Thursday, October 14, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

Council pushes Music Commission for further review of funds to promote industry growth

City Council has asked the Music Commission to take another look at the proposed guidelines for the new Live Music Fund, with some on the dais questioning whether the program fits the intent of Council action taken two years ago to support the local music industry.

At Monday’s work session, Mayor Steve Adler led off a discussion about the fund by reviewing the thinking behind the 2019 vote to direct some hotel tax dollars toward building up the business ecosystem around musicians and industry professionals.

Very quickly the Music Commission opted to create a program focused around the city’s live music industry, with the current guidelines calling for the $2.3 million to be allocated as $5,000 and $10,000 grants to support more diverse live music programming.

The 2019 vote was considered important among music stakeholders because it meant music-related efforts no longer had to compete with visual artists and other creatives for the portion of hotel tax funding dedicated to Cultural Arts contracts.

“(That vote) was saying, we have a music industry in this city that is strong in part because we have some venues that are strong and some musicians that are strong, but we don’t really have a real vertical that’s been created in the music industry to help our city,” Adler said. “How do we build that vertical and that infrastructure in the industry that has become part of our city’s brand? I don’t know what those answers are, but we said it’s more than just the musicians, it’s the industry that supports venues, the promoters … it’s all of that.”

Adler said the grant structure of the program makes it similar to the contracts that are awarded to artists as part of the Cultural Arts program, which is also funded with hotel tax dollars.

Erica Shamaly, director of the Music and Entertainment Division, said the Live Music Fund as proposed would promote economic and professional development by helping to train musicians and promoters in how to professionally produce events, as well as building the city’s profile as a place that fosters creativity with a focus on equity.

One of the guiding principles of the Music Commission’s discussion about the fund has been making equity and assisting underserved groups one of the main goals. Adler and other Council members said they support that focus for the funding.

“A lot of times what we see is musicians not understanding how a contract works with a venue or promoter, and so this is providing the professional development to the awardees to learn the professional aspects of being a musician,” Shamaly said.

“It’s kind of raising the bar of professionalism in our city so we’re not just all about gigging and not knowing what you’ll be paid at the end of the night.”

The Music Commission has discussed aspects of the Live Music Fund in recent months, particularly the steps that will be taken to emphasize equity in the application process. Those talks have been all-around positive and supportive of the program that is taking shape and is expected to be launched soon after a third-party administrator is selected to handle its operation.

Since there has still been no formal vote of approval from the Music Commission on the Live Music Fund as a whole, Adler and others on the dais asked staff to put an action item on the group’s November agenda.

“My sense is you’re really close to getting what I think might be really special and unique,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s a tie-in to technology and that industry vertical in a way no other cities are doing, and that becomes where we build careers and professional tracks for people in this city … it’s about how that all gets applied in terms of being the building blocks to build a vertical that’s different.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Austin Music Commission: The Austin Music Commission guides city practices on music development issues, including the SxSW music festival.

Music and Entertainment Division: A department of the city’s economic development division geared toward growing the music and entertainment industry.

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