How do you distinguish between bogus philanthropic endeavors that simply serve as a mask for monetary gain, and truly charitable ventures that aim to make a substantial, genuine difference in society?
David Massey, executive vice-president of Epic/550, thinks he has the answer. Spurred by Massey’s desire to stop worldwide suffering, Epic Records recently released No Boundaries, a benefit album aimed at helping Kosovo refugees displaced by recent political and ethnic fighting. The album contains songs by Pearl Jam, Neil Young, Rage Against the Machine, and the Wallflowers, among others. In an effort to demonstrate its good intentions before the album’s release, Epic donated an up-front $1 million to CARE, Oxfam, and Doctors Without Borders, the agencies providing relief to the refugees.
“To give money up-front with the good feelings of selling enough albums to make a million dollars?it’s unusual,” says Lisa Markowitz, Epic Records vice-president of media relations. “But the executives here, who were very human, realized the need of getting the money to the refugees as quickly as possible.”
The project was initiated by Pearl Jam’s donation of a cover song — J. Frank Wilson’s “Last Kiss,” which was originally released as the band’s 1998 fan club single and distributed exclusively to Ten Club members on vinyl. Following Pearl Jam’s contribution, Massey used his connections in the industry to get other big-name artists to join the project. Then things started to snowball.
“Once the artists and the mangers caught wind of what Epic was doing, they started calling him,” Markowitz says. “And people were very quick to get the music in because they had only two weeks to get all the masters in. The artists were very fast.”
No Boundaries debuted on the charts at number 18 and sold almost 80,000 copies in its first week, while Pearl Jam’s “Last Kiss” clocked in at number two on the singles charts. Markowitz says Epic will make back its initial investment and then continue to donate further proceeds to the three humanitarian agencies.
“The hopes are that the sales become so much that they get to donate another million,” Markowitz says.
Though the primary short-term benefit is undoubtedly the one million dollars, there is more at stake with No Boundaries than just money. Despite the questionable stereotypes often tacked on to Epic artists like Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine and Indigo Girls, those bands are extremely active in promoting various causes. And although many fans will no doubt purchase No Boundaries simply for its rare content, there is an undeniable consciousness evident in the supporters who spend their money on bands with such adamant political agendas.
“This record will create awareness, but I think it also has an impact on government,” Markowitz says. “I think the government looks to young artists because they influence the constituents. Clearly there’s always going to be apathetic people out there, whether they’re young or old, but I think this shows that the youth want to be influenced, and they want to know what’s going on so they buy these records.”