Scott Herold’s nonprofit Rock the Cause is changing lives through music.
Many Minnesotans are familiar with Zach Sobiech’s story. Although the 18-year-old tragically died of cancer in 2013, his legacy still lives on through his song, “Clouds.” Sobiech never expected the song to go viral, but thanks to the help of Rock the Cause Records, the young singer-songwriter’s name is now known all around the world.
Rock the Cause is a nonprofit organization that works with musicians to advocate and raise money for other charities through music. Now celebrating its 10-year anniversary, Rock the Cause has sold more than 500,000 singles, 62,000 albums, and its 26 releases have been streamed more than 30 million times around the world. But the Minnesota-based label also does a lot of work in the Twin Cities, getting people involved in their communities and helping them make difference.
A dad who rocks
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Scott Herold is the founder and CEO of Rock the Cause, but before he started the label, he was just a dad. In 2006 his daughter, then a senior at Watershed High School, was concerned her school would be shut down due to a lack of funding. She had seen her father organize a charity concert before, and asked him to help her and her classmates put on a show to raise money.
Herold worked with the students and let them take charge of their show. Although they only raised $5,000 of the $100,000 needed, their hard work caught the attention of the head of Minnesota’s Department of Education, who stepped in to help the school, and Herold was inspired by the passion the students had for the project.
But while things worked out for his daughter and her classmates, Herold wasn’t doing so well himself. In the midst of working with the students, he lost his job and things weren’t easy.
“I had just been laid off from a $100,000 a year job,” he remembered. “I was 39 years old, had just bought a house and a brand new car, and I was facing down unemployment. I’d never been unemployed before. I spent the past, from the time I was 27 to the time I was 39, working up the corporate ladder to finally get to that place where I felt like, ‘Wow, I’ve arrived. I have success,’ and it was gone.”
Herold found another job, but meanwhile, he had started working with a lawyer on the concept of Rock the Cause and decided to focus on it full time.
“Clouds” break hearts
When Herold first heard about Sobiech, he was struggling financially after devoting himself to Rock the Cause full time, and was beginning to think he had made the wrong choice. That same day he logged into Facebook and saw a news article about Sobiech and his song “Clouds.”
Moved by his song, Herold reached out to Children’s Cancer Research Fund to get more information. They wanted to release the song, but weren’t sure what to do. Rock the Cause was able to monetize the song and help Sobiech protect his rights. The label also helped facilitate a few concerts for Sobiech, including a sold-out show at the Varsity Theater—where Herold said he saw Zach go from a scared Stillwater teen to a “rock ‘n’ roll god.”
“We were backstage and Zach was about ready to go on. There was some commotion going on and one of the Varsity techs got anxious, went and got Zach, and all of a sudden Zach’s on stage,” remembered Herold. “He’s not supposed to be on stage yet, and we’re supposed to debut his new video ‘Fix Me Up.’ So I went up to Zach and was like, ‘Zach, do you just want to go ahead and start your show, or should we make them wait?’ Zach said, ‘We’re going to make them wait.’ He sat down on the stage with his back turned to the audience and watched his video for the first time. When the video was done, the audience cheered.”
From downloads and streaming alone, Herold said “Clouds” raised about $265,000 for the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund, which helps fund research to find treatments to prevent and cure the disease.
For the kids
It’s young people like Sobiech that inspire Herold to keep working through the struggles he may face, and Rock the Cause is committed to supporting the next generation.
“We’ve worked with a lot of different charities and a lot of different organizations, but the thing that I like the most is working with the young people,” said Herold. “When we can work with teenagers and young people, it’s an absolute joy and a thrill.”
A lot of the work Rock the Cause does is in schools. The label’s biggest impact has been at the High School for Recording Arts (HSRA). Many of the students there have dropped out of other schools, but at HSRA they have access to recording studios and production rooms, and despite the many challenges these students face, they are motivated to come to school every day.
Lewiee Blaze was one of those students. Before he came to HSRA, Blaze said, he struggled in his traditional public school. Things changed when a friend of his transferred from their school to HSRA and inspired Blaze to learn more about it.
“He told me, ‘Man, if you have a passion for music and this is what you want to do with your life, then you have to go to this school,’” remembers Blaze. “So he took me on a little tour and when I got there it felt like home. All the teachers greeted me, all the students were very friendly, and it was just very lovely.”
Jackie Amos (left) and Lewis McCabe (right) volunteer with Scott Herold’s nonprofit, Rock the Cause // Photos by Madalyn Rowell
Many of the students at HSRA want to work in the music business, so Herold teaches a class where he shows them everything they need to know to run a label or work as an independent artist.
“I’ll have kids who will sit right in my class and they’ll come up to me with their cell phones and say, ‘Will you check my work and see if I did this right?’ I’ll look at it, and they sat in my class and they registered their own business with the State of Minnesota—and now they are in business as a record label and a manager. It’s powerful stuff.”
Although Blaze was not able to take Herold’s class, Herold does everything he can to help all of the students, even taking some of them on as interns. He lets them take charge of different projects Rock the Cause works on, and many of them go on to do great work in their adult lives, some even returning to teach at the school that gave them their start—something Blaze has done himself.
Since this past summer, he has collaborated with Herold on many of the label’s projects, including the release of 20 years’ worth of recordings made at HSRA. Blaze is working with Herold’s class as they work to promote the story of the school and their music. Now, he also works at HSRA.
“I never thought that I would be in the position to work at a school at all,” said Blaze. “I never thought about that, but it has helped me grow as an individual and give back to the kids, which is really important.”
For Herold, it’s students like Blaze who make his work worthwhile.
“When a young person comes to me and says, ‘My life has been changed. My life is different. I have hope, I have a future, and I see a pathway.’ That’s what is most rewarding to me,” said Herold. “It’s not always writing a check to a charity, it’s not always getting your name in the paper. For me, it’s when I look at a young person and that young person has seen a world of potential that they’ve never seen before […] That’s what makes it worthwhile.”
This article was produced as a part of a collaboration between The Growler Magazine and 89.3 The Current, Minnesota’s non-commercial, member-supported radio station playing the best authentic, new music alongside the music that inspired it. Find this article and more great music content at thecurrent.org.