Light Up The Night: Collaboration, Causes, And A New Kind Of Platform

GGreetings, fellow indie musicians! My name is Josh Urban, and I’m using my music and to make the holidays a bit brighter for people. In turn, it’s making my stage bigger, and getting far more people involved than I would have ever thought possible. Pull up a chair by the virtual fire, and I’ll tell you a story (it’s all true!)

The Kindness Exchange

The Kindness Exchange

Musicians as innovators

The new music industry is brimming with potential. Not only is the market efficient (check your Facebook event invite list), but it’s relatively untapped. The level of noise on existing channels using secondhand ideas is at a fever pitch – but this is a good thing. It pushes us back to central tenants of artistic culture – of innovation, experimentation, expression, and being the cutting edge of cool. Creating an experience for people is at the top of my list, and recently, I stumbled upon a way to add meaning to the mix.

“All Comrades please report to Stage Left”

The more I experiment with creating experiences, the more I realize that, for my personal style, the more people who are involved as active participants, the more successful the experience is for everyone. My buddy Mike from Terra Rising Records best summed up this philosophy: The more people invited on stage, the bigger the stage has to be. If the experience becomes a cause for people to rally around, not only is there more involvement, but the involvement can actually accomplish something to make the world a better place.

A dark time

December 18th marks the anniversary of my Grandfather’s death. I remember sitting by the Christmas tree a few days later, watching the light stream out into the darkness, blurred by my watery eyes. For several holiday seasons after that, other sad things happened, and I begin to see why many struggle during the season. It seemed a dark time of year, indeed. Yet all of the faiths that celebrate a holiday during December have light as a central theme. As the season approached this year, I wanted to do a music project that would bring some light into what can be a very dark month. After a bit of thinking and brainstorming, the project was hatched.

Beacon tree

The #KindnessExchange

The idea, grown from my previous two social media tours, is simple: People do something nice for someone, and post it on social media using the hashtag #KindnessExchange. I see any tagged post, print it out, and put it on a lit “kindness tree” in my front yard – a literal beacon in the darkness! Meanwhile, I’ve been traveling around in a 150 mile radius, playing shows in hospitals, homeless shelters, street corners, nursing homes, radio shows, and even a psychiatric ward at a veteran’s hospital. (Let me tell you, that was quite a fun, moving, and profound gig.) With a heavy social media presence and online Google + hangouts, it’s a project on many fronts and formats. It started on November 20th (the anniversary of the death of a family member), and is running through the 1st of 2014. Please feel free to join in (even if it’s past the official end date – kindness is needed every day!) The hub of the project is at, and participants can visit to get information, see the Twitter feed, and download a free copy of my holiday EP Lt. Prancer.

A recap:

  • Do something kind.
  • Post it using the hashtag #KindnessExchange
  • I put it on the tree, and light up the night.

The Reaction

The reaction to the project so far has been overwhelming. Not only is the idea received well, but it seems to be much-needed. Many seem to be grateful to have a place to admit that the holidays aren’t always jolly, and are enthusiastically joining in with posting their acts of kindness back to the tour. The media has been very generous in their coverage of the project, and the venues that I’m donating shows to are most appreciative. A Facebook group has been set up, and is very active with people discussing the good things that they’re doing. The base is very energized by the project, and new people are being drawn into the loop. It’s even morphing into other projects. A friend who works at an elementary school out of state mentioned the project to her principal, who loved the idea so much that I’ll be Skyping in to address the entire school on a big projection screen. They’re adopting the idea, and making it a school-wide project, asking the students to do nice things for their families over the holidays, writing them down when they get back and displaying them on their own kindness trees.

Lt. Prancer EP

Lt. Prancer EP

One of the intriguing things about the project so far is that I’m not asking people to donate any money to anything or anyone. Usually altruistic activities involve some financial matters, but this one is totally free, setting it apart from many of the other causes this time of year.

It’s also uncovered an interesting social issue – some people feel that sharing their kind acts amounts to bragging. There has been much spirited debate on how to be a good citizen of the world, and just how the world might be changed through this very issue of language and culture. And here I thought I would just be playing a few holiday tunes!

The Business Side

Since this is an industry blog, many readers are doubtless wondering “So how are you making money from this?” In short – I’m not. But, that’s not the point. While it’s not the only strategy available, I feel that building a base comes before monetizing it. What started out as a fun way to make the holidays a little better for my fellow humans and myself has turned into an eye-opening example of how people can make a difference given the chance – and the stage – to do so.

Does it scale up?

So, involvement and collaboration is great, but can it really scale up? I had thought previously that this was a way to jump up the ladder of the traditional one-sided model of one guy on stage, ten thousand people watching. Scaled down, this is one guy in a coffee shop, with two people half-watching. Well, the idea hit in a flash – what if there was one guy on stage, with ten thousand people joining in in a two-way interaction. The possibilities are endless – human light shows, the world’s biggest rhythm section, and all other manner of participation in an event. Not only does it scale, but there’s a lot of money in the idea, too. Hence the strategy of base first, money later. Involvement on a massive scale is a new idea to me, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

In Closing

This project has been, and continues to be, quite a fascination for me. I’m happy and grateful that it’s making the world just a bit brighter during such a tough time of year, and excited at the ramifications of the possibilities for even bigger projects in the future. I urge you to ponder how you can take something that matters to you and build a project with your music as a platform. As musicians, saving the world and building brilliant careers might just be the same thing. I, for one, could go for more album sales and a better planet. Sounds like a win-win to me!

And remember – go do something kind!


Josh Urban is an independent rock musician living near Washington, DC, USA. Connect on Twitter @DontJoshMe, and visit to join The Kindness Exchange – a global project to bring light into the darkness this holiday season. He enjoys inventing new ways to bring his music to the masses, including touring by train on two previous interactive rail tours.