On March 17, the Recording Academy and its charitable arm, MusiCares, established the COVID-19 Relief Fund to help music creators and community members affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The fund launched with a $2 million base donation from the academy and MusiCares, and has since ballooned to over $10 million, with support from key business stakeholders across the industry. Creators can apply for grants of up to $1,000 to compensate for canceled work and basic living costs for rent or mortgages at musicares.org.
Harvey Mason Jr., who became interim chief this January, says the academy lobbied on behalf of the music community in Congress and had “a small hand” in helping to pass the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act last month. This April, the organization also hosted a webinar with over 26,000 music professionals and members to discuss the stimulus package and set up a CARES Act Helpline as a resource for members seeking aid.
A Grammy-nominated songwriter and producer in his own right, with credits on records for Justin Timberlake, Luther Vandross, Justin Bieber and others, Mason immediately felt the urgency of the pandemic for working musicians. “I am the exact exemplification of a gig economy in music. I knew that my paycheck was attached to the music that I made, and if I worked, I got paid,” he says. “My background helped me empathize with all of the other musicians and music creators, from the people who load cars and mix sound, to all of the different elements of the industry.”
So far the academy has processed 13,000 requests, at a pace of roughly 500 per day. Fund recipients have included Surfer Blood bassist Lindsey Mills, who doubles as the children’s entertainer Milly Marzipan, and Nashville artists Michelle Brooke and sister-trio Dozzi. “Surfer Blood’s first cancellation due to coronavirus was a tour scheduled around SXSW, and we’ve since had to delay the release of our new album and two accompanying U.S. tours,” says Mills, who is using the funds to cover living expenses for the month of April. Adds Andrea Dozzi: “We applied for multiple grants, but MusiCares is the only application my sisters and I have heard back from. This isn’t the first time they’ve saved us, and we can’t thank them enough for supporting a community that doesn’t always have the benefits that most jobs provide.”
Here, the interim academy chief details the COVID-19 Relief Fund and what’s next.
The Recording Academy’s membership is very diverse in craft and genre. We have members all over the country who are living paycheck to paycheck, and every digital musician is a small business owner. Without the ability to put on shows or do tours, there was not going to be money coming in. The academy saw that, and we jumped into action. To start the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund, I worked closely with Steve Boom [vp digital music at Amazon Music and MusiCares’ chair of the board of directors]. We started first by calling the streaming services, including Amazon Music, Pandora, Spotify, TIDAL, and YouTube Music; then we went to the record companies and labels Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group; and then performing rights organizations ASCAP, BMI and SESAC; and companies from SiriusXM and StubHub to the Latin Recording Academy, City National Bank, and others. We’re continuing the outreach with hopes of growing the fund even more. The need is so serious.
At the academy, the opportunity we have is one of service, which I take very seriously. It’s our obligation to our members to speak for the greater music community and make sure that our voices are heard by legislators in Washington. It’s been a joint effort with other groups and lobbyists, but it’s also been the result of our membership sending 20,000 letters to Congress — the most we’ve ever sent. I knew that we wouldn’t be able to raise enough money without the help of federal, state and local governments, which goes hand in hand with our own fundraising efforts. Art and culture are so important to our society. It’s what a lot of people are turning to right now, and it’s what will bring us together at the end of this crisis.