"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"
The old philosophical riddle speaks to the challenge many musical artists face today: If they produce positive music and most people ignore it, will it still have an impact?
The answer doesn't have to be "No."
In honor of Black Music Month, we have officially launched "Positive Push," a social media campaign aimed at promoting positive music, images and culture. The first video selected for this campaign is the new single, "Tightrope," by singer Janelle Monáe. We chose this young artist because her album addresses mental and spiritual restrictions, while the single for the video pays homage to artists like Jackie Wilson, the Temptations and James Brown in an evocative, hip and culturally positive way.
Music like Monáe's could have a mighty impact if many people hear and share the sound. This is where our viral campaign becomes a game-changing strategy.
Utilizing the powerful social media networks of Twitter and Facebook, we're encouraging music lovers to prove that misogynistic or violent lyrics, messages and images aren't the only way to sell black music. If consumers enjoy Monáe's video, we're asking that they purchase the single on iTunes and then Tweet or place Facebook status updates about their purchase. The next goal is to invite at least five more friends to check out the single, buy it themselves and then repeat the five-friend exercise.
Black "message music" dates back to the griots of West Africa. The skills of these troubadours became rooted in American cultural and religious tradition, and have resonated in the lyrics of The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, Marvin Gaye, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest and other artists' work. We've always had conscience music, but until now we haven't had the tools to take it mainstream. The ability to create and promote via the Web -- without corporate sanction -- is our 21st century tool.
Remember, teen heartthrob Justin Bieber's initial success wasn't due to the contract he signed with Usher. Bieber was first discovered, marketed and prepped for stardom by the thousands of fans who saw and circulated his amateur YouTube music videos.
Monáe's music is the real deal. It's not just good medicine -- the beats and rhythms are as hip and danceable as any music the industry deems "marketable." And she's not the only artist with enticing, savvy lyrics that can compete with mainstream fare. Erykah Badu, Common, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Raheem Devaughn, Lupe Fiasco and others have proven there's an appetite for soul-stirring, rhythm-drenched music with an engaging message.
Another example is Chicago native and poet, Malik Yusef. He's been influenced by the work of Langston Hughes, William Shakespeare, Phillis Wheatley and Haki Madhubuti. He has experienced commercial success, performing and recording with the likes of Kanye West, John Legend, Chantay Savage and Pharrell Williams, while maintaining his rep as a street poet.
Complimentary reviews, hearty album sales and Monáe's recent appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman indicate the public's willingness to embrace the positive. Our campaign is flowing with the grain, not against it. The Positive Push has begun. It just needs more of us to accelerate the movement.The market is over-saturated with "radio-friendly music," Yusef says. Finding balance in an industry that will happily promote "booty in your face" music over "read a book" messages, he continues, is a three-fold challenge:
- Artists must be especially creative and insist on producing competitive, quality and meaningful message music.
- The music industry must be taught to stop underestimating consumer demand for positive music.
- Consumers who say they want positive music must demand it, Yusef says, adding that they must also back that demand with their purchasing power.
Blacks represent 13 percent of the 300 million people in this country. We're a powerful people who have established cultural trends envied the world over. Imagine the game-changing results if just 200,000 of us bought Monáe's song in a single day. All of a sudden we could create a seismic shift. When our consumer clout starts bolstering the careers of positive artists, you can be sure the money-savvy music industry will follow suit.
Black Music Month 2010 can be a game-changer. We're not asking people to sacrifice "good music" for boring, principled music. The music is already funky, hip and cool. Our goal is to make it funkier, cooler and hipper by making it more mainstream.
We can indeed make an impact. Success can be attainable. The key, Yusef says, is that artists and consumers must follow Mahatma Gandhi's simple advice: "Be the change you want to see in the world."
For more information about the "Positive Push" campaign, visit: http://www.stopthebrainwash.com.