Perspectives on music education. Have a point of view? Let us know. You're amongst friends.
By: Tom Baggott
My general tendency is to look ahead, both in terms of planning as well as optimistically anticipating all of the good things headed my way, but this is the time of year when we reflect on the year that was, and what a year it was, indeed!
To recap, back in March I was running my agency and artist management company, literally minding my own business, and—to make a long story short—I got into a conversation with SpreadMusicNow co-founder Greg Young about the organization's future direction. He was considering some changes to the mission and structure and talking to some interested parties, and asked me what I would do in his shoes. I certainly wasn't looking for a new gig, but I had a perspective and an opinion or two— and I loved the cause— so I wrote a draft plan. Less than a month later I accepted the job of Executive Director of SpreadMusicNow, which— on that very same day, coincidentally— received its 501(c)(3) tax-exempt determination letter from the IRS. If I learned one thing in 2019, it is that serendipity is a real thing, and if you keep your eyes and ears open and are willing to take a chance, fortunate accidents like this can happen.
As I look back on the last 8 months, it is clear to me that I was in need of a change after 25 years of representing talent in the music business. I loved my job and am proud of my legacy, and if it were not for this amazing opportunity to simply do good in the world I would still be representing inspiring talent. I am incredibly grateful to be where I am now, and I need to thank Greg and SpreadMusicNow's co-founder Richard Wenning, as well as the thousands of people I have worked with in the music biz over the years. Those relationships and that experience, coupled with my history of community activism and academic pursuits, have made this a great fit for me, and I have enjoyed reading, researching and educating myself on current issues and trends in education and philanthropy.
My first task since assuming this new role was to launch the new Music Empowers® brand under the SpreadMusicNow umbrella, and create the tools needed to build the new Artist Ambassador program. This initiative engages touring artists to help raise funds and awareness for our mission, and through these artists, we are targeting the youth-oriented live music community. This broader scope includes contemporary music— rock, jam, funk, soul, digital and electronic music and the fans of these genres— and is an important addition to what SpreadMusicNow has already been doing to support music education. This more culturally diverse approach is intended to reach students whose musical interests lie outside of the standard traditional musical offerings of orchestra, concert band, classical, jazz and folk traditions. Coinciding with our new brand launch, we initiated a comprehensive overhaul of our website, expanded our merchandise offerings, opened our Facebook store and created an AmazonSmile profile. If you have not done so already, I encourage you to visit and share all of these new and exciting platforms for the SpreadMusicNow mission.
Launching a brand that appeals to a new audience is one thing, but we are also prepared to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak, and are actively working on funding for programs that represent this new audience's interests. In terms of grants and funding, it is important to note that bringing on an Executive Director and transitioning from a donor-advised fund to 501(c)(3) leads to changes in structure and administration and creates new operating expenses. However, thanks to the generosity of Be Foundation, our overhead is covered and all monies raised still go to funding programs. In other words, nothing has really changed in regards to how we support the mission, and this year alone, we have provided funding for a number of great organizations and programs— nationally and regionally— such as Little Kids Rock, INTEMPO, VH1's Save The Music Foundation, The Charter Oak Cultural Center Brass Band, Music Haven, Project Music, Stamford Symphony Carnegie Hall and a number of other small regional grants that support the mission. Since 2014, SpreadMusicNow has now provided more than $1.5 million in funding for music education that transforms lives, and we are looking to increase our grantmaking efforts as we grow.
With the new merchandise in hand and the foundations of the Artist Ambassador program in place, it was time to take the expanded mission for a test drive. Starting on Labor Day weekend at the Adirondack Independence Music Festival in Lake George, NY, I spent every weekend in September at a Northeast regional music festival, working a merchandise booth, speaking to countless people about the mission and the issues they care about and recruiting Artist Ambassadors. It was also an awesome opportunity to spend some time with my 16-year-old daughter, Alex, who was a huge help with the booth and a good sport, overall. From Lake George, we headed to the Maine coast for the beautifully situated Maine Folk Festival, then it was off to the 21st Wormtown Music Festival, an exceptionally well-run event that I have been involved with since their 2nd year. The mini-festival tour was capped off by the new Equinox Music Festival, an EDM / electronic music-focused gathering originally planned to take place in Concord, NH, that was eventually moved to Minot, ME.
Throughout this month of festivals, I was struck by how the Music Empowers® brand resonated deeply with music lovers of all ages and interests. Those two words mean something different to everybody, and they have been the theme of 2019 in three of my own blogs. Speaking of blogging and "music empowers," we couldn't have found a more appropriate first guest blogger than Ani DiFranco, an artist whose whole life and career is an example of empowerment through music. I am very pleased to say we have some exciting guest bloggers lined up for 2020, and in addition to the blog, we will be launching a YouTube channel in 2020 that features artist interviews and other engaging content, starting with my conversations with Eric Gould (Pink Talking Fish) and Hayley Jane that were recorded behind the SpreadMusicNow booth at Adirondack Independence Music Festival.
As the Summer festival season transitioned into Fall, I was able to secure the members of an incredible Advisory Board, an illustrious crew of passionate advocates for the arts and education who I am thrilled to be working with in this new capacity. I invite you to get to know them on our Leadership page, but I wish to take advantage of this opportunity to thank them for joining me in this mission, and quickly mention my personal connection with them. As an agent or manager, I had the honor of representing both Everett Bradley and Jonathan Scales, two remarkable talents whose work has always included a focus on education. Howie Schnee was one of the first people I worked with in the music business and has been a friend and colleague for 25 years. Jana Fisher, whose remarkable talents, life experience and insight is a great complement to my own and to the other members of the Advisory Board, was actually my assistant many years ago, and it has been nothing short of amazing to watch her become the powerful industry professional she is today. Furthermore, in addition to the creation of the Advisory Board, we finalized the composition of the Board of Directors with the addition of Marvin McNeill, an impressive scholar, performing artist and community educator who I now count on as a trusted advisor. These are the people who are the wind in my sails, so to speak, and who will continue to empower me and the mission, pushing us into 2020 and beyond. I cannot thank them enough for their time and commitment.
Speaking of gratitude, my very first Giving Tuesday as the Executive Director of a nonprofit was an eye-opening experience. I was able to participate in the overwhelming power of beneficence in the spirit of doing for others, as SpreadMusicNow's matching grant allowed donors to essentially double the impact of their generosity in support of this year's sponsored organizations. It is not possible to thank every person who made a donation, but please know that all of us here at SpreadMusicNow appreciate your care and your generosity, and as we consider how we will approach Giving Tuesday in 2020, we hope you will continue your support for our mission. Of course, you don't need to wait until next December to act in support of music education for underserved youth. You can still make a tax-deductible donation up until the end of the year, and if you are still on the lookout for holiday gifts, don't forget about the awesome merchandise in our store. Finally, as we roll out the Artist Ambassador program, you'll be hearing about scores of events in communities from coast-to-coast that support the mission through ticket sales.
Looking back on 2019, my head is still spinning. It has been a year of change for me and for SpreadMusicNow, and I am filled with gratitude, enthusiasm, and optimism for the new year. Looking forward to 2020, I feel the future is bright for our organization, the mission, and all those we serve. Yes, there will be challenges to face and issues that may divide us, but through music, we can unite to confront and overcome these obstacles. By providing access to the transformative impact of music education, we can empower those amongst us who will be the leaders of tomorrow.
I believe Music Empowers, and I believe in the mission of our remarkable organization. Thank you all for your continued support, and I hope the peace and love that fills your holiday season continues well into 2020 and beyond!
Tom Baggott joined the SpreadMusicNow team as Executive Director after being moved by both a personal connection to the mission and the impact of the Music Empowers brand. A music industry veteran, he brings his passion and support for youth culture, education and the community at large to the organization. Tom lives in Colchester, VT with his wife and two teenage daughters, two cats, and a rescue dog.
To learn more about Tom, visit our leadership page.