It’s hard to believe that I CARE IF YOU LISTEN (ICIYL) recently marked the two-year anniversary of our partnership with American Composers Forum. After 10 years as an all-volunteer publication, becoming a core program of ACF was a complete game changer, and funding from ACF has given us the capacity to support artists and writers in ways that I had only ever dreamed of. Our readers have watched us grow over the past decade, but as I pause to reflect at the end of this year, I wanted to share the full story of our journey with all of you.
Our founder Thomas Deneuville launched I CARE IF YOU LISTEN in 2010 as a one-person passion project. Sensing a need for a dedicated space to discuss contemporary classical music, Thomas began reviewing albums and live performances, launched our popular “5 Questions to…” interview series, and enlisted the help of friends to write guest essays on industry topics – all of which continues to be the backbone of our content offerings to this day.
As more volunteer writers started contributing to the site, it organically grew into a place where ensembles like Bang on Can, Sō Percussion, International Contemporary Ensemble, and Alarm Will Sound were front and center. You could find a review of Kamala Sankaram’s first opera next to yMusic’s debut album on an experimental new label called New Amsterdam Records. Young composers like Dale Trumbore wrote about the inspiration behind their works, while opinion pieces explored handwritten vs. digitally engraved scores.
The more I wrote, the more I saw that good writing doesn’t have to be complex, and that insightful ideas can be communicated in an accessible way.
I joined the ICIYL contributor team in 2013 while I was still pursuing my DMA in flute performance. I had a budding love for contemporary music and a passion for writing, though I was terrified to pen my first album review – they don’t teach you how to do that in music school! But Thomas made me feel like I had something of value to offer, and he gave me a space to discover my voice as I learned to write for audiences outside academia. The more I wrote, the more I saw that good writing doesn’t have to be complex, and that insightful ideas can be communicated in an accessible way.
These early lessons – and Thomas’ kindness and encouragement – were a crucial model for me when I became ICIYL’s Associate Editor in 2015. Getting more involved in the editorial work enabled me to start working with writers and publicists directly. Meanwhile, our team of volunteer contributors was growing, and the site was becoming an integral part of the contemporary music scene.
Thomas eventually moved out of New York City and on to a new career, and in the summer of 2017, he asked if I would be willing to take over as the Editor of I CARE IF YOU LISTEN. From there, ICIYL began prioritizing coverage of historically excluded artists in response to nascent conversations on Twitter about equity in classical music. Despite some backlash, we saw a huge surge in engagement with our content, which assured us that we were on the right path.
Eventually, I CARE IF YOU LISTEN reached the limit of what we could accomplish as a team of volunteers (myself included). Yet ICIYL had grown to occupy such a large role in public conversations about new music that readers were holding us to the same standards as publications with significantly more resources. The next phase would require funding and people working on the project full time, so in the summer of 2019, Thomas and I sat down to figure out how to make that happen.
We decided to pursue a strategic partnership with an established nonprofit that didn’t have an existing digital platform and would benefit from ICIYL’s visibility, built-in audience, and trusted reputation. Our shortlist included American Composers Forum, a national nonprofit dedicated to supporting and advocating for living music creators. It just so happened that the ACF staff was planning a trip to MASS MoCA that summer, so I made the two-hour drive from my Massachusetts home to the Berkshires to pitch our idea.
From the instant I met ACF’s new Executive Director Vanessa Rose and then Director of Artist Services Billy Lackey, I was sold. We had a natural alignment of mission, vision, and values, and the mutual benefit of a partnership was obvious. Over the next several months, we fleshed out a business proposal, and I made my pitch to ACF’s Board of Directors… in February 2020.
At a time when most organizations were turning inward for self-preservation, ACF’s leadership and Board had the foresight to anticipate that digital platforms were going to become essential ways for us to stay connected with each other through the looming lockdowns and widespread event cancellations.
When it became clear that the pandemic was going to devastate the performing arts, I expected all conversations about new programs to be paused. But at a time when most organizations were turning inward for self-preservation, ACF’s leadership and Board had the foresight to anticipate that digital platforms were going to become essential ways for us to stay connected with each other through the looming lockdowns and widespread event cancellations. The acquisition of ICIYL was made a priority, and we announced our new partnership in September 2020.
With financial support from ACF, all contributors to ICIYL are now paid, from the writers behind our articles to the people who run our social media accounts. We have one of the most diverse contributor teams in classical music criticism, and they all bring incredible curiosity, sensitivity, and insight to their work. And best of all – we are able to equitably compensate our contributors while keeping our content free for everyone to access without subscriptions or paywalls.
We’ve also been able to maintain our journalistic integrity and maverick spirit through our status as an “editorially-independent program” of ACF. Even though I am a full-time ACF staff member, we have an established internal firewall that allows me to make editorial decisions at my discretion. ICIYL has a separate “At ACF” page of the website for promotional ACF artist features, news, and announcements, and ACF-supported projects aren’t given preference or special treatment when it comes to critical reviews. This delicate balance requires a lot of trust, and I’m grateful that our partnership is grounded in a mutual respect that begets this trust.
Like many nonprofits, ACF relies on donations from our community. So we are asking you, our dedicated readers, to join us in supporting the work of I CARE IF YOU LISTEN by making a gift to ACF this year. Individual gifts of all sizes make a big impact and help us pay our contributors while keeping ICIYL free for everyone.
After existing as a labor of love for so many years, we’ve been able to retain the hallmarks of I CARE IF YOU LISTEN – independent music criticism, support for living music creators, and free content – while paying everyone who contributes to the platform and refining our vision of what it means to equitably tell artists’ stories. As you plan your end-of-year giving, please consider a tax-deductible gift to ACF to support the ongoing work of ICIYL.
Thank you for your readership. Wishing you a restful and restorative end to 2022.
I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, and is made possible thanks to generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF.
You can support the work of ICIYL with a tax-deductible gift to ACF. For more on ACF, visit the “At ACF” section or composersforum.org.