Music Vs. Gun Violence: How One Campaign Is Turning Art Into Social Action

Dealing with Chicago's big problem

Chicago is a great city with a big problem: Gun violence. Since the beginning of this year more than 2,400 people have been victims of shootings in Chicago, which has struggled to control its violent crime rate. But what if music could help quell gun violence? That question sits at the core of a new social movement, Music Vs Gun Violence, which aims to prevent gun violence through music.

Co-developed by Chicago Ideas, Leo Burnett Chicago, and Anthony “The Twilite Tone” Khan, Music Vs. Gun Violence features an interactive music video that includes performances from some of Chicago’s best-known hip-hop and rap artists, including Lil Herb and King Louie. But, according to Juan Woodbury, a vice president and executive producer at Leo Burnett, what makes the campaign unique is that it gives a voice to the people who are affected by gun violence every day.

“The very nature of this whole project was just truly authentic,” Woodbury tells “It was really refreshing to talk with some of these young kids about giving back to their communities that they really live in, to give them the voice to get out there with #PutTheGunsDown.”

What was the catalyst for the campaign, and how did influential musicians like Common get involved? We recently talked with Woodbury to find out.

How did Music Vs. Gun Violence come together? 

It really came about because creative people decided they wanted to try to link up and do something musically to solve the issue of gun violence. Music is often blamed for gun violence, especially in hip-hop. But what we wanted to do was take that and flip it on its head to see if we could do something positive.

How did well-known MCs get involved?

We reached out to these different MCs and brainstormed with them to figure out how to change the message of what they were saying. It was really refreshing to talk with some of these young kids in the communities that they live in, and to help give them the voice to get out of there.

And, really, everybody just came together and made great music. It was a beautiful experience, and I know I sound corny, but it was just so refreshing to see all of these people come together and work on something special.

Did the artists struggle to write original lyrics for the campaign?

No, they didn’t have any problem at all. Gun violence is something that’s on everybody’s mind—we know it’s a problem. It wasn’t like we had to go off and really think about it. A lot of these kids have been affected by gun violence, so it’s easy to

write about their friends and to write their stories. Even with Common, when we went into the studio, Common sat down and wrote his lyrics right there.

Why are campaigns like this important to an agency like Leo Burnett?

Because we love Chicago, and we are a part of our neighborhood. If we can’t take care of our own place, where we stay and where we live, it doesn’t make any sense.