, or you can find ways to collect them, it’s a great moment in history to donate to vital causes out there.
You can donate a percentage of your earnings to an organization, or even political candidate whose work you support. Even just 5 to 10% of what you make from a show can help an organization get supplies.
Create authentic music
This one’s hopefully obvious — don’t be afraid to write songs about the issues you care about!
If you’re having trouble getting started, follow this playlist of songs about social justice for inspiration. If you feel stuck, find people with whom you can co-write. Become part of any Facebook groups for musicians in your city, or look up what offline groups are available to join, and always feel free to reach out to fellow creatives.
If you’re really ambitious, you can even try doing a weekly “song challenge” with a few friends to hold each other accountable; and pick a different topic each week. If you’re struggling to write songs, try taking another route: Reach out to painters, muralists, writers, or poets in your community to get inspired.
Conversations, and collaborations, are key right now, and they can often provide the match to light the fires of creativity.
Share and spread what you’ve got to give
Ask if you can perform a song or two for an organization you care about for an upcoming event (whether virtual or not), and share the gifts of your songcraft for the benefit of others.
I actually got to perform two songs for Our Revolution on their Facebook Live Statewide Meeting. Making an effort to share on your social media platforms is great, but having real conversations is even better. Text and call your friends to get involved too.
Now that it’s election season again, start calling around to ask your friends and cohorts in the music scene whether they’re registered and ready to vote. Start conversations in the local scene and find out how informed people are about the local candidates and issues on this year’s ballot. This is about setting an example, sharing what you’ve got to give, and spreading resources around.
While it’s easy to be an island and try to take the world on alone, we won’t help our communities unless we build community. We musicians are the movers and shakers of these times, and it’s our job to create something beautiful from it.
If you’ve been looking for a way to give back to your community, I hope this helped! Remember, we need each other. While it’s undeniable we’re living in difficult times, it’s also the perfect opportunity to pull back and reflect on what you care about, then encourage others to do the same.
Follow Nashville Musicians for Change on Instagram here: @nashvillemusiciansforchange
Follow Ellisa Sun’s music on Instagram here: @ellisasunmusic
Ellisa Sun cuts out her heart and leaves it on the stage, which is why she never wears white. Her music is a unique blend of genres spanning R&B, jazz, and pop that creates a soulful, textured sound. Ellisa is originally from Los Angeles and now resides in Nashville, TN.
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