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Pols, industry vets join forces to lead Austin music economy

Tuesday, March 6, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Under the aegis of one of Austin’s most successful entrepreneurs, a collective of some of the city’s most entrenched business and government leaders has set its sights on keeping Austin’s music community from being priced out of existence.

The group known as ALL ATX Leadership was launched in January by Gary Keller, co-founder of Keller Williams Realty and a vocal supporter of Austin musicians and venues.

It features 32 members from a mix of various segments of Austin’s music industry, local nonprofits, and city and state government who will meet monthly through late spring to find common problems and opportunities. The hope is that members can partner together with the goal of growing a music economy that is dominated by solo entrepreneurs and small businesses. The public sector members of the group are Mayor Steve Adler, city policy adviser Frank Rodriguez, Texas Music Office Director Brendon Anthony, Music Commission Chair Gavin Garcia, and Music and Entertainment Division Manager Erica Shamaly.

While still early in its life cycle, areas that are likely to attract attention include building a music technology economy, growing the publishing and songwriting sectors in Austin and addressing the issues of music venues that are facing rising real estate costs on small operating margins.

Keller, a multimillionaire who stepped in to purchase the Saxon Pub property to save it from redevelopment and started the ALL ATX nonprofit to raise funds for a handful of music-related charities, has provided an undisclosed amount of funding for at least two years of the program that is led by Nashville music industry veteran Tamara Saviano.

“The stated mission is building a more connected music industry in Austin, which is very entrepreneur-heavy compared to places like Nashville and Los Angeles where you have established pieces of the music industry,” Saviano said. “You don’t know what alliances are possible when you don’t know how other people’s businesses work. If you’ve got a PR firm, you’re not going to necessarily know what’s going on in publishing.”

Saviano said addressing the “silo problem” that is a drawback of the Austin music economy should help small businesses to grow together and gradually create more opportunities for Austin musicians to earn more money from their music and performances.

That is a growing concern for civic leaders, who point to the 2015 Austin Music Census that found many Austin musicians fall below the federal poverty line and routinely earn less than $10,000 per year as artists.

Adler said Keller’s advocacy is needed to help the city’s music economy find its unique business advantage in the coming years.

“Pulling together the different silos into one place, including all the folks who are best able to affect a music industry vertical in this city, is incredibly important,” Adler said. “I’ve said this many times, that if we’re going to preserve music in this city, we have to figure out what the vertical is. L.A. has that and Nashville has that, but we can’t try to be them. We have to develop what it is that we are.”

Much of the initial fruits of the group are expected to come from the business and nonprofit participants because the public sector tends to move slowly.

“The goal with Leadership is to bring all the government people to the table to be a part of it and go really deep on the different aspects of the music industry,” Saviano said. “In two or three years, when you have 90 to 100 graduates who have gone through the program, is when some of them could come together as a political force on issues that matter to musicians.”

In recent years, Adler and members of City Council have attempted to pass policies that will provide assistance to Austin musicians, most notably the Music and Creative Ecosystem Omnibus that is expected to be supplemented by more programs later this year. Also, Adler’s proposed “downtown puzzle” policy slate would likely provide about $3 million annually from the city’s Hotel Occupancy Tax toward efforts to grow the local commercial music industry.

Nick Shuley, program director for the ALL ATX nonprofit, said it is expected that the public sector members of the group will find ways for state and local government bodies to assist with some of the larger business opportunities generated from the private side.

“We want them to know what is happening, and to let them know that we’d love to have (them) involved in this however (they) can,” Shuley said. “We know the private sector has the ability to move more quickly, so the hope is that we can show them places where they could plug in and help some of these things stay sustainable.”

Photo by Koyre Logan made available through a Creative Commons license.

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