Air Traffic Control, a group that monitors music and politics, and helps artists find ways to become politically engaged, recently released a survey of how music and politics collided in the 2008 election. Here's a quick snapshot of their findings (pdf), taken over a 12 month period leading up to the election:
- Total Activities Documented: 1,895
- Participating Artists: 1091+
- Participating Organizations: 72
- Swing State Activities: 532 (CO, FL, MI, MN, MO, NV, NH, OH, VA, PA)
- Songs Written For Candidates: 62
As in 2004, one organization did the vast majority of the organizing within the music industry. ATC notes that in 2004 that organization was Music for America. In 2008, that organization was HeadCount, which accounted for 82% of all music related activities during the 2008 election cycle. Rock the Vote came in a distant second with 7% of all activities, and no other organization accounted for more than 2% of all other music and politics events.
- As in 2004, approximately 1/3 of all events were held in swing states, and the majority of events occurred in September and October, the final two months of the election cycle.
- Many of the organizations (Punk Voter, Music for America, Bands Against Bush, Concerts for Kerry/Change) that worked in this field in 2004 had disappeared by 2008.
- Unlike 2004, there were far fewer events held in 2008 (well over 1,000 fewer).
- Despite the fewer number of events, there was a far greater number of unique artists participating in events, but in many instances they participated in new ways (meaning other than by allowing an organization to table at one of their concerts).
- One very cool difference between 2004 and 2008: most concerts organized in swing states were put together by local organizations utilizing local bands. As a huge proponent of local, peer to peer organizing, I see this as welcome news indicative of the further potential for young people organizing themselves in politically powerful states.
The report offers a few potential explanations for these differences:
These changes may be the result of a number of different factors including: artists and organizations focusing their efforts online instead of at concerts, fewer effective nonpartisan or partisan organizations working directly with the music community, fewer organizations going on a full length tour with artists but focusing their resources on local shows or festivals, lack of reporting back by the organizations, engaged artists turning to the campaigns directly to offer their support and/or more self-produced events and locally organized activities using local artists.
Based on my observations, I would agree that most of these played at least some part in the different role that musicians played in 2008. Far fewer of the organizations listed above had any capacity for field operations - HeadCount being the notable exception - than did organizations like MFA, Concerts for Change and Punk Voter in 2004. And while those now defunct organizations certainly used the web to organize in 2004 (via online volunteer/event coordination), alternative forms of engagement via social networks, YouTube, Eventful, and other platforms just weren't an option four years ago.
What I would also add to the mix is that a number of organizations likely made a conscious choice to focus on large-scale events or paid/earned media that cashed in on celebrity culture rather than make a determined effort to organize in the field via a concert-based model. What I would love to see is a dollar for dollar analysis on which model is more effective. For instance, Rock the Vote raise and spent $X million dollars this year and registered X number of voters. HeadCount raised $X hundred thousand dollars and registered X number of voters.
While such an analysis would be the easiest basis for comparison, it would hardly be comprehensive. There are a wide range of other measures - both qualitative and quantitative - that any side by side analysis would also need to take into account. Here are other questions I would love to see answered:
- How "real" (as in, can they be moved to action) are names on lists built via celebrity media and stadium events (Rock the Vote) vs. those built via a peer to peer field model (Head Count)?
- Is there a saturation point at which it becomes less effective to pump organizational dollars into paid/earned media via celebrity events, and after which dollars would be more effectively spent on field operations?
- How scalable is HeadCount's field-based model?
The Air Traffic Control report offers one final qualitative difference between music activism in the 2004 election cycle and that in the 2008 cycle. They sum it up quite succinctly with this quote:
However, the most inspiring change we noticed was not in the volume of support but in the content of that support. We often explain the shift in artist activism around this election as the difference between dedicating a song to Kerry in 2004, and writing a song about Obama in 2008.
As I've written in the past, getting artists to become politically engaged in 2004 was like pulling teeth. It speaks volumes for how far the industry and culture has come that in 2008 the Democratic candidate literally become a pop culture and music phenomenon. While there's still a lot of work to be done (pdf) to make artists and activists work together more effectively, kudos to everyone for all their work - in 2004 and 2008 - getting us this far.
Cross-posted from Future Majority.