For Emily Smith, who is 22, the idea of making a “mixtape” for a loved one is intimately old-fashioned. Though she grew up in the CD era, her older brother taught her to use cassette tapes. “He showed me how to stop and rewind,” she says.
Smith, who just graduated from Emerson College, and her friend Isabel Thottam, an Emerson undergrad, are the cofounders of Hold On Another Day, a nonprofit venture that hopes to inspire healing through music. In effect, they want their target audiences to stop and rewind.
On Sunday at Church, the label will hold its first CD release party (yes, they’re producing CDs). “Songs for Soldiers” is a compilation of music intended for men and women in the military, as well as the friends and family committed to their well-being.
For every CD sold, Hold On Another Day will donate another CD to a cause — in this case, Operation Gratitude, a California company that sends 100,000 care packages annually to service members overseas and in hospitals, and to family members left behind. Smith and Thottam are working on their second CD to benefit Oregon-based Project Believe in Me, an anti-bullying initiative, and they plan another in partnership with the Boston support group Ellen’s Heart and Soul, which donates iPods to breast cancer patients.
The idea for Hold On Another Day came about serendipitously, through a school assignment and the “shuffle” feature of Smith’s iPod playlist. The cofounders were classmates last fall in an entrepreneurial business class. Assigned to create a moneymaking venture in three days — “It was kind of like ‘The Apprentice,’” Smith says — they agreed to produce a mixtape.
Thottam, who has an internship at Sony Records in Los Angeles this summer, came up with the concept after recalling how her favorite music mixes helped her work through some tough times in high school. Smith played devil’s advocate: “Who wants to buy a random CD for no reason?” she asked.
Together they agreed: What if they did it for a cause? Mulling it over, Smith went home that night and put on some music. By chance, the song that came up was called “The Best Goodnight,” by a songwriting friend of hers from high school on the South Shore. Ali Pimentel wrote the song for a onetime boyfriend who became a Marine.
“Emily has always kind of loved that song,” says Pimentel, who will perform solo and with her band (including Smith on drums) at the CD release party. The coproducers put together a three-song sampler, including “Love” by the local band Colour — with whom Thottam was friendly — and the gentle, Iron and Wine-ish “Home,” by Joshua Morrison, an Army veteran and current University of Washington student who had served alongside a friend of Smith’s. They sold the CD outside an Emerson dining hall and made $150, which they donated to Operation Gratitude.
The full “Songs for Soldiers” CD also features tracks by Boston favorites including Antje Duvekot, Julia Easterlin, the band Cask Mouse, and a few artists from elsewhere, such as Chicago’s Alain de Courtenay, who has opened for DeVotchKa. As the venture grows, Smith says, she and Thottam hope to attract more talent from all over. For Pimentel, who hopes to work with music and children with autism, the release of “Songs for Soldiers” has had an unexpected consequence: She recently reconnected with the old boyfriend for whom she wrote “The Best Goodnight.”
“He just got out [of the military], and he saw this on Facebook,” Pimentel reports. “He actually texted me – ‘I’m really proud of you, and I think it’s great what you guys are doing.’ And he’s actually one of my best friends now.”
Smith, after graduating from Emerson with a degree in sound design, has just begun a job in artist relations for the Zildjian cymbal company in Norwell. Her work and Thottam’s at Sony have put a strain on their time commitment to Hold On, but their jobs have also helped both women see the music industry from a new perspective. “That’s really helped us in a business sense,” she says. “We’ve seen how a corporate music company runs, and that’s shown us what we want and don’t want to be. We’re in it to help others. That’s the purpose of the whole company.”
There have been times, she admits, when she’s been on the clock at Zildjian but thinking about “Songs for Soldiers.”
“Ironically, my boss’s husband is a veteran,” Smith says, “so she thinks it’s cool.”James Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com.