David Barnett, Music Heals: There’s a lot of people out there trying to spread the love and all we’re trying to do is help fund it.
Music Heals is one of the fastest growing, most agile charities in Vancouver. The team has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in only a few years of operation and increased access to music therapy in hospitals and clinics, for cancer patients, seniors and so many more. For founder David Barnett, the reason for their popularity is obvious: music touches everyone, both donors and patients. David, Executive Director Chris Brandt and their team have turned this universal love of music into a vibrant community of musicians, therapists, fundraisers, fans, and of course, donors. We talked to David about the charity, the therapy, and good vibes.
On Music Heals: It’s a charity driven by fans of music and business community people who are passionate music lovers who see and feel the power of music in their daily lives and how it makes them feel. When you start researching the therapeutic benefits of music the stories are endless. Originally when I started this charity I was in a fortunate position to be able to go out and create something and really wanted to find something that we were passionate about and music is something that, as a fan, I forever know the effects of it, just how it makes you feel when you listen to it or you go see concerts. As we researched more into therapeutic settings, the benefits are just unbelievable. How do you put the two together and go out and really see where the needs are in the community? Therapy just seems to be underappreciated and underfunded.
On community: I grew up in and around charities. My father was very involved with Variety Club. I always recognized that there were opportunities to bring people together in a charitable environment, whether it’s dinners or events or just gatherings where you end up becoming friends, working with and really building this larger community. The goal was never really to start a charity but to start something that brought people together. It created this larger circle of friendships in the group where you can work with people and spend time with people who have this common goal and a common passion of music. Being a music-based charity it’s very difficult to find people who don’t love what you’re doing. Anybody who likes music on any level sees the benefits.
On change: A lot of the charities that I’ve dabbled in over the last 10, 15 years were all related to music industry labels. You’re depending on your labels, depending on your bands, depending on your managers. They were music-related charities so you really relied on the music industry to support them. But as the music industry has changed in the last 10 years, that industry’s not really an industry anymore.
On reaching people: How do I get to the lawyer who’s a closet musician and the doctor who’s a musician and a fan of music? The lawyer who hops in his car at night who’s driving home and puts on his favourite music because it makes him feel? How do you translate that? How do you get that person to understand a little bit of the other power of it. If it’s making you feel a certain way as you’re driving home, what does it feel like to that kid in hospital? It’s just so powerful. We really strategized about having some type of engagement with our potential donors on how music makes them feel.
On music therapy: Most people don’t know all the effects. Even when I started and got involved in researching about music therapy, originally I envisioned it with senior’s homes. The guy playing piano at lunch hour or with kids in developmental stuff. As you get more involved and you see it with cancer patients or burn units and mental health and hospices and palliative care, it’s just overwhelming how it’s being used on so many different levels as a therapy. It’s mind blowing to just watch some of the results coming out of some of these facilities and some of the stories we hear about parents and their kids and dealing with cancer and death. There’s a lot of people out there trying to spread the love and all we’re trying to do is help fund it.
On fundraising: It’s difficult to just go and ask corporations for a cheque. It’s a lot easier to sell them a table to a larger event. The gala is really leaning on a lot of personal friends and businesses who we know are passionate about music. We want to spend time with artists who are going out and trying to give back. If it’s the band adding a dollar to the cover charge on their tour across Canada, that’s going to go to music therapy. There was a band a few years ago, The Matinee, who were doing covers online, so anytime there was a hundred dollar donation they would do a fun cover. We’ve also gone away from the [traditional] round table concept and we’re moving into a little bit more of a rock and roll, Persian rug, couches vibe where you feel like you’re part of something different. I think that’s really what we’re trying to go after, that type of non-gala gala.
On social media: We don’t just tell music therapy stories, we keep people posted and updated on music industry notes and what’s happening and cool trends because the conversation is about music. We’re really trying to run the charity as a business with a business mindset and a fun, almost startup type of business mindset where the end result is to give away a lot of money.
On feedback: My fulfillment comes from hearing the stories and being able to give the money away. One of the things that we started a couple years ago was this video of how we spend your money and I think it was really important for us and for me to be able to share that with the community and how we’re spending your money. At the end of the day people don’t really know specifically where their money’s going. So to have the recipients of the money tell their stories is important. The more stories we can get from the therapeutic community out to the general public, the more support we’re going to get long-term. Knowing that children’s hospital has a couple of part-time people for all the kids at the hospital is disheartening, so being able to help fund it so those therapists are working full-time or more, it makes us feel good when you get the feedback and it’s all very positive.