There’s no denying the emotional power of music, and music’s ability to unite and move people at an emotional level makes it a great vehicle to inspire in ways that words can’t. In that way, the pairing of music and social causes creates a perfect duet with the power to create long-lasting, emotional connection with listeners.
Music has been a stage for cause marketing for years. From the Live Aid concert in 1985 to a charity like the MusiCares Foundation, music has always been a powerful voice for everything from child hunger to disaster relief to cancer prevention. Whatever the need, artists are stepping up to get involved through songwriting, live performances and acting as spokespeople for causes that they believe in.
Artists like Elton John, Jon Bon Jovi, Celine Dion and Common have gone the extra mile to establish their own charities. Several artists are global cause ambassadors such as Alicia Keys, Shakira and Angelique Kidjo. Even the first lady has embraced music through her leadership with the Partnership For a Healthier America, which has enlisted an array of popular artists to contribute to the album “Songs for A Better America,” which features artists like Doug E Fresh, Travis Barker, Matisyahu and Jordin Sparks—all of whom perform to promote healthy eating.
Today marks the 12th anniversary of the September 11th attacks—a day that has inspired many artists to show their support and express how they felt. Immediately after, many artists responded through song to, as Elton John puts it, “share the troubles we already know.” Lee Greenwood re-released his classic patriotic single, “God Bless the USA,” originally released in 1991, after the tragedy and continues to see sales lifts post-anniversary (+131% in 2012). Some of the biggest names in music, such as Bon Jovi, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Jay-Z, Billy Joel and many others came together for the Concert for New York City, organized by Paul McCartney. The Concert for New York City album eclipsed 500,000 in sales and the DVD of the event sold over 100,000 units.
Bruce Springsteen has also been vocal about 9/11 through song. His album The Rising was released in July of 2002 and centered around his reflections on the 9/11 attacks. The album has sold more than 2.2 million units to date. Additionally, The Rising continues to see a significant increase in sales during the week of 9/11, including a 436% increase in sales during the week of the 10-year anniversary of 9/11.
When natural disasters strike, musicians often come together to raise awareness and support for the victims. For example, Blake Shelton, Toby Keith and Kings of Leon recently performed separate concerts to raise money for tornado victims in Oklahoma. In fact, Shelton’s concert alone raised over $6 million for the cause. Other examples include earthquake benefits, such as the Hope for Haiti Now and Songs for Japan, which have both helped to raise millions of dollars for victims of those tragedies. In many cases, musicians from around the world join together with artists that have ties to the area struck by the disaster. In the case of Hope for Haiti Now, Hatian-American Wyclef Jean and his Yele Haiti Foundation were a major contributor to the relief efforts.
Last year, the upper part of the East Coast took a beating by Hurricane Sandy, which devastated many areas of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island. The music industry responded with the “12.12.12” hurricane relief concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden Arena, which featured Kanye West, Billy Joel, Bon Jovi, Eric Clapton and several other artists. Not only did the live broadcast of the concert attract more than 19.3 million TV viewers*, but the charity CD sold over 167,000 units as well.
Musicians also bring their music and messages to social causes. For example, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love,” Snoop Lion’s “No Guns Allowed,” and Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way” (which have sold 1.9 million, 34,000, and 3.9 million units to date) have all taken a stance on a current social movement issues. The MTV Video Music Awards recognized this in its 2011 show by adding an award just for videos with a social message, highlighting the important role that music plays in raising awareness and support of social issues.
*Who watched at least a portion of the concert on television.