Harvey Mason Jr. on MusiCares' Efforts to Keep the Money Flowing

In its first six weeks of operation, the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund allotted $14.5m to more than 20,200 individuals seeking assistance as more than 500 applications poured in per day. Then the money ran out.

Interim Recording Academy President/CEO Harvey Mason Jr. started the month of May looking at empty coffers in the COVID-19 fund and had to start round two of fundraising efforts by reaching out to new people and companies and coming up with new ideas to attract donations.

“We have a lot of things in development and a lot of ideas, but it’s really about finding donors who want to help the music community,” Mason told HITS on 5/4. “The best thing is that MusiCares is best-equipped to get money to people quickly and that we have no overhead so every dollar donated goes directly to a music-industry member in need.”

One of the first fundraisers to arise after the fund ran out was a two-hour festival called Sessions that’s set to take place on Twitch every Wednesday in May. CAM, Steve Earle and Brandy Clark will be among the inaugural performers on 5/6; Dawes, Hanson and Julia Michaels are among other participating acts. Viewers are encouraged to contribute to the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.

“It’s not only the support of companies in music space, but having the artist community and people in the industry coming together to help,” Mason says, before explaining what occurred in the six weeks the fund was open and what’s next for the fund and the Grammys in 2021.

What’s happening in phase two of the fundraising efforts for the COVID-19 fund?
We’re seeing some things happening that are encouraging, like matching grants. Every little bit helps. Regardless of how much money each event raises, it’s the idea of us working together. It’s like the Academy lobbying the government with 25,000 letters—we rally together. We’ll start handing out money as we raise it. There’s no money in our account now.

When did you sense the COVID-19 Relief Fund was not going to be sufficient?
The day we opened it. From the first check we got, we realized we’re never going to raise enough. We acknowledged that from the jump. Pretty early on, we knew this was a crisis unlike anything we have ever seen before. We gave out $3.7 million to $4 million after Katrina—all the natural disasters pale in comparison.

Can you tap the MusiCares endowment—which had more than $20 million as of July 2018—for the COVID-19 fund?
That would require a board decision.

Why not use some of those monies to meet the demand?
We used some of the money [$1m] to open the fund. I’m not saying it’s the last donation, but it requires the board to determine whether to give more.

Is there an amount the endowment needs to have on hand that limits how much can be given out?
Not that I’m aware of. The endowment enables the Academy to function, and it will continue to give.

Who are you reaching out to as potential donors in this next phase? Are labels and streaming services returning with more donations?
We’re not necessarily going back to the same people—we’re trying to find other ways, find other people to partner with. It wouldn’t be in great taste to go back to the labels and other companies in the business that helped us before. Everyone is working to do the best they can, but across the board it’s hard times. It’s the same thing with the Academy.

Is money in the endowment earmarked for specific purposes? And is MusiCares getting many requests not related to the coronavirus?
The MusiCares fund continues to operate independently, but the majority of people applying for help are applying to the [COVID-19] fund. We’re trying to help as many people as we can.

Obviously, the biggest fundraiser for MusiCares is the Person of the Year gala. What sort of planning is happening with that now?
We’re looking at all sorts of options. We’ll need to find out what the public’s appetite is for gathering [for an awards show]. It works well, having a whole week of events, but we don’t know what the government will allow, what the artists will want. We’re keeping it open.

And the Grammys? Any chance you would alter the eligibility period for the year or move the show?
I have spoken with labels about them alerting us if they have releases they’ve had to delay. It’s among many things being considered.

Two heads are better than one. (6/18a)
Bugs is dancing in the street. (6/18a)
Pull up the Brinks truck. (6/18a)
Looks like we have a horse race. (6/17a)
Myriad lawyers, no waiting. (6/18a)
The musical tapestry we know as R&B.
Predicting the next big catalog deal.
Once we all get vaccinated, how long before we can party?
How is globalization bringing far-flung territories into the musical mainstream?

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