Imagine 500,000 children in 1,000 schools banging on drums, strumming guitars, wailing away on saxes and blasting at trumpets they wouldn't otherwise have. That's $25 million worth of musical instruments donated over seven years by VH1 and its cable-affiliate partners to schools that have been losing music-education programs due to budget cuts.
"The pro-social attitude within MTV Networks is so strong," says VH1 President Christina Norman, "and we see this as our obligation.
The program came about accidentally in 1997 when then-President John Sykes served as principal for a day at a public school in the rough Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn and was stunned to find there was no longer any music-education program. Says Norman, "This just seemed like the biggest, best thing we could do."
The program is still going strong: Last year, the network gave an estimated $10 million worth of airtime to its eight Save the Music PSAs. This year, VH1 is going to fully restore Milwaukee's music program and go into St. Louis public schools for the first time.
The network's annual VH1 Divas
show serves as a major fundraiser for the Save the Music Foundation. This spring, it raked in $300,000. "Divas
is a great annual national platform," Norman says.
Beyond donating instruments, Save The Music also provides "advocacy tools" through its Web sites to help inspire grassroots activism to push for a restoration of government funding.
And in April, the network teamed with Paramount, part of its Viacom family, and its cable affiliates. The deal will give Save the Music a portion of Paramount's proceeds and many of its cable systems' proceeds from every VOD and pay-per-view purchase of the film School of Rock.
Next month, VH1 will be in Chicago for four nights of concerts in advance of a Sting tour, with all four events benefiting Save the Music.
Norman is excited by the muscle behind the effort: "We can connect people to music and to the program in a powerful way."
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Stuart Miller has been writing about television for 30 years since he first joined Variety as a staff writer. He has written about television for The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, Newsweek, Vulture and numerous other publications.