Occupying and the Industry - Protest Week


Rage Against the Machine guitarist and folk singer known as the Nightwatchman, Tom Morrello performs for protesters during the premier days of Occupy Wall St. Photo by David Shankbone.

Written by: Margaret Jacobi

The media has shifted its attention away from the Occupy movement, both nationally and globally, in the past six months since the September take over of Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park first exploded into the news. From these humble beginnings, governments saw an intense response from people all over the world under that banner as new, reactionary initiatives sprung out of the movement’s cardinal action. November brought reports of smaller Occupy camps developing in as many as 951 cities in 82 countries indicating incredible popular support for the cause. However, with the exception of specific, recent time-sensitive demonstrations, police action and the cold of the winter seemingly subdued the momentum of the movement.

The real question for those among the remaining ranks is becoming how can such a large, consensus-based movement sustain itself? What actions can it take to ensure its impact and future?

One answer, initiated simultaneously among the respective Occupy movements in the UK and the US, is the release of compilation albums by musical groups and artists associated with the movement. Operating independently to support funding directly for the movement, Jericho, N.Y.-based group, Music for Occupy, is working on a spring release of a compilation called Occupy this Album, featuring many big names such as Devo, Mogwai, and Yoko Ono.

45 Revolutions Per Minute, another four person collective based in London, is also releasing a compilation, Folk the Banks, featuring Ani Difranco, Tom Morello, and Billy Bragg. However, this group has taken the idea of a benefit album even further by developing a brand new kind of record label for its release, Occupation Records.

Founded in January, the newly minted label seeks to redefine the archetypes of the music industry by providing a new ethical paradigm for businesses across the board.

“Originally we just started talking about getting a benefit album out for the movement,” said Adam Jung, Artist and Industry Relations for Occupation Records, “and then as we began working on it and talking about it, we kind of thought it would be interesting try to create a model, a sustainable funding model, that could be used by other people within the Occupy movement globally, as well as provide one small answer to one industry, how we envisioned Occupy would provide it.”

The platform they created allows artists to submit their music to be mastered, packaged, and distributed, after which the artist decides what percentage of profits they keep and what percentage goes to the movement. The label is planning to announce information regarding four upcoming releases (both compilations and non-compilations) around a week after Folk the Banks comes out.

The decision to found a company which functions in a completely ethical fashion forced Occupation Records to distance themselves from Amazon and iTunes, who control 80% of the digital music market. The choice provided significant obstacles for the collective, including the postponing of the Folk the Banks release date from mid-March to April 21st, Record Store Day.

“I think we’re trying to making sure everyone along the process is respected,” says Jung. “You know, the physical albums, we’re producing them in the UK since that’s where we’re based. This means there are fair wages with recyclable and sustainable materials. We’re not going through iTunes or Amazon for digital because of their labor issues. It’s kind of a way to show how the music industry could and should work. You know, all our profits go to Occupy, but we’re hoping we can still point to the fact that we’re making profits without using iTunes and Amazon as a way to kind of convince other people in the music industry to look at new ways to function.”

In choosing Record Store Day for the release date, the collective seeks to remind people what’s lost when independent record stores fluster and fold to corporations. With this in mind, participating stores releasing the album will have exclusive offers, such as limited prints of the album cover designed by Jamie Reid, the artist responsible for the cover of the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” single.

Official Folk the Banks cover art by Jaime Reid.

Musically, the upcoming album reflects the aesthetic of the movement as the label received generous responses from artists already interested in the movement who wanted to contribute, most of whom come from the folk tradition. Jung recognized that folk doesn’t necessarily attract all audiences and said that upcoming albums will offer more “broad and diverse sounds.”

45 Revolutions Per Minute has also created a Sponsume fundraising campaign that rewards donations with prizes such as copies of V for Vendetta signed by Alan Moore, limited prints signed by Jamie Reid, t-shirts, etc.

The collective has already received attention from British media outlets such as The Guardian and hopes that publicity will spread the message. Jung also noted music has always been a way to connect with new audiences. Their hope is, with time, the group will not only raise money for the Occupy movement, but also inspire industry professionals to assume a more principled approach to business.

“I would like to see a collective like this start to pop up in all sorts of industries, there’s a number of creative industries that are ripe with people who share the values of Occupy; this can be a model for them of how things should be done,” says Jung. “I think we’re talking about the world we want to see. In the current system, it is good to provide examples of how we can put our values into practice, because it’s not as hard as a lot of people think.”