VH1: Still Saving The Music, 13 Years Later
At the end of the day, what we're all trying to do is save the music. To get a better idea about how optimistic we should be about its future, I decided to talk with Paul Cothran. He's Executive Director of the VH1 Save The Music Foundation. I thought it would be interesting to speak with someone who's trying to save the music in places where people actually live.
We talk quite a bit about the health of the record industry and its subsequent decline and not nearly enough about our local ecologies of culture and how they're doing. To correct that, I've started to pursue some interviews that have everything to do with music and a little less to do with the industry that has grown up around it. After all, as media critic Aram Sinnreich said in a recent interview with me, "our social imperative isn’t to have a thriving record industry; it’s to have a thriving musical culture and a thriving economy. And we don’t necessarily need to have old-fashioned record labels and copyright laws to achieve these ends."
Hypebot: Despite all the record industry doom and gloom, are you optimistic about the future of music and creativity?
Paul Cothran: Yes in some ways. I feel positive but I’m concerned about whether we as a society are doing enough to ensure that future generations are creative. We give our kids a lot of technology, which is great, but at the same time, I don’t know that we’re doing enough to spur their imaginations.
Hypebot: Are public schools at the center of local ecologies of music culture—perhaps, the most vital element of it?
Paul Cothran: Yes. I think that they are a part of the center, the center being made up of public schools and local cultural institutions, because it’s important for there to be community access to cultural enrichment. Public schools are a part of ensuring that young people have an appreciation for culture. So many times you hear students in our grant recipient schools say they’d never heard of Bach or played anything by Beethoven and suddenly they were doing a piece and had a new appreciation for music… music they didn’t listen to before.
Hypebot: Does a great music education help cultivate cultural awareness and an appreciation for art among fans?
Paul Cothran: It definitely does. It’s all about giving young people the tools they need to really appreciate what’s out there, to understand that there’s a wider cultural world that they can really take and shape to fit their own needs. If they are learning about jazz, how does jazz tie into hip hop and rap? If they are studying classical music, how can you tie that into some of today’s pop music?
Hypebot: What will it take to move past the notion that arts and music are the first to be cut from school programs?
Paul Cothran: I think its constant education. It is advocating at all levels of government: state, local and national. It’s about really talking about the importance of music as a part of a comprehensive education. Staying consistent with that message and really getting it out there.
Hypebot: Through your efforts, how have you been able to bring music education back into languishing systems?
Paul Cothran: We have raised 47 million dollars to restore music education programs in over 1750 schools thus far, impacting the lives of 1.6 million students. We will continue our efforts working towards a day when every child in a public elementary and middle school has access to a well -rounded education that includes music.
Hypebot: Is there a need for professional musicians to take an active role in promoting music education in schools?
Paul Cothran: Well I think there are a lot of professional musicians that are role models and heroes to the young people actually in the schools, so if they step forward to talk about the importance of music in overall education and the impact music has had on their lives, students are more likely to listen to them and follow in their footsteps
Hypebot: Why is it important for kids to be properly educated in the production of culture—not just the consumption?
Paul Cothran: I would like to think that we are all about encouraging a society where kids feel inspired to go out and create. To bring something new and innovative that will benefit or enrich humankind in some way and not just sit back and be consumers. If you’re doing that, you’re not bringing anything new into the world. New forms of music are important; if people weren’t creating things in music or art, we would never have had jazz or hip-hop, which serve as new forms of expression for people.
Hypebot: Are musically educated and culturally aware fans more likely to support creativity and pay for their music?
Paul Cothran: I don’t know that I can answer that; I’m not in that side of the business. Our work is focused on ensuring that kids are getting a great education — that they have music. We’re supporting the next generation of creative thinkers.