In the business world, commercial concerns and social awareness don’t always make the best of bedfellows.
But one company that offers an example of how the two goals can succeed in sync is Appleseed Records, an independent label that brands its music with a mission.
Based in West Chester, Pa., Appleseed was established in 1997 by attorney Jim Musselman, an activist, organizer and consumer advocate whose previous resume included an eight-year stint working with Ralph Nader.
Over the past decade, the company has accumulated a sizeable roster of leading folk icons — Pete Seeger (whom Musselman calls his mentor), Donovan, John Stewart, Eric Anderson, David Bromberg, Roger McGuinn, Al Stewart and Tom Paxton, to name but a few — as well an impressive catalogue of more than 80 offerings, plus five Grammy nominations to boot.
With Musselman at the helm, Appleseed promotes a platform that gives a voice to a wide range of altruistic concerns through both its albums and a percentage of its profits, which are regularly shared with environmental, social and humanitarian organizations. The company’s catalogue includes special compilations that revive revered folk anthems, protest songs and traditional standards that speak to specific concerns.
One of Applesseed’s first efforts was a collection of Pete Seeger songs, Where Have All The Flowers Gone, a two-disc set featuring an illustrious array of guest stars, including Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne. Two other similarly star-studded Seeger tributes followed. Recently, two new collections have been issued to celebrate the company’s 10th anniversary: an Appleseed sampler called Sowing The Seeds — The 10th Anniversary, which retraces the label’s roots; and Give Us Your Poor, a series of songs that find major players like Springsteen, Seeger, Natalie Merchant and Jon Bon Jovi teaming up with homeless musicians to raise awareness about the plight of those living in poverty and indigence.
Goldmine recently had the pleasure of speaking with Musselman about Appleseed’s philosophy, philanthropy and future.
GOLDMINE: After tallying so many notable achievements in your work with Ralph Nader, what prompted you to give up a high profile successful social advocacy career, and presumably a law practice, to go into the music business?
JIM MUSSELMAN: Well, for me it was a natural progression, because I always felt that music could touch people in a way that other mediums cannot. Music changed my life, as it was exposure to the music of Bob Dylan that lead me to Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger and learning so much about life and a history that wasn’t taught in the history books. When I went to Northern Ireland and saw the war zone and the hatred… that’s when I decided to use music to build bridges between communities. I grew up collecting music and loved all types of music and saw that a lot of musicians who still had a lot to say were being ignored by the music industry, which is why I took the step.
GM: Changing careers from consumer advocacy to managing a record company seems a pretty radical transition. Was there a steep learning curve?
JM: Yes, it was a radical transition in many ways. I had some good mentors like Bob Feldman at Red House Records, who we hooked up with in the early days, and he helped me through many a minefield. My father is an artist and always taught me to be cre-act-ive not just creative, because you need the act after the idea. I came from an artistic family. I just use music to paint the pi