Greetings from a distance! I’ve known Beth Blatt for years, first as a DGF Fellow, then as a friend and colleague. Throughout the years, Beth has always been the first person to say ‘how can I help’ whenever a friend is in need. During this time of fear and uncertainty, she has again stepped up by creating a platform for people to assist the Dramatists Guild Foundation. DGF has been giving emergency grants to writers for over 50 years and during the pandemic, they have quietly sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to writers in need. (If you’d like to donate directly to DGF, or need to apply for an emergency grant, check out their website at www.dgf.org.) I sent Beth a few questions via email to hear more about her idea and to share how everyone can help. We had a nice and socially distant conversation from my parents’ home in northeast OH and Beth’s home in upstate NY.
TARI STRATTON: Beth, where did the idea for your music business, Hope Sings, come from?
BETH BLATT: Hope Sings started on a beach in the Baja. In fact, I just realized, it’s thanks to The Dramatist!
I had been writing musicals for a while and feeling frustrated. I mean, gosh, they take so long to get done. Plus, I’d had a very international life and the whole form was feeling very “American.”
Although I usually write on my vacations (I just can’t seem to stop), I had brought no work to the Baja. The only slightly work-ish thing was the DG mag. Every day, I’d sit on the beach and meditate and look at the sea and wonder what to do with my life. I finally cracked the DG magazine, and there was an article about Carol Mack and her play, Seven, which tells the inspiring stories of seven women leaders from around the world.
I thought, what if I could do that, but with songs?
And I was off. Except I didn’t know in which direction.
A week later, at a dinner party a friend was gushing about the $100 microloan she made to a woman in Mexico through the microfinance organization Kiva and how that woman was turning her life around with the new sewing machine she could now afford.
Great story, I thought. No. Great song.
Coincidences started piling up.
Not long after, the NY Times Magazine was all about microfinance. One of the features was on the microloan organization Accion. The founder had gone to my college. I got his phone number. Called him. He answered his own phone (what??). He suggested I write him a sample song.
I did. Which involved more crazy coincidences and Panama and BMI and Colombian music darling Marta Gomez, but nine months later, Hope Sings launched at the Latin Grammy’s with our first “anthem.”
We do have a thing for “anthems.” A few years later, when I heard the UN was launching a new agency, UN Women, I knew they needed one. They didn’t know that, but…two years later they were very happy to have this recording, featuring 25 internationally-renowned musical artists (and a lyric by me).
TARI STRATTON: What made you decide to set up Insider Tracks?
BETH BLATT: I’d been wanting to do something to help people struggling due to COVID-19. But didn’t know what that something was.
I wrote a kooky little handwashing ditty. Not useful enough.
Then dramaturg/consultant Clifford Lee Johnson, happened to check out Hope Sings (maybe it was the handwashing ditty that got him intrigued?) and offered to share a song with us (which songwriters do) from his band from the 1980’s, Rudy’s Jukebox.
I thought, Hm. Why don’t we take the money we get from that download and donate it to organizations helping out in these days of COVID? Like a food bank. Or an organization helping theatre writers. Like the Dramatists Guild. Or the Dramatists Guild Foundation. Which is when I discovered the DGF actually has emergency artist grants for COVID. They’ve been providing emergency grants for years, but COVID has forced them to ramp up the program.
TARI STRATTON: Just to remind everyone, the Dramatists Guild Foundation is part of the DG family. It’s a national charity that supports theatrical writers, at all stages of their career. Basically, as a public charitable foundation, DGF can fundraise and provide grants. The Guild cannot.
BETH BLATT: Then Maury Yeston happened to email me a cute song he’d written, and I thought…hm (I do a lot of “hmm’ing”). Maybe Maury would share a song? And he did, the private demo of “Unusual Way” (from Nine) he recorded/sang right after he finished writing it.
Adam Gwon and I wrote a wacky song about Johnny Appleseed that had never really seen the light of day. Adam was game to share, and I started following the daisy chain of generous and talented colleagues.
By then, I realized I should reach out to the Foundation. They were so grateful that we wanted to help. But they didn’t want this to take money away from writers by cannibalizing their income-producing tracks. So, I hit on the angle of “Insider Tracks,” songs that are “undiscovered,” cut from a show, never released, a writer demo.
TARI STRATTON: Could you please describe the steps members can take to get their songs on your site?
BETH BLATT: There is room for lots of great songs in Insider Tracks. We do tend to prefer uplifting or entertaining tunes. Happy keeps us healthy
If you have a recording you’d like to “donate” for a limited time (until Sept. 1), drop me a note about you and the song, and an mp3 at email@example.com.
All proceeds go to the DGF (net of processing fees). This is a labor of love. I was a DGF Fellow. I make full use of the DG’s range of services. This is how I get to give back just a bit of what they’ve given me. We all do what we can. This is what I can do.
TARI STRATTON: Thank you, Beth, for finding a way to put all your talents to use to help your community. I’ve already downloaded all of the Insider Tracks demos. It’s been a real treat to discover new-to-me work, and help DGF (and writers-in-need) at the same time!