Seattle Culture

The Sound of Giving

Three nonprofit music organizations worthy of support

By Dan Ray November 28, 2023

The Black Tones perform at Freakout Fest 2022.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2023 issue of Seattle magazine.

In the March/April issue of this magazine, I wrote an article about the problems with Seattle’s music scene and how we can fix them. There’s a lot to be desired in Seattle’s music scene — like more regular, paying gigs for musicians at local establishments and a more reasonable volume level at venues across the city — but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention all the people on the ground working to make those (and other) changes happen.

KEXP, The Vera Project, and MoPop are probably the oldest and most well-known music nonprofits in Seattle. KEXP, a public radio station founded in 1972, boasts approximately 300,000 weekly listeners from the Puget Sound area and across the globe. Founded in 2001, Vera is an all-ages space that has grown into a multi-disciplinary venue. It hosts concerts, holds visual art exhibitions, and provides training in audio engineering, leadership, event production, and silkscreen printing. Founded in 2000, MoPOP, or the Museum of Pop Culture, hosts The Residency, a hip-hop boot camp for youth.

But those aren’t the only music nonprofits in the city working to make sustainable change. Whether you’re looking to make a tax-deductible donation or simply get involved in a new organization in the new year, here are three Seattle music nonprofits you should know.

Freakout

Founded: 2023

Freakout is a nonprofit record label and festival producer. It puts on two festivals every year: Freakout Festival takes place in Ballard every November, and the Weekender Festival takes place in spring in Belltown. Both the label and festivals focus primarily on local, Mexican, and South American artists, with an emphasis on connecting with others through live music.

Freakout was founded as an independent record label in 2016 by Guy Keltner, Skyler Locatelli, and Ian Cunningham. In 2023, Freakout transitioned to nonprofit status as a way to power its mission of music being for people, not profit. 

Why get involved? There’s nothing like the feeling of live music. It can’t be replicated by a streaming service or a record player. Live music provides a connection point and common ground for people across language, age, race, and other demographics. The majority of bands that visit from out of town for Freakout are artists Keltner has met and made friends with through his own touring (with his band, Acid Tongue), so this festival in particular provides a homey space in which local bands can make connections to other parts of the world and touring acts get an intimate viewing of Seattle.

Last year’s Freakout Fest was the 10th annual event.

Photo by Eric-Tra

Get involved: If you’re a community member, you can attend a festival, buy music or merchandise, and/or donate directly. Donations will be used to help pay off debt from previous festivals and to support upcoming ones.

If you’re a musician, email info@freakoutrec.com to inquire about being booked for future festivals, and/or attend a current festival. The organization describes Freakout as a musician’s festival.

Upcoming event:

Freakout presents Freakout Weekender Mar. 2-3 at The Crocodile in Seattle. The festival is 21+ and boasts 20 bands on three stages. Attending the festival is the best way to learn about Freakout and see a bunch of bands you’ve never heard of from across the globe.

What the organizers say: “It’s about energy. Freakout focuses on everything from indie rock to garage to psych and punk. It’s a combination of all those things. You’ll find hip-hop sets; you’ll find singer-songwriter sets,” says Freakout Marketing Director Jake Hanson. “It reaches a crowd that is excited to get a little bit rowdy. People come to Freakout excited to crowd surf. But people also come to Freakout excited to just sit and watch visuals during a great psych set.”

Stay in touch: Follow @freakout on Instagram.

SMASH

Founded: 2017

SMASH (which is an acronym for Seattle Musicians Access to Sustainable Healthcare) is a nonprofit organization that provides medical, dental, and mental health services to working musicians in the Puget Sound area. This includes gigging musicians, music teachers, songwriters, recording artists, etc. SMASH doesn’t provide health insurance, but does help musicians negotiate bills as well as act as a resource and sounding board for musicians who need help navigating health and wellness insurance systems. SMASH hosts dental, hearing, and vision pop-up clinics, and its goal is to expand to services such as physical therapy and vocal scoping to provide preventive care. 

SMASH currently boasts about 300 members (musicians). Its goal is to have 500 by the end of the year. It also wants to expand its reach to musicians that aren’t necessarily playing in venues, like people who play traditional music of their culture.

Why get involved? Music is a form of self-care, and it’s important the community at large provides care for the people that make that music. Music and art are the root of a city’s culture, and if the people who are creating that feel cared for, they’ll be more inspired to connect with their community and produce meaningful art. It’s a system of mutual support.

The audience enjoys the music.

Photo by Travis Trautt

Get involved: If you’re a community member, you can donate, sponsor an event, and/or volunteer. If you’re a medical professional, you can donate your services. 

If you’re a musician, you can apply to become a member. There are no minimum requirements for how often you work or how much money you make in the industry to qualify to become a member. You must live in King, Snohomish, Pierce, Mason, Kitsap, or Thurston counties. For a household of one, you must make less than $55,900 annually.

SMASH hosted its annual benefit concert at The Moore Theater Nov. 19. The show was curated by Sonic Guild and focused on pairing well-known artists with up-and-coming talent. Previous years have featured performances from Dave Matthews and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready. Local acts Tomo Nakayama and Eva Walker have performed with Matthews and McCready, respectively. This year the show paid tribute to local record label Sub Pop.

What the organizers say: “If you’re uninsured, your bill is going to be so much more. You’re uninsured because you don’t have the money for insurance, so it all feels counterintuitive to health and wellness,” says SMASH Executive Director Denise Burnside. “It’s a system, and you’re lucky if you can figure it out. We’re trying to be a resource to take all that stress away.”

Upcoming event: Support SMASH for Giving Tuesday from Nov. 27-Dec. 3 by participating in their online auction, or with a donation. SMASH is looking to raise $15,000 to help provide a safety net for local musicians. 

Stay in touch: Follow @smashseattle on Instagram.

Sonic Guild

Founded: 2020

Sonic Guild (formerly known as Black Fret) is a nonprofit organization working to support local arts based on the model of patronage. Patronage, a long-standing system that became most well known in Medieval and Renaissance Europe, involves community members of means donating to or commissioning projects from local artists.

Many modern arts, such as opera and ballet, are still supported by this model. It can be seen at a more grassroots level on the website Patreon, through which people donate to artists of their choosing, usually in return for special content or early access to works.

Through Sonic Guild’s model, members (patrons) donate on either a yearly or monthly schedule and receive access to exclusive concerts and events featuring Seattle artists. Sonic Guild uses member dues to both put on these events and fund grants to local musicians, who are chosen by a committee of members, music industry advisers, and past grant recipients at the end of every year. Musicians are able to use the funds however they like, from paying off debt to funding studio time.  

The original chapter of Sonic Guild was founded as Black Fret in Austin, Texas, in 2013. The Seattle chapter officially launched in 2020. It has around 100 members and gave out $80,000 in grants in 2022, compared to the Austin chapter, which has 800 members and gave out $250,000 in grants. The organization is building out chapters in Colorado and Arkansas. 

Sonic Guild has given more than $250,000 in grants to emerging artist

Photo courtesy of Sonic Guild

Get involved: Your membership with Sonic Guild does more than support local music. Because the organization has chapters in multiple cities, it allows the musicians who receive grants an opportunity to expand their networks and make the connections needed to book shows and tours in other parts of the country. It also provides an easy way to find local music when you travel — you can check in with the local chapter to find events.

If you’re a community member, you can buy a single annual membership for $750, a duo annual membership for $1,500, or a party annual membership (for you and three guests at each event) for $3,000. You can also send a one-time donation, see if your workplace will match your donation, sponsor an event, and/or volunteer. 

Upcoming event: Sonic Guild’s award ceremony is on Feb. 17 at The Triple Door. Tickets are $100 and all proceeds support the 2024 grant pool. The ceremony will recognize both past recipients and 2023 grant recipients: All Star Opera, Black Belt Eagle Scout, Byland, LIVt, Maya Marie, Monsterwatch, Richard Simeonoff, Tekla Waterfield & Jeff Fielder, Terror/Cactus, TeZATalks.

What the organizers say: “We’re trying to be a catalyst to build community,” says Sonic Guild Executive Director Ben London. “After the pandemic, people feel more isolated than ever. So, I would encourage people to get out of your house, go out, and do things. If you can’t join our organization, go see some live music, go buy a T-shirt or a CD or a record. Go out and be a part of this city that we live in.”

Stay in touch: Follow @sonicguildseattlewa on Instagram.

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