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#InConversationWith Aaron Friedman

#InConversationWith Aaron Friedman

"Probably the biggest challenge has been to explain that Make Music Day is not a festival. [...] But Make Music Day is totally different. [...] Eventually I started talking about Make Music Day as kind of like Halloween, but for music."

We are a community of people in every profession and sector using music to create more value in towns and cities all over the world. In the special series #InConversationWith, we talk to accomplished members of our community and uncover their journey.

This story features Aaron Friedman, Executive Director, Make Music Alliance.

Profile at a Glance

  • Full Name: Aaron Friedman

  • City, Country: New York, U.S.A.

  • Work Profile/Designation: Executive Director, Make Music Alliance.

  • Notable previous work: Designed and led the campaign “Silent Majority: Citizens Against Car Alarms”, ran a field office for John Kerry's presidential campaign.

Aaron Friedman is a great example of what it means to be a music advocate. While he was making his first steps as a composer, he started to bring the community together around a campaign to reduce noise pollution. This experience organizing community at a grassroots level led him to a role in a campaign for the U.S. presidential elections. Currently, he is putting all of these skills to work around music by leading the Make Music Alliance, a movement that is working to turn live music into a countrywide (and beyond) holiday.

Make Music Day recently took place for the first time in Alabama, including the City of Huntsville, where the upcoming Music Cities Convention will be taking place during October. If you're looking to learn and network with music advocates on how to make governments invest in music such as Aaron, get your tickets at the convention at the current Early Bird Price and save $50 before the end of August.

Make Music Day - June 21st

Tell us a bit about yourself, your career and the many projects that you've been involved in these past couple of years.

Six years ago, the college I attended asked me to speak on a panel called “Chaotic Career Paths in Music.” That’s a pretty good description of my professional journey.

After playing saxophone in high school, and studying music in college, I taught English for a year in France, then returned to New York for entry-level jobs in classical music marketing and publishing. That wasn’t for me, but I’d enjoyed writing music in college, so I began studying with a composer in New York.

Being a composer meant spending long hours at the piano. In my neighborhood back then, car alarms interrupted me constantly from the street, and ruined my concentration. So I began a campaign called “Silent Majority: Citizens Against Car Alarms” to get useless alarms off the street. I rallied my neighbors, spoke at community meetings, researched the efficacy of alarms and drafted legislation to ban alarms. Amazingly, the campaign took off. Within two years my group had hundreds of members, we got anti-car alarm legislation passed through City Council, and I was written up in the New York Times and the New Yorker.

Someone from John Kerry’s presidential campaign read about my political organizing and called me up. One week later, I had moved to Wisconsin, running a field office to get volunteers to knock on doors for the Kerry campaign.

After the election, I moved back to New York but had no idea what to do next. Then one day I read about the “Fête de la Musique,” a national French holiday where amateur and professional musicians spontaneously come outside and play music together.

Instantly, I knew this was something I could make happen in New York. I knew how to run a grassroots campaign, how to talk to the media, how to manage volunteers, and mobilize people for a single day, just like an election. Plus, I had lots of musician friends and experimental music ideas I wanted to try outdoors. I went back to France in 2006 to learn more, then started up Make Music New York in 2007 (and the Make Music Alliance in 2015). It’s been growing ever since! This year’s Make Music Day included 4,791 free music events in the U.S., all on June 21.

What have been the two most important milestones of the project so far?

One milestone came at the very beginning. The first Make Music New York had 560 events on one day, coordinated solely by me and a few interns. Every day the phone rang with dozens of musicians and venues calling to sign up, or to ask logistical questions that we couldn’t answer. It was overwhelming.

The second year, we were prepared. We created a matchmaking website so that people could sign up with their info, and then find other artists and venues to collaborate with, and make arrangements amongst themselves. That was huge. The phone stopped ringing, and the online conversations automatically became concert listings once everyone confirmed the details. Today, nearly every Make Music Day chapter uses this same matchmaking system for their event.

The second milestone was our partnership with the NAMM Foundation, which began in 2013. They had the vision to see how our New York celebration could spread around the country, and even internationally, to benefit communities everywhere. We would never have been able to launch and run the Make Music Alliance without their strong, continued support.

What is the biggest challenge that you've faced in this process and how did you overcome it?

Probably the biggest challenge has been to explain that Make Music Day is not a festival. Early on, no matter what I said, it seemed that people would assume that’s what I was talking about, because music festivals are so familiar. But Make Music Day is totally different – any place can be a stage, and anyone can be a performer.

Eventually I started talking about Make Music Day as kind of like Halloween, but for music. On October 31, everyone knows that you can dress up in a costume and it’s not weird, kids can go around asking for candy on their own schedule, and no one auditions to be part of it. It’s just on the calendar and people figure out what they want to do. Similarly on June 21, in communities with an established Make Music Day, people know they can make music outside, however they choose, and that’s what they do.

The Halloween explanation helped – and anyway, over time, more people have figured out the concept by themselves. But it can be a challenge. We’re asking the public to be creative and make this celebration their own, as they would for any holiday. That requires more thoughtfulness than a regular music festival where everyone already knows what to do.

Make Music Day

Do you think Make Music Day is an effective strategy/tool to get the local community invested around music?

If you ask elected officials, policymakers, and business and community leaders if they care about music, all of them will say yes. But developing a more music-friendly city is not always on their agenda.

Make Music Day can change that in several ways. It shows that music making is truly for everyone, not just a small interest group. It brings existing artists, venues, and music teachers out onto the streets to increase their visibility and political relevance. We’ve noticed that many city leaders have played in a band or studied music at some point in their lives, and on Make Music Day some are inspired to come outside to sing, take a free harmonica lesson, or sit in on a jam session and get hooked again.

But it’s not just about influencing music policy. Make Music Day turns regular people from passive music consumers into active, engaged participants. For example, someone who can only play one song on the ukulele might not consider themselves a musician, but on June 21 they can come outside and perform their song a few times in a row. Audiences wandering around to experience Make Music Day will stop and listen, and then move on once the song is over to check out something else, while a new audience stops by. Even the most amateur musician can feel appreciated, see themselves as part of a creative community, and be able to express the song that is in their heart. It is a transformative experience.

What are the next projects that Make Music Day is working on?...

To read the full interview, network with Aaron Friedman & our 1800+ global members, and getting a chance to be featured as part of our #inconversationwith series, join the Music Cities Community!

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Make Music Day

About Make Music Day:

How did it start?

It all started 41 years ago in France.

In 1982, Jack Lang and his staff at the Ministry of Culture dreamed up an idea for a new kind of musical holiday. They imagined a day where free music would be everywhere, all around each city: street corners, parks, rooftops, gardens, and store fronts.

And, unlike a typical music festival, anyone and everyone would be invited to join and play music, or host performances. The event would take place on the summer solstice, June 21, and would be called Fête De La Musique. (In French, the name means both “festival of music” and “make music”.)

Amazingly enough, this dream has come true. The Fête has turned into a true national holiday: the country shuts down on the summer solstice and musicians take over. Almost 11% of French people (7 million people) have played an instrument or sung in public for the Fête de la Musique, and 64% of the country (43 million people) comes out each year to listen.

Four decades later, the holiday has spread throughout the world and is now celebrated in more than 1,000 cities in 120 different countries.

How did it come to the U.S.?

Fifteen years ago, the Fête de la Musique crossed the Atlantic with the debut of Make Music New York.

Starting as a grassroots initiative by a team of volunteers, the event quickly became a critical and popular success. Today, thousands of New York musicians – amateurs and professionals, of all ages and musical persuasions – perform in hundreds of free, outdoor concerts each June 21, earning praise for their “inspiring” (New York Times) and “thrilling” (New Yorker) performances.

In recent years, cities across the country have launched their own Make Music celebrations on June 21, making this musical holiday a truly national phenomenon.

On June 21, 2023, 117 U.S. cities organized 4,791 free concerts, with over 100 each in Cincinnati, Madison, New York, Philadelphia, and Salem OR…all on a single day.

In 2014, to coordinate and expand their efforts, Make Music organizers from across North America founded the Make Music Alliance.

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