Levon Helm Does Well By Doing Good
Supporting good causes is one way for musicians to show that they are making a positive contribution to society while making it clear that their success is about being part of a community rather than simply profiting from a community's interest. Though one may understandably feel that one's music is the main contribution an artist can make, leveraging one's own success to help others at whatever level of achievement has been attained is key to being a good community member. However, recognizing the difference between community involvement and superficial marketing moves is, almost paradoxically, key to making such involvement good for one's business.
The announcement that Levon Helm would be donating a portion of the proceeds from his newest album and DVD, Ramble At The Ryman, to the Americana Music Association is an example of a well-focused contribution. The album was recorded live to kick off the Americana Music Festival and Conference. Helm brought the concept of his weekly Midnight Ramble concerts in his hometown of Woodstock, NY, a "who’s who of artists and fans from around the world", to Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. And now he's sharing the proceeds of the resulting album which features a talented band and high profile guest artists.
Ramble At The Ryman is being released in conjunction with Levon Helm Day which occurs on May 20th. Representative Maurice D. Hinchley pointed to Midnight Ramble as a positive contribution to Woodstock and one of the reasons he had established Levon Helm Day. So Helm is both supporting a trade organization that he praises in relationship to a community event now also connected to a honor from his community. While this all contributes to creating a positive aura around his personal brand, it doesn't read like the machinations of a publicity machine.
In sharp contrast are the periodic press announcements of artists of whom one has never heard donating a percentage of MP3 sales to a crisis that is in the news in a manner that reeks of publicity stunting. Instead of using one's success to help others, unknown artists undermine themselves when attempting to benefit from the misfortune of others. Sometimes such efforts are sincere but a more appropriate way to get a pr boost from supporting disaster relief would be to do local benefits in an area where one is known and then publicizing one's involvement with such events. In that way one makes a contribution that means something while fairly benefiting from the act.
At the end of the day, doing something that looks good is almost always good publicity. But if such acts are not integrated into your life and career as a performer, they may well ring hollow and brand you as just another celebrity or wannabe who is cynical enough to attempt to gain mental market share by leveraging the sorrow of others.