MusiCares: Critical Assistance for Music People in Times of Need

When people think of the Recording Academy, usually the Grammy ceremony comes to mind. However, the organization has an important philanthropic mission: MusiCares is dedicated to helping music industry professionals through natural disasters and personal crises—from victims of hurricane Sandy to battlers of substance abuse.

MusiCares spends millions of dollars a year helping people, and it does so quickly and confidentially. I recently spoke with the organization’s Senior Director, Erica Krusen, and asked her about the program and who is eligible for aid.

When was MusiCares created?
MusiCares was set up by the Recording Academy in 1989, and its mission is to help struggling artists or music industry professionals who have fallen on hard times. We help with medical bills, dental bills, psychotherapy, addiction recovery, and funeral expenses. Some people say it’s the Red Cross of the music industry. We are there to step in as a safety net for those who are really struggling.

Tell me about the preventative health clinics that MusiCares hosts.
About five or six years ago, we noticed a trend in medical illnesses and dental bills that were coming our way. The research showed that the bills were extremely high and that most of the music community who were coming to us did not have health insurance, let alone dental insurance. So we started an initiative aimed towards preventative health care. We thought that, if the music community had a place to go that was their medical home, maybe they’d utilize that more often, especially if it was a low-cost or free health care clinic, such as a community clinic in their area.

We started partnering with clinics and private physicians that would allow us to come in and set up a one-day clinic where music professionals could come in and get free attention. If it was dental, they’d get free screenings, cleanings, and x-rays, and they’d go home with a treatment plan that would say what their follow-up would be. And then they could apply through MusiCares for additional follow-up—fillings, extractions, crowns, or whatever it may be.

But the clinics extend beyond that. We began going into communities and asking What is the need here? We began offering free mammograms all over the country—in New York, Nashville, Los Angeles, Seattle, Austin, and Fort Collins, Colorado. And we’ve given educational panels on Hepatitis C. We’ve done testing, and we’ve done general health workshops where people have their blood glucose levels checked for diabetes prevention—general health assessments for the clients.

One thing we’ve started in the last few years are vocal and hearing clinics. These involve vocal scopes, where health professionals look down clients’ throats to see if they need follow-up care. We’ve also done hearing clinics all over the country and in quite a few festivals, including Warped Tour, Sasquatch! Music Festival, Uproar, and SXSW. These are free hearing screenings, and for those who fall at or below the level of hearing loss, we have them fitted for molded musician’s earplugs. MusiCares pays for that.

Does MusiCares have a substance abuse program?

The MAP fund is our addiction recovery program. There used to be an organization called the Musicians’ Assistance Program, MAP, which we acquired in, I believe, 2005. We now call it the MAP Fund, and all the money raised in this program goes towards addiction recovery services.

When someone calls us who qualifies for our program, we will assess the situation to see what they need and get them into treatment, which could include detox, 30 days of residential, and possibly a month or two of sober living.

Another thing that is part of that program is our Sober Touring Network. Bands can call us and say “We’re traveling on a tour right now and we have somebody that’s in the program, and we would like some help with meetings.” Or perhaps they just want someone they can call and talk to.

We have a database of people that have offered their services, so that when a band is traveling and they’re in, say Detroit, we can connect them with someone in Detroit to either pick up the phone, take them to a meeting, bring a meeting to them, or try and figure out what their need is at that point.

We have also established weekly process meetings throughout the country for people in recovery and they’re open to anyone in any 12-step program. We have these in New York, Nashville, New Orleans, Fort Collins, Austin, Seattle, and Los Angeles.

How many people a year are treated through the MAP Fund?
We treat about 3,000 people per year with about $3 million right now. Our addiction recovery program represents about a quarter of the total clients served by MusiCares.

How music has it grown in terms of the number of people served each year?
When I started full-time here in 2007, we served about 1,400 clients. Last year we served 3,000. You can see how it has doubled in a very short amount of time. And we don’t see that trend going down. With the state of the economy and the music industry in somewhat of a state of a flux, we continue to see that the help is needed all around.

Do they have to be a member of the musicians union or of NARAS in order to qualify for help from MusiCares?
No. An artist or music professional does not need to be a union member nor does he need to be a member of the Recording Academy. The qualifications are such that he would provide documentation that he’s been a working music professional for the last five years, or has credited contributions to six commercially released recordings and/or videos. It’s not just for artists. It’s for anyone who is a working music professional. It could be a stagehand, a producer, an engineer, a lighting guy, or a label executive.

Where do people find out about the clinics and addiction recovery services?
The information is on our Website (musicares.org). In addition, we typically send news through the local musicians unions of the city where we’re holding a clinic, and we will also go through the NARAS membership. We’ll send it to [healthcare] providers or partners we work with in that area. A lot of it is spread by word-of-mouth.

Where does MusiCares get the money to do this?
We have individual donors and we host a lot of events. We have a MAP Fund event every May, and all the money raised from that goes directly towards our addiction recovery program. We’re fortunate that the Recording Academy covers quite a bit of our operating costs.

Our largest fundraising event happens two days before the Grammy telecast every year. It’s called our Person of the Year, where we honor someone who is a legend in music and has had a lifetime of philanthropic giving and who had given to the community at large. This year it was Bruce Springsteen. We honor the person, and then a host of talented musicians and artists come out and perform songs from the honoree’s catalog. It combines a dinner, an auction, and a concert, and it’s really fabulous.

In addition, we have house-concerts, which are typically held at boardmember’s homes. These are nice, intimate experiences where people come to a concert in a living room or on a lawn. We feature an artist that you normally wouldn’t get to see in that kind of a setting.

We also have online memorabilia auctions, which are held five times a year. These are great meet-and-greet, VIP experiences that help raise a lot of money for our client services.

If you visit MusiCares.org, you will find more information about our events as well as a list of our upcoming clinics.

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Related Topics: Robair Report

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