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Can artists save the world? That was the topic explored at the Artists' Role In Homeland Security panel during South by Southwest on March 15. In an intimate one-on-one conversation with Daryl Friedman, Chief Advocacy & Industry Relations Officer for The Recording Academy, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), current chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, made a convincing case for the power of music to end oppression.
"Living in Austin, music [is] obviously an important part of our culture here," said McCaul, who also dabbles as a guitar player. "I saw in the '60s and '70s how music can make a difference in the United States when you had people like Bob Dylan [and] the Beatles.. … [and I] saw what an impact it played socially on our culture, but also on policies.
"As I look at it from a homeland security perspective; music is really the universal language. The influence that music can have can be very powerful."
One facet of McCaul's responsibilities is to analyze global threats and make sure the United States is protected against them, but, as McCaul noted, those threats still exist in other parts of the world. And while the United States exerts "hard" power to combat these threats, such as the military and drones, he believes "soft" power can be effective too.
"While [drones] have been successful with high-value targets, they are not alone going to kill an ideology. … Music has a very strong role to play in [persuasion] and in diplomacy and in that soft power to try and change the world to make it a better place."
But in order for the power of music to cross borders and help end oppression, there are some issues that need to be tackled in the United States, one of which is being addressed in the Arts Require Timely Service Act, supported by both McCaul and The Recording Academy. As Friedman explained, the act would help expedite the visa process for foreign artists to perform in the United States. One specific group highlighted during the discussion was New York-based Iranian rock band Hypernova, who attempted to attend SXSW in 2007 but didn't make it due to visa delays.
When asked about the likelihood of the legislation passing, McCaul was hopeful that it would, adding that one of the benefits of the legislation is that artists can visit U.S. festivals such as South by Southwest and return to their homes as ambassadors of American culture. Friedman pointed to two organizations that can help American artists spread U.S. culture abroad: American Music Abroad and the Arts Envoy Program. Friedman encouraged attendees to get involved in this issue by contacting their congressman by visiting www.grammy.org/advocacy.
Toward the end of the discussion, Friedman and McCaul took questions from the audience, including one about navigating YouTube's takedown policy. Friedman mentioned a hearing that took place this week regarding the DMCA takedown procedure, which featured testimony from recent GRAMMY winner Maria Schneider, that he hopes will ultimately help lead to policies that will make protection of intellectual property online less taxing on the independent artist in paticular.
In closing, Friedman pointed to one of the most important pieces of history, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the role artists played in that movement, from David Bowie and Michael Jackson to Bruce Springsteen.
Friedman asked, "Is rock and roll our best weapon?"
"I think rock and roll can be a very effective weapon and tool against oppression," responded McCaul, "because that's what this country is all about."