Austin comes together to improve live music

Sarah Nation

The city of Austin has long since been known as a live music mecca, and with its hundreds of venues and thousands of diverse and devoted live music listeners, it has proved to be nothing less. Yet, as a city full of music lovers and aspiring musicians, Austin receives no official benefits for being what it profoundly is; the Live Music Capital of the World.

In the last 10 years, the dynamic of live music in the greater Austin area has dramatically changed. Whether the cause is advancement in internet technology allowing easier access to attain music, or just pure loss of interest in the live music scene, Austin is not what it used to be. With a suit and tie on by day, and a concert t-shirt by night, the musicians are still here—feeding fellow Austinites their much needed music fix one song at a time. The problem is, over the years fans have begun to whither. This in turn, leaves little or no incentive for musicians to continue performing.

January 31, 2008, the Austin City council passed a resolution to create the Live Music Task Force (LMTF). Created by a mix of four committees including venue owners, entertainment districts, musician services, and sound enforcement and control, the LMTF committee was well on its way to reignite the fire live music puts in Austin music lovers. Throughout 2008, the council discussed various topics ranging from development of the music industry to the management of facilities. Each topic was given strict attention and thought before it could gain approval from the task force. The LMTF held public hearings designed to present areas of issue, musicians and City leaders presented testimonies giving their insight and opinions, they consulted with City staff and issued surveys amongst Austin, and ultimately developed a broad set of recommendations which were finally approved by the entire Live Music Task Force November 10, 2008.

The first of which, was to establish a central Music Department within the City of Austin government structure. Unlike other cultural arts in Austin, live music focuses not only on the music aspect of things, but also the “for profit” nature that keeps the economic development of Austin on the ball. The Music Department is broken into six primary subcategories: implement recommendations; develop the music industry; facilitate communication between the city, venues, enforcement, and the people; advise policymakers; manage issues and to market the plan.  This, of course, is the provisional plan. It is hoped that the Music Department will be able to work cooperatively with the City of Austin to appoint a musically inclined team outside the umbrella of cultural arts who will be held responsible for the outlined tasks. 

Secondly, the Live Music Venues Subcommittee of Recommendations was created. This subcommittee is in charge of generating a basic definition of a typical “Live Music Venue” that is dynamic enough and reflects the image of the many cultures of Austin and to decide which venues receive the honor of being an official “Live Music Venue.” This excludes venues who do not take into consideration neighborhood concerns or the necessity for appropriate commerce, staff, etc., while also excluding venues who don’t take into consideration small but important details like frequency of live music, payment of musicians, consistent investment, employments of sound technicians and capital investment in professional and efficient equipments.  These considerations sound easy and affordable, but it is surprising how many people forget that live music is a job that needs profit and funds, not just a hobby on the side, which is why the LMTF plans to reward Live Music Venues by reducing tax burdens, minimizing energy costs and city fees, and building incentive programs. This is designed to keep live music alive and healthy with a motivation to work for benefits and will, hopefully, make for a successful plan if every venue decides to buys in.

A reoccurring issue discussed was the lack of benefits musicians received. So, the Musician Services Subcommittee of Recommendations was formed. This subcommittee discusses huge topics of interest such as low cost health insurance and healthcare, affordable housing, parking, business services, centralized information, booking and management services, education and other miscellaneous issues that have been brought to attention. Basically, musicians want safety and benefits for the hard work they put in. Suggestions such as a Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM) have been made, along with financial support for sinking musicians. Also, musicians want affordable housing. This may mean offering incentive to builders to preserve or replace existing musician’s houses, or this may mean developing ordinances to promote more affordable housing such as duplexes or cohousing. Musicians also want trained professionals dealing with their equipment and sound. They want a centralized place where musicians and listeners can find shows, get booked, and learn the happenings of live music. It is a definite work in progress, but surely where there’s a will, there’s a way.

As for now, musicians will keep playing, providing music to the people willing to listen, true music lovers will continue to show, paying that 15 dollar cover charge and venues will stand sturdy, their walls painted with history. The future is bright, lit by the love of music that will hopefully forever stay in the heart of Austin; the Live Music Capital of the World.