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Musicians playing city events could see pay bump to $200 per hour

Friday, March 11, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

Musicians performing at events organized by the city could see a pay increase to $200 per hour, the first increase since 2016, when the rate was set at $150 per hour.

The Music Commission voted unanimously Monday to recommend the city implement the pay increase. The vote followed a presentation earlier in the meeting detailing how the city’s Music and Entertainment Division spent its early years trying to create a standard rate of pay for all performers in venues around the city.

Without the legal ability to implement that pay structure for private businesses, the office moved in 2012 to create an initial standard of $100 per hour for city-sponsored performances.

While City Council has not yet reinstated live music performances at its meetings, the city pays for musicians to play at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, for select Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority programs, and for street performances as part of other programs, with up to 60 performances per year before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Discussion on the matter was connected to possible recommendations from the commission related to the next city budget.

Those speaking in favor of the increase focused on the amount of time and expenses for promotion, parking and other related costs that musicians are responsible for, as well as the city’s rising cost of living. In 2015 the city’s Music Census found that roughly one-third of all musicians living in Austin earned $15,000 or less per year.

Erica Shamaly, head of the Music and Entertainment Division, said she has spent recent months looking at her office’s budget to find money to cover the increase she said was overdue.

“When you look at the annual salary for some musicians, it’s shocking how low it is, and so the conversation we need to be having is how much can a professional musician working full time make, not with having to work other jobs in order to have kids, a house and all the things you want to have,” she said.

Chair Anne-Charlotte Patterson said the city should move forward with the increase and look at how to direct more revenue from the Hotel Occupancy Tax toward marketing programs for musicians that can be spent in a wide array of ways under the state-permitted use of supporting tourism.

“When you think about driving tourism as the HOT funds statute says … I would argue that local tourism is tourism. Marketing music to locals can help to bring dollars into hotels, so we’ve gotta look at all the sources for these budget items and things that Visit Austin can help us (with) to support with funding.”

Commissioner Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone said the $200-per-hour rate, which would be paid to each performer contracted by the city with a minimum payment of one hour, would be fair for the city’s musician community because of increasing costs for rehearsal spaces and equipment.

“There’s so many costs to being a professional musician before you even hit the stage, like the marketing, the advertising you’re doing for digital media and hiring someone to make a design for you … anything you see going on with a performance costs money,” said Mahone, who is a member of the rap group Riders Against the Storm.

“The $150 (rate) is not that much when you take all of that into account. It’s really probably minimum wage for the amount of time that they put in just to get to that show.”

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