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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2010/12/24
by Mike Gruenberg

Giving Something Back

In My Life

It’s that time of year again to buy gifts for our friends and family and also remember those less fortunate than us. We go to an array of stores, while at the same time fighting traffic and hunting around for a parking space at the mall; it’s a giving and receiving tradition that has spanned good economic times, bad economic times, war and peace. It’s a nice tradition that our ailing economy really needs this year and helps our families become closer even though the odd gift from Aunt Harriet and Uncle Sidney is usually not what anyone was expecting.

Of course, there is a family dinner when everyone gathers around an elaborately set table replete with all varieties of foods and beverages that some may or may not like. However, it’s all good fun and there is always a betting pool as to which will be the first relative who will spill their glass of red wine on mom’s newly purchased table cloth. The meal precedes the gift giving and hopefully everyone comes away satisfied.

It’s also that time of the year to give thanks for our blessings and remember those that are in need and less fortunate than we are. From the beginning of November through the end of December, my mail carrier dutifully fills my mailbox with a plethora of printed materials soliciting funds for good (and maybe not-so-good) causes that span the entire world. In the Hebraic faith, we are expected to donate time and funds to charity and that is called “Tzedakah”. This refers to a religious obligation to perform charitable acts that contribute to one’s spirituality. In the tradition of this time of year, contributing one’s time and money to help others is part of the holiday ritual.

In addition to contributing to some of my favorite charities, I spent time thinking about the year I just completed. Financially, it could have been better, but then a lot of other people could say the same thing. As my father would have said, “and you have your health” and that certainly is important. My family’s health is good and our outlook is positive. Also, we heard and saw some great music this year. Given the costs of going to concerts these days, I wondered how musical acts were reacting to ticket prices and how they generally could be somewhat more sensitive to their audiences, all of whom have been affected by the current financial crisis that is sweeping across the world. In light of the holidays, I wondered what our favorite musical acts were doing to giving something back to their supportive fans this year.

Just this month (December), Paul McCartney gave a concert for all the Sirius/XM radio subscribers to commemorate the company reaching 20 million customers. The reviews from the show were positive and Paul performed for 2 ½ hours in front of a live audience at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. Many celebrities were in attendance at the show as it was beamed throughout the world to all 20 million Sirius/XM subscribers. So, for me and 19,999,999 other Sirius/XM subscribers, Paul treated us to a free concert. To me, this was a wonderful gesture on the part of Sirius and Sir Paul to give something back to the public.

Lars Ulrich from Metallica tells the story that as a teenager growing up in Denmark; he was unable to hear the kind of diverse music we hear today on our many radio stations. A few times a week, he would take a 20 minute train ride into Copenhagen and spend whatever money he earned by delivering newspapers to buy the latest music at his favorite record store. I can relate to that because when I was a teenager, much like Lars, I went to Larry’s Record Store in Bayside, New York and listened to all the latest and greatest bands and spent much of the time speaking with Larry about music. Lars would hear the latest bands and talk music with the shop owner much the same way teenagers used to do when they would frequent the “mom and pop” record stores that have been replaced by the “big box” stores. That experience of speaking to the shop owner, sifting through the albums and finding a haven for the latest music never left Lars. Now, so many years later and with a lot of financial success with Metallica, Lars and the band have recorded an album called “Live at Grimey’s” that will be sold exclusively at independent retail outlets and of course, on the band’s website. Metallica, who has a history of acknowledging their fans, is giving something back to not only their fans, but for all retail record stores that all music fans should support. Metallica is giving something back to the public.

In Argentina, Marco Antonio Solis just earned his 10th Number 1 record in that country. In partnership with his record company, Marco includes his latest CD when you buy a ticket to any of his concerts. Not only is this good marketing on his part, but by doing so, he gives his fans an extra reason to show up at his performances. Even though I’m sure the cost of the CD is factored into the ticket price, the total cost gives the fan an extra reason to attend and be acknowledged by the artist. Marco is giving something back in the form of extra value to his fans.

I remember that early in his career, Tom Petty fought with his record company because he knew the company was going to raise their prices and he was sensitive to that and didn’t want his fans to pay the extra money for his latest album. He gave something back to his fans.

I know that the musical groups and artists we support have worked very hard to get where they are today. There is no such thing as an “overnight sensation”. Long hours, dishonest promoters, and the fickle public make it extremely hard for any musician to maintain high earnings forever. Recently, I read that the group WILCO has introduced the “Wilco Selection” of coffee beans. These are organic coffee beans from Ethiopia as touted by the band. I have no problem with whatever the coffee company paid the band for their endorsement, nor do I care how much a camera company pays Ashton Kutcher to make silly TV commercials using their cameras. If the companies are willing to pay, the artists should be willing to take.

However, when I see that my beloved Beatles as a result of releasing their musical catalogue on i-Tunes during the week of November 21st sold 119,000 albums, 13,000 digital boxed sets and 1.4 million individual track sales, all at no reduction in list price, I ask myself why someone didn’t think about maybe giving a slight reduction on the list price as a “thank you” to all the people who have bought Beatles songs for forty years. It was a golden (slumbers) opportunity to give something back that went nowhere (man).

Like many of us, I have been fortunate enough to earn enough money in my life to help support my family over the years and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to do so. Whatever our financial station in life, it’s a good feeling to help others and donate time money and/or good deeds to help others.

Thank you to all the good people at Jambands who post my column every month and allow me to share my thoughts with our readers. To all – here’s wishing you a happy, healthy and giving new year.


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