Sweet Relief: A Lifeline For Musicians In Need [INTERVIEW]
In this in this interview Matthew Leone of Madina Lake speaks about the work of, and his very personal experience with, the charitable organization Sweet Relief, which helps struggling musicians with their medical expenses.
Guest Post from PledgeMusic
Matthew Leone of Madina Lake speaks passionately about the important work of Sweet Relief because he’s experienced it firsthand. After a tragic incident put him in a coma, Matthew says Sweet Relief became a literal lifeline in several ways as his artistic lifestyle kept him from being able to afford health insurance. We recently asked Matthew about Sweet Relief’s work in his own life, the plight of the poor artist and how we can all get involved.
Sometimes the best way to hear about a charitable organization is not to ask its mission statement or values or even statistics but to ask the person why they are involved personally. So I’d love to start there. Where does your passion for the work of Sweet Relief come from?
While ‘passion’ is an inextricable motivating factor inspiring me to do this work, it’s only part of a bigger circumstance that compels me to do it.
I spent 2005 through 2010 touring the world with my band Madina Lake, nonstop. It was the exact opposite of glamour — decadence, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll — that common perception dictates. It was constant, hard blue-collar work in a nomadic atmosphere, devoid of home, family, friends and comfort. For over 90% of touring musicians, it’s the lowest paying job you can do. Health insurance is at the bottom of the “Luxuries” list.
In the summer of 2010 in Chicago, while on break to write an EP for Pledgemusic, I was the last to leave a writing session at my brother Nathan’s loft. Two steps out of his building I heard a gut-wrenching scream for help. I chased the voice across the street and vaguely saw her a block down the dim-lit street, soaked in blood, pinned down by her 6 ft.-plus, muscular husband, while he strangled and punched her. I sprinted, gathering speed for momentum — Clocking in at 5’6", I exercise my right not to exercise. I needed the edge here — and barreled into the assailant.
I managed to rescue her, but in the process, I was put into a coma for five days and woke up with one-third of my skull removed. When Sweet Relief Musicians Fund found out about it, they immediately leaped into action. They set up a fundraising hub and spread the news pervasively, optimizing the generous donations from the most loving souls in the world. What they did next is what blew my mind.
After multiple brain surgeries and a year of physical rehabilitation, they kept an open line of communication with me throughout my whole recovery. They negotiated my medical bills down, oversaw my financial assistance options and made sure that I had everything I needed to regenerate my brain, enabling a highly unlikely but full recovery.
That’s an amazing story. It’s also sad to hear that benefits are so hard to come by.
The vast majority of musicians have no health insurance because they can’t afford it. Even the bands signed to a major label, with a single climbing the radio charts, video bangin’ on TV, selling out 2,500 cap rooms in some territories. We had all of that, and we were broke the whole time.
I represent the perfect example of this plight. Everybody loves music and the experience of live music, but people don’t realize the reality behind the performance that you and your friends will remember forever. Now more than ever, our musicians and their crews, venue workers, families need our help.
Since we don’t realize the reality, can you educate us a bit more? What else would you want people to know?
The economics of a career musician is very polarized, and the population is devoid of a middle class. The top-tiered artists generate big salaries, but the other 99% largely live on a minimum wage or less. When your financial circumstances, provided you can remain touring, force you to decide between paying a cell phone or heating bill, health insurance doesn’t make the cut. This is compounded by America’s award-winningly disastrous and egregiously over-priced healthcare system, effectively rendering it an unrealistic luxury.
I realize that being a career musician is a personal choice that artists choose to make, but until the mechanics of the music business are resolved, our favorite bands are suffering, sacrificing and living a high-risk lifestyle to share their art with the world. Personally, I don’t think artists should be dissuaded from pursuing their passion because of [a] flawed system failing them, though that’s drifting from the point.
It’s understandable now why you’re so passionate about Sweet Relief.
What happened to me exemplifies the severity of this plight and perfectly highlights the mission of Sweet Relief. I will forever be humbled and grateful for the gift bestowed upon me when I was lying in that hospital bed. Had it not been for the unspeakably generous and philanthropic actions of those who, so much as sent a loving thought my way, I don’t think I would have survived my situation. Sweet Relief was at the helm, through it all.
I will spend the rest of my life doing what I can to ensure that our artists, crews, venue workers and their families get what they need. If we are successful, then music lovers will continue to get music and see live performances. The hardest challenge of what we do is impressing upon people that there is a major plight facing musicians,and musical people, that threatens the sustainability of the art.
I completely understand how people can think that this struggle isn’t something that they should be asked to subsidize. I would plead with them to recognize that today’s world has made the beautiful gift of music a free commodity for consumers, at the expense of those who create it. Until a sufficient method is devised and deployed to rectify this, we humbly ask for your help to keep such a wonderful entity alive for the world to enjoy.
Are there specific ways to help Sweet Relief that you’d like to tell us about?