On Stage Success Aiding Non-profits: An Interview with Tom Jackson
Changing lives on stage and off through creating connections.
Tom Jackson is a passionate teacher of performance, working with artists individually or in a classroom setting to electrify musical acts on stage. He tours like he’s still in a band himself, stopping in towns to offer words of wisdom and bring out the brazen confidence that lurks within any musician. In New York City for the recent New Music Seminar, Jackson’s session “Live Performance Workshop: Making the Band", kept a rapt audience chuckling with witticisms such as “Guys like guitar riffs, girls like relationships,” and how bands need to ask, “Are you dating your audience or are you married to them?” Jackson’s website onstagesuccess.com details his philosophy, along with offers for his own merch of books and DVD sets. But Jackson is also proud of a profitable sideline, connecting artists with non-profit organizations through his Artist Tour Support program. Touring is expensive and Jackson’s program provides another revenue outlet for the band, while fundraising for organizations that he has developed a relationship with through meetings and research. There is a simple form on his website for artists to inquire about future opportunities and an expanded roster of charities that benefit from this collaboration, including Childfund International and Heifer International. Over a lunch break during the seminar, he chatted with PopMatters about the Tour Support Program.
How did this project begin for you?
Years ago when I was speaking at an event like this and somebody from a charity saw me, then invited me out to lunch. Long story short, she said “You speak to thousands of artists a year, and you work with so many, would you mind hooking me up with artists because we’re going to start an artists program.” This was a charity called World Vision, which is a two billion dollar organization devoted to disadvantaged children. So I decided to do it, and started the World Vision Artist Associate program with Kris Thompson of World Vision plus my partner, Mark Whitmore. Since that time we have left working exclusively with World Vision and now work with about a half a dozen charities in Canada and the United States. I’ve also started an artist’s program in New Zealand. Since beginning this project we’ve raised over two billion dollars for the poor. At the same time we have generated over 100 million dollars for artists and their careers.
It was a real simple process, the artist walks out on stage and sometime during the show talks about sponsoring a kid through World Vision. And in time we’ve got over 1 million kids sponsored. Now they’re getting food, they’re getting clothes, they’re getting medical care -- their lives are changed. And what’s cool is the people who are doing the sponsoring, their lives are changed too. They write the kids sometimes, put their photos up on their refrigerator, some people pray for their kids and also send them stuff, like at Christmastime. They don’t all do that, and they don’t have to. But it’s a life changer for both sides of the coin. So in the end, helping people is what it’s about.
In your seminar presentation, you talked about that bands need that “Call to Action” for fans to visit the merch table, to buy their music, to come to more concerts. They have this power with all those eyeballs on them. But are artists able to choose what charities are important to them?
Well we can help direct them, knowing who they are. I have a tour support assistant who works with the independent artists and she just kinds of feels them out and direct them. We just had a group out of Philly and the guy was Asian American. Turns out he was an orphan in China. So we work with an organization, Holt International, that works with orphans in China so it was a perfect fit for him. Other people have kids, or adopt kids -- not that they would adopt kids at a show. (laughs) But my kids are adopted, so an organization about adoption is near and dear to my heart. And as a parent you recognize the importance of food, clothing and medicine for children. There’s also a lot of women’s causes we work with, for example organizations that help women out of the sex trade -- well not just women in that. There’s also emergency relief help, like when the tsunami hit or earthquakes. Some of these charities are in place ready to help. So when something like that happens, we give a call out to the artists and try to raise funds with what is happening there. It’s a great way to raise money reasonably for the charity and help people. It’s a win-win situation.
You’ve been in a band -- do you consider a band’s success part of the responsibility to respond and give back?
Yes, absolutely. They have to take it seriously. I’ll tell you why you have to take it seriously if you’re an independent artist – or anybody. One is, you can affect somebody’s life by getting sponsored or help if they need it. You can literally change their lives, which is an awesome thing. Yet at the same time, you can generate serious revenue.
I discuss this in my book, Live Music Method, which is really two books. It was written for a college curriculum and people that follow me. The first 300 some odd pages is about what to do on stage: the techniques of how to be a better performer. But the last 100 or so pages is the business at the live show. For example, how do you want into a live event and generate revenue. I use this analogy; let’s pretend that you work at Staples. And you love it. So going into a club or a concert hall is like going into Staples. Now, if you worked at Staples would you rather be paid $10 an hour or $50 dollars an hour? Well it’s a no brainer, I’d rather be paid $50 an hour. But there’s a generation of revenue bands are missing because don’t know what they’re doing at the show as far as revenue streams. They generally have two. They have being paid to play, which is usually very little, and merch sales. And for the artist, that might not be enough. There are three other streams of revenue, and one of those is the charity aspect. I’ve got artists who are making anywhere from $1000 to $70,000 extra just by doing the charity thing to put into touring costs.
And we’re starting to put tours together again. So we will put together the artists: we’ll get a headliner and some indie artists on the tour, ones that are loyal to the program to help the artist. We had one tour that just went out that was playing to eight or nine thousand people a night. And we had this artist that was great musically and loyal to the program for ten years -- so we had him open the show. He got exposure to hundreds and thousands of people because of his loyalty. This is such a win-win it’s ridiculous, and it just boggles my mind when artists and managers just don’t get it.
There are a lot of charities out there, but they’re not set up to work with artists. They are set up for people to give them money. The charities we work with, we set up an entire system. There’s a concert report form that are filled out like an invoice. There’s materials that are put out on the merch tables that are included in a package that’s sent out, so people can learn about the charity. Then they send in the receipts and that’s it. It’s literally ten minutes a night and it can generate thousands of dollars, millions of dollars over a lifetime. But you want to be with an organization that knows what they’re doing.