Making Music — and a Difference

Funny how things work out sometimes.  Take the altruistically-inclined Virginia-based alt-rock band Mae, for instance.
It was a confluence of major band events that sparked what has now become an integral part of the band’s overall mission: to not only make great music for their fans and grow their base, but also to make a difference by encouraging that base to support their impressive variety of wide-ranging charitable endeavors.
“In this relatively small pocket of time, we lost two original members and we were without a record label,” Mae guitarist Zach Gehring said from his hotel room in Pittsburgh.  “So we really had to sit down and ask ourselves why we were going to continue? What reasons do we have to go on? If you’re going to continue writing music that you think people should hear, we feel you have to have a reason to continue to do so, otherwise I think people can pick up on the ‘trite creativity for recreation’ kinda thing.”
So after splitting with Capitol Records in 2008, Mae, which stands for “Multi-sensory Aesthetic Experience”, a course taken by the band’s drummer at Old Dominion, found themselves with a startling, albeit daunting new-found sense of freedom.
And after a month of soul-searching, Mae’s core mission became clear: make a tangible difference in people’s lives while also continuing to create new music.
“We found ourselves in this one moment where because we weren’t beholden to a record label, we were not only able to do whatever we wanted, but at the same time we recognized what we could do with our fan base and with our music, which is to use it for something good”, Gehring said. “It’s all been a combination of us being in a position where we were able to do what we wanted to do with the music without answering to anyone, as well as harnessing the power of music and our fans and giving back as much we could.”
Part of this “giving back” is Mae’s current “12 Songs, 12 Months, 1 Goal” project, where all proceeds from digital downloads of one of their songs every month for a year go to whatever humanitarian-based cause they are funding at a given time. It’s pretty simple: you buy one of their songs online, you get some good tunage, and the money goes to a good cause.
But they aren’t stopping there.
Mae won a contest on, with their fan base’s support, where the winner got $10,000 to put towards an “idea,” and Mae’s “idea” was to use the money to help build a home for a family in need in Newport News, VA. in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity.
Now they have another “idea” they hope to win with: “50 States, 50 Schools In Need,” which has the band working with to help fund an educational project in every state, to give teachers the supplies they need to make a difference in their student’s lives. You can go to and see what it’s all about, and if you like it, you can vote for Mae’s “idea.”
And at a gig in Salt Lake City recently, Mae worked with The Road Home, a Utah-based social service agency, encouraging their fans to bring toiletries and other personal items with them to the gig so they could be donated to the homeless.
But at its core, Mae IS a rock band, so how has this ‘feel good’ philanthropy affected their relationship with their fans?
“I think what all of this has done is that it’s emphasized the symbiotic nature of the band/fan relationship,” Gehring said. “A band is often up on a pedestal and the fans are looking ‘up’ to that, looking for any scrap they can get from the band. We wanted to do away with those barriers.”
Mae plays the Black Cat on Nov. 8.
Check Mae out at

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