Heroes

These Grammy-winners don't want you to pay for their album. They want you to pay for someone else's.

From pop stars to indie rock, some of the biggest names in music are speaking out in support of the creative working class.

These Grammy-winners don't want you to pay for their album. They want you to pay for someone else's.

On July 17, 2015, Wilco unexpectedly released a brand-new album as a free download on their website.

The album is called "Star Wars" and it features a cat on the cover, which is pretty much the most Internet thing ever.

But the Grammy-Award-winning rock band isn't just giving their album away for free. Oh no. They're encouraging fans to spend their money on lesser-known artists instead.


A few days after the album's release, they explained their actions in a blog post:

They're hardly the first band to experiment with different models for sharing their music on the Internet.

But Wilco is one of the first high profile acts to do so for the explicit purpose of stimulating the creative economy.

I'm sure you've heard it all before that the Internet is ruining the music industry. Hell, musicians have been fighting the same battle since the advent of the phonograph. But music fans don't want hear to the same complaints over and over again, ad nauseam. They just want to listen to the music.

What Wilco is doing is something different. They're encouraging fans to spend their money elsewhere — to enjoy music for free, if they want to, while also contributing to the continued creation of new music by working-class musicians. It's like a trickle-down stimulus package for rock 'n' roll. And that's pretty cool.

Wilco may have used the Internet to stick it to the man back in 2001, but now they're just one of several big-name bands using their power to stand up for the little guy.

Taylor Swift also stood up to the streaming music industry recently, speaking out against Apple Music and Spotify.

OK, so her approach is mostly going to benefit her own profits, but that's not a bad thing. In the case of Spotify, Swift pulled her entire catalog to protest their low, low royalty rates. And she had a few choice words to say when Apple Music refused to pay for the music streamed during a user's free trial period.

Both Wilco and Swift used their positions to champion the rights of working-class musicians, each in their own respective way.

Neither way is necessarily better or more "right" than the other. (The last thing I'm trying to do here is start a feud between Wilco and Taylor Swift; my wife and I already have that battle every time we get into the car.) Both just want to make sure that someone is getting paid for their music.

Yes, Taylor Swift is a pop music powerhouse. But it doesn't matter that she doesn't need the money — she believes artists deserve to be paid what they're worth, on every level. (To be fair, Wilco did previously manage to get Warner Bros. Records to pay them twice for the same album.)

T-Swift and Wilco are just the latest in a long, long line of musicians who have raged against their own machine.

In 2007, Radiohead famously released "In Rainbows" as a pay-what-you-want album and have been very outspoken against Spotify. Fugazi was famously stubborn about keeping prices low for albums and concert tickets alike. Bands like The Backyard Committee (full disclosure: I sometimes perform with them) and the aptly-named Bomb the Music Industry! have democratized their music through free album downloads as well as open musician rosters. Chance the Rapper has made major waves with his self-released mixtapes and has used that success to turn the spotlight onto the other members of his multimedia supporting group, the Social Experiment.

And that's just a few examples from my own music library.


GIF from TayTay's "Shake It Off" music video.

What matters most, though, is that we find ways to support artists of every kind — after all, they make the stuff that makes our lives worth living.

What can you do about it? If you can afford it, put your money where your mouth is, and support artists at all different levels of success.

Every now and then, try to drop $10 on an artist who deserves it. (Wilco's aforementioned "suggested music" list really runs the gamut, from metal to chamber-pop to J-Pop and beyond. I personally downloaded the new record from Speedy Ortiz.)

And when possible, support musicians directly, or through Bandcamp or Kickstarter, instead of bigger companies like Spotify, iTunes, or Amazon.

If you believe in the importance of a strong middle class, it only makes sense that you support the creative working class. Art shouldn't be a privilege produced and enjoyed by an exclusive elite. It's a necessity that nourishes and improves the quality of our lives, and we need to nourish it in return so that the cycle can continue.

Wilco GIF from "The David Letterman Show."

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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