HeadCount is a nonpartisan organization that works with musicians to promote participation in democracy in the United States. It is best known for registering voters at concerts – having signed up 300,000 voters since its launch in 2004. It also encourages voter turnout and general civic participation. Some of its higher profile activity includes the release of public service announcements, a compilation album featuring Pearl Jam, Wilco and Phish, and various activities involving board member Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead.
HeadCount also staged the largest social media-based voter registration campaign ever as part of National Voter Registration Day, an event the organization helped create. The HeadCount campaign featured hundreds of musicians and entertainers posting "Register to Vote" photos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, with a link to an online voter registration form. Participants included Stephen Colbert, John Stewart, Fergie, Russell Simmons and The Black Keys.
The organization was founded by Marc Brownstein, bass player for the popular electronic rock band The Disco Biscuits, and his friend Andy Bernstein, author of a series of books about Phish. Bernstein now serves as executive director.
Since its inception, HeadCount has been largely volunteer-driven. It fields volunteer “street teams” in most major U.S. cities. Each consists of a trained team leader who runs the local operations, and a cadre of volunteers. These teams then set up tables at concerts through which they register voters and disseminate information related to political issues and upcoming elections. This approach has allowed HeadCount to keep its operating costs low while reaching a very large number of people. In any given year, the organization sets up these tables at 500 to 1,000 concerts or more. Artists who host this activity include: Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam, Jack Johnson, Wilco, Phish, MGMT, The National, John Mayer and many others.
Beyond concerts, HeadCount has a large presence on the Internet. It’s blog features daily updates on “music, politics and everything in between,” and it launched a platform called #SoundOff (www.SoundOffatCongress.org) for Tweeting directly at members of Congress.
HeadCount also produced the documentary A Call to Action, which has aired on cable television. In early 2012 HeadCount conceived and produced "The Bridge Session" a live performance from Bob Weir's TRI Studios featuring Weir, members of the National and various other guests. A live webcast on Yahoo! also featured a roundtable political discussion.
In recent years HeadCount has begun managing "Participation Row" activism villages at various concert festivals including Lockn' in Arrington Virginia, and also runs the "Capitol Community" program for the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY, which sends school teachers to the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame and museum for curriculum training.
HeadCount is based in New York City, but has volunteer street teams all over the U.S.
HeadCount aims to harness the energy of the music community into political participation. Its core belief is that music, expression and freedom are all intrinsically intertwined. Their community can trace its roots back to the 1960s counterculture, with a sense of higher purpose that can still be felt today. Many artists and fans[who?] have strong convictions and a deep personal belief in democracy. HeadCount created an organizational structure to channel those beliefs into action.