Like a lot of people living in solidly blue states, Liam McCormick of San Francisco orchestral folk outfit The Family Crest was feeling rather helpless when it came to the outcome of the 2020 election. With his primary source of income—touring—completely hamstrung by the pandemic, the only thing that he could think to offer up was his music, and there was no obvious way for him to use his gifts to make a difference in an election that was just months away. But McCormick has never been one to shy away from a challenge. His band first formed with the goal to connect with a community of musicians around Northern California and winded up with 100 performers on the recording. The albums since then have included hundreds more musicians from around the country, and the band once released a 12-hour music video.
McCormick enlisted his friend Ben Cohen, an opera singer and software engineer, to create Playlist For Progress, a platform for artists to offer up their music to fans in exchange for donations to groups like Stacey Abrams’ election suppression monitoring non-profit Fair Fight, via ActBlue. More than 25 artists have already offered their music on the platform, raising more than $1,000 in the first few days.
Paste:What made you decide to do this?
Liam McCormick:As you might imagine from the title of the project, Ben’s and my values come down to a fundamental belief in equality, human rights, racial justice and science. Beyond that, we long for a general standard of morality and honesty in politics. It has been painful to see people within our family, band, team members, friends and fans being put in a position where their basic human rights, even safety, are being threatened.
Over the past year, I’ve heard from so many of my artist friends that they wish they could do more in regards to the upcoming election but, unfortunately, don’t have the funds to make any kind of large-scale change. Because music is essentially free these days due to streaming services being the primary place people listen to music, most bands’ primary source of income comes from touring. Touring came to a halt when the pandemic hit, and will likely not resume in any normal way for quite a long time—so bands are left with little to no income. In this country, there’s a big cultural focus on income defining your value as a person, and I think many artists have lost a sense of purpose recently. We’ve forgotten the true value and power in what we do.
I’d been reflecting on all of this for a while, but when I heard the news of RBG’s passing, on top of everything else that’s happened this year, I knew I had to do more. I came up with an idea that could contribute to addressing some of the challenges in our democracy right now, and help reinforce the value of music and art in the process. The idea was simple: to build a music platform where fans can donate to progressive causes and get access to exclusive content in exchange for their donations. I called my friend Ben, a musician-turned-software-engineer, and said, “Is it insane to think that we could build this before the election?” He basically said, “Yes, it is, but it’s worth doing,” so we worked fast and hard to make it happen. After a lot of sleepless nights, we’re live with 27 artists on the platform and counting.
The primary goals at Playlist for Progress are to empower artists, give their music a new kind of value, and give them the ability to use their platform for change by encouraging their fans to donate to organizations advocating for people so their voices can be heard. Currently, all donations are made through ActBlue and are directed to organizations focused on expanding voter rights and fighting voter suppression. We’re simultaneously also introducing new fans for the bands on the platform.
In keeping with the project’s name, we created a “Playlist for Progress” donation option that allows a supporter to get a playlist featuring 10 randomized artists on the platform. In the long run, we wanted to be able to give our community, bands, and fans alike, the opportunity to be able to raise their voices through art.
Paste: What has the response been like from other artists?
I’m constantly humbled by the artists of the world. We began this process through our personal connections in a totally grassroots way, and are so honored that the vast majority of the bands we reached out to immediately jumped on board.
Our goal was to make the process as easy as possible, and I should mention, we’re still adding musicians to the platform! We’re asking for exclusive music from artists (unreleased tracks, remixes, acoustic versions, bootlegs, live recordings, etc), but sometimes an artist doesn’t have a backlog of songs or the time to create new material, so we’ll even accept their currently released music. As long as an artist owns the rights to the song(s) that they are submitting, we would love to include it. I wanted to make it as low-impact on the bands as possible—a process that an artist could take five minutes to complete, and that wouldn’t require any site management after their submission. On our end, we create their artist page, social media shareables, etc. If you’re a musician reading this and would like to have your music featured on Playlist for Progress, please contact us. The more artists we have on the platform, the more reach we’ll have, and the more good we can do.
Paste: And what has the response been like so far from fans?
Fans love the idea. They can snag exclusive music from their favorite groups and know that their donations are going to a good cause. The most important thing they can do besides donate is to share the platform and so far, people have been excited enough about it to do so.