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MusiCares Chiefs Steve Boom and Harvey Mason Jr. Talk Coronavirus Relief Fund, and How We All Can Help

Variety — Jem Aswad

Grammy Awards are great, but the Recording Academy’s greatest contribution to the music industry is arguably MusiCares — its charitable foundation to support music industry workers in need.

In simpler times, it helps people with everything from emergency health care  to substance-abuse treatment, but these days it has focused on helping music people — everyone, not just Academy members — who have lost their livelihoods due to the coronavirus pandemic that has devastated the music industry and much of the world.

Last week the Recording Academy and MusiCares launched the COVID-19 Relief Fund with $2 million, and earlier this week Amazon Music, Facebook, SiriusXM-Pandora, Spotify, Tidal, and YouTube Music made “generous” contributions to it — as have countless others, including musicians who have performed online concerts to raise money: Better Than Ezra’s Kevin Griffin was stunned when his solo set on Facebook last week raised more than $40,000, simply because he clicked a “MusiCares” box on the site; Father John Misty released a live album to raise money for the fund.

MusiCares has been without an executive director for the past two years, but its chairman of the board, Amazon Music chief Steve Boom and acting Recording Academy head Harvey Mason Jr. — and its three vice presidents, Debbie Carroll, Kelly Darr and Judy Wong, and the organization’s 16-person staff — stepped immediately into the breach and began getting people financial help, for which everyone in the music community owes them a debt of gratitude.

Boom and Mason took 20 minutes from these roles and their busy day jobs (Mason is also a musician/songwriter/producer) to talk with Variety about MusiCares’ efforts and how we all can help.

If you wish to support MusiCares’ efforts to assist music professionals in need, visit: https://www.grammy.com/MusiCares/CoronavirusReliefFund

If you are a member of the music industry in need of assistance, visit: musicares.org.

Obviously MusiCares has a strong infrastructure in place, but you established the fund pretty quickly after the pandemic hit the U.S.
Steve Boom: When this began to get serious, Harvey and I immediately got on the phone and said we need to do something now and on a big scale, and it was the Academy and MusiCares that initially stepped up with the contributions and created the fund. With an organization that has thirty-plus years of helping people and has done this before, although not on this scale, if you’re donating money you can rest assured that it’s going to get to the people who need it, because that’s already what we do.

Harvey Mason Jr.: In 2005 MusiCares’ Hurricane Katrina relief effort, which I thought was amazing, helped over 3,500 people and granted almost $4 million to people in need, it was obvious we were going to need a much bigger effort.

We want to make sure people understand the MusiCares COVID relief fund is for everybody in the music community — not just Recording Academy members and definitely not superstar artists, it’s about working class musicians and people loading gear and running lights and engineering sound, for the guitar player about to go on tour that was canceled, or a guy who was playing in a hotel lobby. A lot of them don’t work for companies or have insurance and a lot of them don’t have savings. A lot of multibillion-dollar companies say that if they don’t get a bailout they only have a few months to survive, and we’re hearing from our constituents that they may not survive for a few days or weeks.

Boom: In fact, the superstars are the ones who are helping out.

Do you have a ballpark idea of how much has been raised so far?
Boom: We started with $1 million each from MusiCares and the Academy, and it’s multiples of that now. The total changes hourly, which is great, and we expect it to be multiples of that, and we’re super excited about how much money has been raised, but it’s nowhere near enough — the need is greater than anything we’ve experienced. The music community has never needed more help than it needs now.

Are there ways that people can make it easier for the MusiCares staff to process their requests?
Mason: The website lays it all out pretty clearly, but given the volume of requests we’re seeing, I think the most important thing is for people to fill out all the information as completely as possible and have a little bit of patience as we work through all the applications coming in.

Are you encouraged by the relief music people can receive from the stimulus bill that’s before Congress?
Mason
: I think it’s going to help. There’s language in there that’s beneficial to our community, but I think it’s a little TBD for us — it’s going to take some time for us to dig through the legislation and see how we fit in. We worked extremely hard to make sure that the voices of creators and music people were heard, we submitted almost 25,000 pieces of communication to national legislators and I think we were heard, so we were very appreciative to be included. But how it plays out and what it means in dollars and cents to our community is TBD.

How can people help apart from donating, especially since we’re all stuck at home?
Mason
: If it’s not giving money its spreading the message. If you’re anywhere in the arts, sharing your talent is helping, talking about the relief fund is helping, sending links and assets to your friends and people you work with is helpful, or performing — for us artists are doing one of the greater things, giving their talent and content and creativity and tagging MusiCares links and any other digital assets.

Boom: All of that, 100%. The only thing I’d add is to continue to engage with your favorite artists online and let them know that you’re out there and supporting them because they’re going thru hard times, and if you can’t do it financially do it emotionally because it really helps. Just be a fan.

Playing a benefit concert on Facebook is really as simple as clicking a box to donate to MusiCares, like Better Than Ezra’s Kevin Griffin did?
Both
: Absolutely, it’s that simple.

There were some names — okay, one name — not included in the list of streaming services contributing to the fund. Do you have any comment on that?
Mason
: We don’t have a firm answer on that, but we approached everybody and we’re continuing to, and we’re just appreciative and thankful when people do come on board. I know that every company is deciding what they’re going to do in their own time frame and have their own people to worry about, and certain things happen at certain times. If somebody’s not [involved] yet we’re continuing to talk and hopefully they’ll do something helpful in the long run. But we don’t complain about people who don’t come on, we’re just grateful for the people who do.

Is there anyone in particular on the MusiCares staff you’d like to shout out?
Mason
: Everyone, obviously, but the MusiCares staff is being led by three amazing women who have been working with it for some time — Debbie Carroll, Kelly Darr and Judy Wong. The three of them have been working tirelessly for some time around this, and Steve has been instrumental in leading the organization through this and has gone above and beyond the call of duty for a normal chair position.

And of course we have to shout out the music creators and the people who have gone online and reached out to the community, either with messages or music, and we have to shout them out for not only help us raise money but also bringing people together. We’ve got artists talking about MusiCares, giving links on their live streams — Selena Gomez just donated a portion of her merch sales to MusiCares. Artists have really gone out of their way and we really have to thank them for that. Of course the press and word of mouth have played an enormous role as well, and it’s been really encouraging that some of the streaming partners and the labels and artists we’re going to be talking about have really put in a lot of effort and time to be helpful.

Boom: Everyone that he said, and I’m really proud of the way streaming and tech companies came together to form this coalition of support. It’s been incredible to see.

How are you both balancing this work with your day jobs?
Mason
: It’s definitely a challenge. My studio has been closed for the past couple of weeks. I have a mobile I can work out of a little bit, but records, movies and TV shows that I’ve been working on have come to a grinding halt. This has driven me to work even harder on the MusiCares side — my business is good and I’m good so I’m not trying to put myself in that area of need, but I totally see how it affects my employees and the industry is being affected.

Boom: Obviously I have a day job too and things aren’t slowing down, so I have to shout out the Amazon Music team, we’ve been behind this MusiCares effort from day one and it’s been really gratifying to see people on my team rally behind it on top of their day jobs.

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