From the Trenches: What Have You Done for ME Lately?

Mike Lawson • Commentary • March 8, 2013

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During the days leading up to the 2013 Grammy Awards in early February, I found myself involved in a curious and somewhat frustrating debate on a music education group on LinkedIn regarding this question: What has the Music Industry done for music education?

The implications of this statement were clear:


  1. The music industry has made boatloads of money as a result of the fruits of music education.
  2. They have not done nearly enough to support music education in or schools.

Also implied in this statement is the idea that, “If only the music industry would do more to support music education, then the field would be in a much stronger state.” Needless to say this got my dander up… just little bit.

To address item number one, the simple answer is yes, the music industry has made a lot of money from a wide variety of aspects of music. So have the chemical and pharmaceutical companies in science. So have all the architecture firms from math. So have all of the history firms (oh wait, there is no history industry). The point is we live in a capitalistic society. The object of the free enterprise system is to make money. There is nothing wrong with this! The more important question is: Does any of that money ever get reinvested to support the underlying educational structure?

Let’s review some of the facts to see if the music industry has done anything to “invest” in music education.

Fact Number One: Music and Arts Education in the United States are designated a core subject in federal law as a direct result of the music industry. 

You can quibble all you want about how much money is spent and weather or not the industry has done enough, but this is one fact that cannot be denied. If it were not for the efforts of the music industry at the time (NAMM, The Recording Academy, the American Music Conference) in partnership with the National Association for Music Education (or as it was affectionately known at the time, MENC) the list of core subjects for federal education policy would be English, Math, Science, History, and Geography. These were the subjects proposed as part of President George Herbert Walker Bush’s America 2000 education program. Without the spirited offense lead by this coalition of organizations and the grass roots network underneath them, we would have a caste system today of courses that are core and those that are non-core. Music and the arts were destined for the latter. The Goals 2000 Education Act codified the arts as a core subject.

A recent study released by Dr. Kenneth Elpus documented the impact of music and the arts being designated a “core subject.” The findings are important:

(Paul) Lehman (1993) argued that the net effect of Goals 2000 would be to “secure a firm position” for music and the arts in the nation’s public schools; the empirical data analyzed here suggest that Lehman’s prediction was correct: more schools required more arts coursework of their students in the post-Goals 2000 era than did schools prior to the enactment of the law.


So if the music industry didn’t do anything ever again, this single critical act of courage has done more to ensure that students have access to music and arts education then any other. The facts are what they are.

But the industry has done so much more than just this single act of valor.

Fact Number Two: Research on the impact of music on a variety of societal benefits came about in large part because of the music industry. 

Love it or hate it there is no denying the impact that research of the role music plays on human development has played a critical role in influencing the debate about music education. Critical funding for the most important research in this area has been spearheaded by the music industry (NAMM, NARAS, Remo, Yamaha, and many others). Music and Brain Development, Music and Wellness, Music Therapy… the list is extensive and could fill a year’s worth of issues in SBO.

Facts Three through 1256: The Music Industry is responsible in whole or in part for:

  • The National Commission of Music Education
  • Passage of the Goals 2000 Educate America Act
  • The Report “Growing Up Complete”
  • Support of the Development of the National Standards for Arts Education
  • The National Coalition for Music Education
  • The National Music Education Summit
  • Best Communities for Music Education
  • Mr. Holland’s Opus film promotion
  • Music of the Heart film promotion
  • Shari Lewis’s PBS Series, The Charlie Horse Music Pizza
  • Sesame Street embracing music as a central theme of the show
  • Elmo on Capitol Hill
  • Elaborate floats in the Tournament of Roses and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
  • Funding for hundreds of organizations doing important work from Technology in Music Education (TI:ME) through the documentation of the cost of a quality music program
  • Little Kids Rock
  • Lobbying for Music Education in Congress
  • Development of State Coalitions for Music Education
  • Advocacy tools and resources for use in local communities
  • Documenting the implementation of the National Standards for Arts Education
  • Music Education featured on the Grammy Awards broadcast
  • Media campaigns encouraging articles promoting the positive impact of music education
  • The Grammy Honor Jazz Band
  • Grammy Camp
  • VH1 Save The Music (responsible for the restoration of nearly 2,000 school programs for almost 2 million students)
  • Music for All
  • The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation
  • Music Education featured at the White House
  • Corporate Battle of the Bands
  • “Best Ad Campaigns Featuring Music” Awards
  • Fighting for Title 1 funding to be used to support music and arts education
  • Advocating for more federal investment in research
  • SchoolJam USA competitions
  • NAfME National Conferences
  • Funding that supports every single state music education association through exhibit fees, booth spaces, and industry membership

And this is what I came up within five minutes from memory while on an airplane over the Midwestern United States!

And recently we have seen:

  • The SupportMusic Coalition celebrate its 10-year Anniversary as the primary advocacy force for music education (and all of the arts for that matter). What has been accomplished by this effort is historic and worth a full review in its own right!
  • And last but by no means least, Grammy president Neil Portnow, Ryan Seacrest, and Justin Timberlake joined together on the Grammy Awards taking valuable global airtime to announce the creation of the special Grammy Award for Music Educator of the year. Did they do it because they had to? Is there some great new profit opportunity by giving this award? No! They did it because the industry is made of people who have been directly impacted by music education, have found a way to turn their passion into a career, and are looking for new and innovative ways to give back.

So, to answer the original question, what has the music industry done? Plenty! And I would argue that the music industry has done more to support music education than any other industry has done to support any other core subject area. Period.

Where is the “Save The Science Foundation?” How about “World Languages for All?” Where are the publishing houses out front fighting for literacy? Where is the funding to actually document whether or not more time devoted to testing will lead to improved schools? (And I would argue it doesn’t since you can’t fatten a pig by weighing it all the time.)

No industry segment has done more and no other industry has come close to the depth and breadth of support offered to a subject area than the music industry. If you think music education has it bad go check in with your geography or world language peers. Heck even amongst the other artistic disciplines, the support for the music education community is envied by them all.

So this is what the music industry has done (through the investment of time, energy, people and hundreds of millions of dollars) and continues to do. So now I ask this question:

What have you done to advocate for music education? Anything? 

My guess is that if, collectively, us music educators spent as much time proactively advocating for our programs as we do complaining about our plight, we would be in much better shape. Strong vibrant music education programs, at all grade levels, have great educators providing wonderful instruction supported by the promotion and advocacy of music education in the school and across the community.

As I have said in this space many times before. Music education advocacy is not something you only d; it is something that you are.

So ask yourself, “What have I done lately to support music education in my own school?” Then go out and do one thing right now to make a difference.

If you need some ideas to get you started, visit (co-founded and sponsored by the music industry association, NAMM).

Oh and while you’re at it, give your music retailer a hug. They helped make a lot of this possible.


Robert B. Morrison is the founder of Quadrant Arts Education Research, an arts education research and intelligence organization. In addition to other related pursuits in the field of arts education advocacy, Mr. Morrison has helped create, found, and run Music for All, the VH1 Save The Music Foundation, and, along with Richard Dreyfuss and the late Michael Kaman, the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation.


He may be reached directly at

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