*George Howard is an associate Professor of Music Business / Management at Berklee College of Music and Co-Founder of Music Audience Exchange
Article transcript below or read the full article HERE...
Beatie Wolfe Celebrates The Power Of Music To Reach And Reanimate Even The Most Disconnected Of Us
The evolution of the music business has had numerous consequences – some negative, some positive, and some too early to determine. While for many musicians these changes have led to frustrated stasis, others seem to view this time as one that welcomes invention or re-invention; a time where the traditional “verticals” that defined what an artist working in a particular genre could and should do no longer apply.
To be sure, artists since the beginning have taken an expansive view to Art (with a capital “A”) – what songwriter from the 70s isn’t also a painter?
However, what once was perhaps a natural consequence of the artist’s active mind, is now further propelled by both technological innovations and economic imperatives. That is, technology itself has opened up the possibilities for “trans-media” expression at the same time that some of artist’s historical revenue streams – the sale of recorded music, for example – have collapsed.
Unwittingly, I seem to utilize this space to dominantly profile artists of this type:
- Ashley Longshore – visual artist redefining traditional commerce models: The Bitcoin Blockchain Just Might Save The Music Industry...If Only We Could Understand It
- Zoe Keating – cellist, composer, data scientist: Bitcoin and the Arts: An Interview with Artist and Composer, Zoe Keating
- Imogene Heap – songwriter, producer, technologist: Imogen Heap's Mycelia: An Artists' Approach for a Fair Trade Music Business, Inspired by Blockchain
- Ryan Leslie – rapper, producer, entrepreneur: Ryan Leslie's Plan To Disrupt The Music Business: Enable Artists - Not Apple - To Own Their Audience
- Kiran Gandhi – percussionist, technologist, entrepreneur: Pandora Buys Rdio. What's An Artist To Do? Part 1
- Ellis Paul – songwriter, author: Expanding The Empathy Circle Through Art: Songwriter Ellis Paul Teaches Children
To this list, I now add the artist Beatie Wolfe. I came upon Ms. Wolfe’s work via a fantastic piece by the great Ina Fried in Re/Code. I knew immediately, that I wanted to learn more about Ms. Wolfe’s work, as it appeared to truly articulate both the challenges and opportunities that artists face today.
I was not prepared, however, for the force of nature that is Ms. Wolfe. In a wide-ranging conversation – which can be heard in its entirety here – Ms. Wolfe and I discuss a host of topics – from her work with those suffering from dementia, to how to utilize technology in a manner to break down barriers between artists and listener, to the nexus between music and fashion.
As I do with each of pieces on music healing, I encourage you to watch the video below of the work in action; it’s where the magic lies.
In part one of this interview Ms. Wolfe and I discuss her work in music therapy. Working with an impressive team, Ms. Wolfe has built a data-based approach to using music that is not tethered to memory to heal.
This approach has far-reaching possibilities, not just for treating those suffering from dementia, but to use music to help all of those feeling locked in solitude.
Part two will discuss in more detail Ms. Wolfe’s work in technology, print and fashion as it relates to her music, but – as seen below – these distinctions are arbitrary, for Ms. Wolfe it all stems from a clear and resonant purpose.
As Ms. Wolfe states: “The intention behind your music is key; it’s not something you can manufacture or you can pretend; it’s the driving force, where you’re coming from. It’s everything behind what you're doing. Every project you put your name to is influenced by your intention; your “why?” – the seed behind every idea.”
In sum, Ms. Wolfe defines what it means to be an Artist – with a capital “A” – in today’s music business. As she herself states, she’s simultaneously a musician, innovator and a “social entrepreneur.” This is a term for an individual or company who attempts to solve a social problem via an entrepreneurial (rather than from a not-for-profit) approach.
While there has been an abundance of companies defining themselves in this manner of late – Toms, Warby Parker, Charity Water, et al. – I’ve not heard an artist describe themselves as a social entrepreneur.
Of course, as Ms. Wolfe and I discuss, in some sense, all artists are social entrepreneurs. Few if any artists make music with purely a financial motive (at least at first), and certainly, all artists view their work as potentially having a social impact. As Ms. Wolfe says, quoting from her musical mentor Wynton Marsalis: “If you're making music to make money – don’t. If you’re making music to uplift people – do.”
Moving from "music heals" in an anecdotal way to making it relevant via data is something Ms. Wolfe addresses in a very forthright manner:
What Oliver Sacks was able to do brilliantly is bring great credibility to our understanding of the Power of Music while keeping the heart and human element very much alive. He proves and validates something that many of us inherently feel and believe about music without it sounding too mystical. And I realized that while I had witnessed some amazing experiences and transformations occurring in people listening to my music… especially given that unlike Sacks’ tests the music they were hearing was entirely new… I had anecdotal episodes to share but nothing more concrete.
And I knew that until one was able to prove it with data, there won’t be any systemic change. I wanted to crunch the numbers and examine how the care homes are operating, and start to make some grand scale changes. You start thinking about using music over pills, and that’s what’s so exciting.”
This data, of course, allows for the possibility to finally institutionalize and scale music’s power to heal beyond a one-to-one single use case.
To this end, Ms. Wolfe has utilized her music and tech to heal.
Certainly, Ms. Wolfe readily admits that this work rests on the shoulders of giants – Sacks and other music therapists – who came before, but her specific contribution is moving music away from nostalgic “trigger points” (playing Sinatra for an elderly person to evoke a memory, for example), and towards music in and of itself “exerting an emotional pull that was disconnected from a prior experience.”
This began personally with Ms. Wolfe playing music for her grandmother who suffered from dementia. Noting the powerful impact, and, as is often the case with entrepreneurs, Ms. Wolfe sensing a broader implication, Ms. Wolfe began to attempt to put structure to this “anecdotal” experience to create more than just a story.
Ms. Wolfe then decided to perform in a care home in Portugal to some 100 patients with dementia who didn’t speak English. In the case, not only was Ms Wolfe’s music entirely unfamiliar to the residents but there was no lyrical connection to draw upon.
What Ms. Wolfe witnessed — residents clapping, singing along and even dancing to songs they had never heard — was a powerful inducement for her to take this new music research route further. Afterwards the manager of the facility informed Ms. Wolfe that in his 10-year Directorship at the Care home that this was the best he had witnessed the group: a perfect balance between engaged and peaceful with stimulation but no agitation.
Working with the former marketing director of HSBC, and via a partnership with 2020 Research, and the Priory Care Group, and with backing from The Utley Foundation, Ms. Wolfe created the ‘Power of Music & Dementia’ project and strove to better understand and prove that music unconnected to memory is an effective therapy via a tour of care homes across the UK. In these facilities, Ms. Wolfe played her set for thirty minutes while the residents were monitored, and then - for three to four months after the performance — these patients were monitored while listening to the recording of Ms. Wolfe’s set on headphones.
The results were extraordinary; the data showing that both memory and communication were significantly improved across the spectrum of participants in the study.
After the publication of the study, the Times and Independent called it a “musical miracle,” which led to a Wired feature, and Ms. Wolfe presenting a keynote at Apple AAPL -0.31% HQ, and had a meeting of minds at Stanford University exploring the next wave of research to move away from “relieving the burden of dementia” and towards “celebrating the power of music to unlock even the most disconnected of us.”
As Ms. Wolfe states:
We know that music, when isolated from all the other factors, can be uplifting and a source of joy that doesn’t have to operate on the basis of memory. To prove this in relation to dementia is hugely exciting for me as it suddenly throws the doors wide open and makes things much easier with respect to the curation element; you realize that music doesn’t have to be familiar to have an emotional pull. We all have the potential to be disconnected, and so don’t we want to treat others how we would like to be treated, using every inch of our understanding possible.
For me, one of my core motivations as an artist is service and making people see music differently. Music as celebration and ceremony and a positive connector, infiltrates every single aspect of my work – the digital sphere and the space of music for healing – it’s where I operate from; these are not separate channels. There’s the common idea that an artist turns up to the studio, sings and then buggers off. I could never relate to that. You have to be an overseer; the act of overseeing makes it better – if I believe in something, I have to take it as far as it can go. Our cultural heritage – what we inherit and what we pass on – is so valuable. A lot of the work that I do is designed to preserve a rich cultural heritage – tangibility, storytelling, ceremony – these are the facets that make us humans, that move us. That’s why we’re here, and it’s a great responsibility.
In short – empathy – erasing the arbitrary wall of “otherness.” That is Art with a capital “A.”
Watch this space for part two of the conversation with Beatie Wolfe, and in the meantime, follow her here.