The typical Red Hot project has been a compilation album of original music. All of the artists, labels, songwriters and many others donate their time, fees and royalties to support Red Hot’s charitable mission: fighting HIV/AIDS and related health issues around the world. Projects begin with an idea, typically a collaboration among many people, supervised by Red Hot’s co-founder and creative director. Red Hot then secures a contract with a record label to advance the cost of making the album. The label recoups its out of pocket costs associated with recording, manufacturing, distributing and marketing. All the profits go to Red Hot or directly to designated not for profit organizations. Red Hot does not have a permanent staff or institutional operation. It runs like a small production company that expands or contracts based on the projects it’s working on and the budget, with a volunteer chief executive and creative director.
Red Hot has not solicited or received donations. It sells products through commercial partners and donates a minimum of 80% of revenues received to support its mission. Selling albums in the 1990s was easier than over the past decade and a half due to changes in the music industry and the rise of digital music and the Internet. Overall, Red Hot has donated almost 15 million dollars to over 100 organizations around the world fighting HIV/AIDS. The company’s donations have often focused on innovative radical activities that typical corporate or institutional donors don’t support, such as ACT UP and needle exchange in the early 1990s and LGBT and African-American issues in the mid-1990s.
Red Hot occasionally produces awareness campaigns and multimedia to further its mission as well as support social and creative innovation. In the early 90s there was a street poster campaign featuring gay, lesbian and straight couples photographed by Steven Meisel, Steven Klein and Bruce Weber. As well as a related short video PSA campaign directed by Lance Acord. All of Red Hot video programs also had PSA elements that were shown on MTV, VH-1, PBS, Bravo, Channel 4, BBC, Canal Plus and other outlets targeting audiences affected by HIV/AIDS.
In the mid-1990s, Red Hot was a leader in digital interactive entertainment. The company’s first website featured interactive art pieces and games. It also produced online safer sex games before the World Wide Web. One of Red Hot’s videos was among the first to stream on the Internet. Red Hot also produced innovative CD-ROMs featuring digital animation and interactions such as The Beat Experience and Optic Nerve, an interactive catalogue for a one person exhibition of the work of David Wojnarowicz. The disc recreated the artist’s multimedia performances called Itsofomo. (Wojnarowicz died of AIDS-related causes in 1992 and was one of the inspirations for starting Red Hot.) In that era, Red Hot also created interactive applications on its CDs, such as America Is Dying Slowly, that allowed people to remix tracks and access exclusive videos on their PCs. Red Hot also designed and created one of the first online documentaries: Red Hot + Africa as a companion to the Fela Kuti tribute Red Hot + Riot. The website featured documentary footage and interview shot in South Africa and Nigeria.