In the 1st week of Occupy, when my new album came out calling on movements worldwide to unite, I was brought on as a co-organizer of Arts and Culture to facilitate other artists coming to Zuccotti Park and helping to build the movement.
From day one, the inclusive nature of the movement was present in musicians of all genres, gospel choirs and marching bands in constant presence in the park. In the two and a half months since then, everyone from Lupe Fiasco to Tom Morello, Talib Kweli, Russell Simmons, Joan Baez, David Crosby, Kanye West and even Miley Cyrus has joined the fray in an amazing show of unity across genres and ages.
Occupy songs are all over the Internet, and records like the star-studded “Occupy This Album” have been announced. Numerous websites have launched including Occupy Music - a facebook page, OccupyRecords.org - a social network, and OccupyMusicians.com, a list of artists all in support of the movement. But, as in all movements, there have been growing pains.
This past week, arguments ensued within Occupy over co-optation and opportunism by artists and managers threatening the horizontal process of the movement. With the movement's continued growth and plans for numerous large scale events in discussion, many of us felt the need to express that we’re all in this together toward an inclusive outcome.
The millions of Occupiers worldwide have every reason to distrust the music industry and pop culture. Over the past 15 years, while our country and the world were sailing off the cliff, commercial radio’s Top 100 didn’t include a single anthem from the front lines of social change.
Since the first days of Occupy, the preeminent music blogger Bob Lefsetz has written passionately on how the music industry became Wall St. and ruined music: mega corporations that used their power over congress to simultaneously push for deregulation of the broadcast industries, as well as monopolistic mergers in ticketing, promotions and advertising, while tightening their grip on internet freedom.
The result has been a vertically monopolized pipeline accountable to no one, the musical equivalent of our deregulated financial system, bringing us booty calls while we’re at war and in an economic crisis. The Future of Music Coalition’s aptly named study “Too Big To Fail” describes the dangers of mergers and acquisitions stifling democracy, with the mega labels, Clear Channel, Live Nation, Walmart and Best Buy all controlling majority markets.
The flood of artists and songs supporting the Occupy movement on the internet didn’t come out of nowhere. It is the result of long pent-up frustration that finally blew its dam, just like Occupy itself. This generation’s Dylans and Marleys are out there. They’ve just been being silenced by an industry that places profit before responsibility.
Whether we are frontline artist-activists, or pop artists who lived through squashing socially conscious songs to conform to a censorious industry, we can raise our voices together for good right now. Let’s occupy music. Let’s demand the return of music for the people by the people.
We have an unprecedented opportunity to re-examine policies effecting the regulation of monopolies, mega-mergers, payola, and internet freedom. Imagine the good we could create if our radios and music venues were filled with artists singing songs to unite the world again.
The Occupy movement doesn’t need celebrities to make it more popular, it’s been on TV everyday for nearly three months already all by itself. What we need musicians to do now is take the movement to the next level, reaching into people’s homes, uniting people across borders, changing what we hear and how we hear it.
People may have trouble explaining the interconnection of inequality worldwide. Not everyone’s studied neo-liberal economics or post-Washington Consensus developments within the World Bank. But, put an American and an Egyptian singing for a more equitable world on the same stage and everyone understands.
We have the tools to re-envision music as a socially sustainable business for the world changing generation. With YouTubes, mp3’s and social networks, the possibility of distributing music via change-making organizations worldwide, funding initiatives every download, is now within reach. Imagine a musical Grameen Bank instead of BMG.
We can do this. We can reclaim the airwaves. Let’s raise a chorus that transcends genre and format and change our world. Let’s Occupy Music.
Stephan Said is a musician, activist, writer, Founder of difrent.org, and Arts and Culture co-organizer at Occupy Wall St.