A changing of the guard is upon us. Or should be. Millennials and Gen Z make up 37% of our electorate, according to Pew Research Center. Gen Z is the most diverse voting bloc in the history of our country. The last two months of Black Lives Matter protests have made it clear that young Americans are ready to engage. If we are able to harness this energy from the streets and into election booths our political system will be transformed.
If young people don’t participate, we have four more years of Trump. That could mean continued jackbooted militias abducting our citizens, the potential end of immigration, millions of deportations and the end of substantive police reform, as well as ongoing gutting of environmental protections.
We can end this and put a trusted, vetted and experienced leader back in office. And musicians have a uniquely powerful role to play in this process.
Our industry has an unprecedented platform and reach. Each artist controls their own media channel, boasts a devoted audience and possesses the rare ability to communicate with people where they are. Every musician’s social feed is a news source with the ability to inform, educate, and influence.
Having worked around the intersection of music and politics during the last four Presidential elections, I’m well aware that entering the fray can feel daunting. But you don’t have to be Rage Against the Machine or Public Enemy to make an impact. The tools are familiar ones, the playbook is not all that different from promoting an album or tour.
In 2018, roughly half of 18-to-24 year olds were registered to vote, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. With all of the momentum being generated by Gen Z, we cannot let voter registration be a barrier.
Voter registrations, which typically occur in person, are down two million voters a month due to Covid-19. One-third of young voters are unaware they can register online. If you only do one thing around this election, inform your audience on how to register. Two non-partisan organizations that work hand in hand with the music industry to do this are Headcount and Rock the Vote. Both supply links, graphics, and other tools that make it incredibly easy to share information.
Educate and Activate
We are living in a post-truth world and one of the most effective weapons against democracy is misinformation. Point your audience to trusted information and resources. Encourage learning about candidates, measures, and down-ballot races. As the debate rages on whether or not to open classrooms, you can now see why even local school board elections are consequential.
Be thoughtful and authentic in how you communicate. Show your fans how to get involved. Model behavior by filming yourself writing a letter to an elected official or calling a potential voter. Talk to your fans on Facebook or IG Live about issues that matter to you and explain why you are supporting a candidate. Go live with someone that is organizing around an issue you care about. You can use that time to ask questions that further inform yourself and your audience. Make sure that your fans know that their vote counts and their voice matters.
Money, like the world, makes politics go ‘round. During a typical election year, an artist may be asked to play a fundraiser or campaign rally. These events are still happening in the virtual world but it’s not necessary to link up with a candidate in order to do your part.
Play a ticketed live stream and donate the proceeds. Offer up a virtual meet and greet via Zoom. Add an extra dollar or two to items in your online store. Put a donate button on your website or pinned in your Twitter feed. Participate in an upcoming Bandcamp Friday with funds directed to a candidate or initiative.
Get Out the Vote
Voter suppression is the most tried-and-true way of influencing an election and the overlay of Covid-19 has only made this more urgent. There will be fewer polling places open with less on-site staffing. As seen during the primaries in Wisconsin and Georgia, expect longer lines and greater confusion.
We must eliminate barriers to voting, including access to no-excuse absentee mail-in ballots. Currently this is allowed in 34 states but needs to be legal in all 50. Encourage your audience to sign a petition and speak up about this issue.
For those that do not have vote-by-mail access, we need to communicate affirmative reasons to take off work and spend hours waiting in line. Link to tools that provide polling locations and hours. Post deadlines for early voting and absentee ballots. Let voters know about any last-minute changes due to the pandemic and what to expect on election day such as ID requirements. Vote.org is a great resource for this. Suggest bringing a snack, water and a book to help pass the time.
The world feels broken, sometimes beyond repair. But it’s not and America, despite the current administration’s best efforts, is still is a democracy. We have the opportunity to put this country back into capable hands and begin the process of healing and growth. Musicians possess the rare ability to help people imagine a better future. Now let’s go ahead and demonstrate how to build one while creating voters for life.
Jordan Kurland is a founding partner of Brilliant Corners Artist Management. The company’s roster includes Death Cab for Cutie, Postal Service, Toro Y Moi, Best Coast, She & Him and Soccer Mommy. He is also a partner in live events producer Noise Pop Industries and served on the Entertainment Advisory Committee for Barack Obama in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016.