Organizing Benefit Concerts

A Rough Guide To Organizing Benefit 


Revolutions Per Minute (RPM) was founded in 2005 by musicians, managers, and advisors from bands including Pearl Jam, The Beastie Boys, and R.E.M., with the aim of sharing best practices and lessons learned from their own activism and philanthropy. With the experience of producing the Tibetan Freedom Concerts, the founders of RPM (formerly Air Traffic Control) created an organization to help artists navigate the complex landscape of social change and to serve as a trusted source to vet requests for artists’ time, talent, and donations. Using the Tibetan Freedom Concerts as a case study, the following information is meant as a guide to help determine if a benefit concert is the best way to contribute to the cause you care about and outline the process for assessing the feasibility.

Questions To Ask Yourself Before Planning Begins:
  • Why a concert rather than some other type of event?
  • Is this concert intended to be primarily a fundraiser? Or an awareness raiser?
  • Who is the audience the concert is geared toward? Is this our usual demographic?
  • Is this a local, regional or national event?
  • Are there other concerts that will compete with ours? (Benefit or for-profit)
  • Do we personally know any artists who would be willing to perform at our concert?
  • Do we have the necessary resources to produce such an event? (funding, contacts, staff, etc.)
  • Do we have the ability to properly promote the event and attract media coverage?
  • Do we have a good venue at our disposal in which to have the concert?
  • Will a concert move our organization or cause in a direction that will be the most effective  possible?
  • Do we realize that putting on a concert is a huge pain in the ass and that everything that  can go wrong will?

If you’ve answered all of these questions and feel comfortable with the answers you’ve come up with, you’re totally insane, but are ready to start the next stage of planning.

Before you make any phone calls, send any faxes or approach anyone’s agent, let us tell you how the Milarepa Fund began organizing the Tibetan Freedom Concert. This information might be helpful in explaining some of the reasons why the TFCs have been successful.

  • The Milarepa Fund was cofounded by Adam Yauch, who is a professional musician and is well-respected by his colleagues and peers.
  • Before organizing the Tibetan Freedom Concert, the Milarepa Fund spent time traveling on Lollapalooza in ’94, Beastie Boys Tour in ’95 and Summersault in ’96. So we had quite a bit of concert experience before even thinking about doing our own show.
  • The first Tibetan Freedom Concert in 1996 was actually our 4th attempt at putting on a show to raise awareness about Tibet. All previous attempts failed and it took a long time to figure out how to do it right.
  • We had lots of contacts with bands and music industry bigwigs before organizing the concert, because of our previous tour experience and because our board of directors is the Beastie  Boys.
  • We were able to get high caliber artists to be involved because of our connection to the Beastie Boys. Some of the artists played because they cared about the cause,  others
    played as a favor to the Beastie Boys and got involved with the cause as a result of their
    participation. All of the artists donated their performances pro bono.
  • The timing for the Tibetan Freedom Concert was right. Not many people knew about Tibet  at that time, but the issue was starting to come into the national spotlight because of some visits to the U.S. made by the Dalai Lama.
  • The promoter we were working with for the first concert was sympathetic to the cause because of personal experience and therefore helped us make the concert a reality. They
    had good connections to the city we were working in and cleared some logistical obstacles for us.
  • We maintained complete executive control throughout the process. We never took any corporate sponsorships, bribes or kick-backs, which allowed us to be the sole creative controllers of our events. This is an important reason why the TFCs are successful, and
    not turned into alcohol-sponsored schlock fests.
  • We had a crack team of publicists who have helped gather media support and bring attention to the event.
  • We had the concert grounds blessed by monks.

The goal of the Tibetan Freedom Concerts had always been to raise awareness about non-violence and the Tibetan struggle for freedom, as well as to encourage youth activism.

Any money we made as a result of the concerts was appreciated, but only of secondary importance. We had a staff of fifteen people working overtime for three months in order to pull off the Tibetan Freedom Concerts. This staff is in addition to any outside specialists we needed to hire, such as concert managers, production managers, promoters, publicists, security, etc. Realistically it takes at least six months, if not longer, to produce a concert on the scale of the Tibetan Freedom Concerts.

**Benefit  Concerts  are  NOT  the  best  way  to  raise  money**