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Why does Austin Music Need Saving?

    You may be unaware that there's a problem. Or perhaps you feel that there's no solution. Or you may see a handful of Austin venues having success and think things are fine. But while some Austin musical institutions are doing well, much of Austin's priceless music scene is in danger. Even the venues who are doing well will tell you they could be doing better.

   Huge resident surges, cost-of-living increases, traffic and parking concerns, noise issues, and lack of public awareness are threatening to silence the future of Austin music. In many Austin venues, audiences are smaller than ever, while the city grows almost unchecked; and Austin's musicians can't keep up financially as the costs of "Doing It Yourself" increase, their pay remains static, and their rents increase.

   Part of the reason there's been no solution is that its bad for business to say that business is bad. We have to pull our heads out of the sand and look the issue squarely in the face, so that we can solve it once and for all.

More Austinites, but less money?

   Pay for Austin musicians is generally lower now than it was 40 years ago, but the cost of living is 10 times higher. Most musicians have to have another job (or 2 or 3) just to pay for the money it costs them to play the music that makes your life a little more bearable, that makes traffic liveable, that eases your heart, that makes your mind soar. They're not lazy, they're working harder than ever but they're just not getting paid. In 15 years, Austin has doubled in size, but music audiences are half of what they were.

   Internet trends over the last 10 years have left most music fans expecting their music for free. Most new Austinites don't know "they're invited" to hear music, where they can find it, or who to look for. Musicians and venues are disappearing from Austin left and right and for the first time in nearly 40 years, we are in danger of losing the music that people come here from all over the world to hear.

   Mayor Will Wynn has put forth that Austin music generates $1.6 billion dollars for Austin's economy. Not bad for a "bad time" in our local industry. Fact of the matter is that we're capable of contributing several times that to our local economy. Austin's music industry has for years been laid-back, untrusting of outsiders, and unorganized and we are paying for this dearly. We've never taken part as an industry with City policy, so we've gotten very little help with our industry. We've never attended neighborhood group meetings, so we have huge issues with noise complaints from neighborhood groups. And we've never set down as a local industry to define what's best for us all - its been every man for himself.

   So realistically, billions of dollars are in danger of disappearing from our local economy if drastic action is not taken. Much has begun to disappear over the last 10 years. And whether or not you are a fan of Austin's live music, you are economically effected as a resident of the Greater Austin Area. Behind the slogan The Live Music Capital of the World, and in every local music venue, and on local TV and Radio, musicians are creating billions of dollars in revenue in our economy and making less than ever on the revenue they create. In fact, many of them are forced to take other jobs to pay for the money they lose playing the music which generates so much of Austin's economy. Many others are giving up entirely and leaving Austin or choosing to not play in public.

   If the contribution of Austin's musicans disappear, so will an enormous segment of our economy and our quality of life. Austin's music also creates a quality of life that our city uses as incentive to draw new businesses and residents to our city, creating additional billions of dollars in revenue to our city. The basis of this economy cannot function without one element: musicians.

   But this economic model is an upside down pyramid. The element that is supplying the most precious commodity is dangerously underpaid. And those who capitalize upon it make exponentially more than those who make it. Austin musicians are receiving less than ever for their contribution to this billions-of-dollars economy they are used to create. In fact, many recieve less than minimum wage for the time they spend rehearsing, writing music, performing, publicizing, and promoting their music. We've basically asked musicians to pay for their musical contribution to our city. But many cannot keep up and are abandoning performing or Austin altogether.

   To use a metaphor, it's as dangerous as not paying oil drilling crews. If you lose them, you won't get your oil, and you'll lose your economy.

   If Austin's musicians were performing manual labor instead of creating music (as many do to earn a living), many socially-conscious individuals and organizations would come to their aid to demand their rights as equals in our society. This is not the case for the most part, although organizations like SIMS Foundation and HAAM have responded to this crisis very effectively. Something more must be done to compensate and encourage musicians for their contribution to our economy and our way of life. Solving the health problems of musicians alone will not keep them creating the music our economy has come to rely so heavily upon.

Troy Dillinger : Save Austin Music


   There have been a small number of impact studies to investigate and analyze aspects of Austin music. Many have ultimately only supported the agenda of the organization making the study. But we realize facts are needed to support our cause. We currently lack the funding to create a study that will corroborate our goals, but we have collected some informal data which can be supported and confirmed anecdotally by scores of Austin musicians. We will, however be launching an income survey for musicians in order to establish a "fair wage" table.

   We will continue to provide anecdotal evidence that will help us make our case. As related research surfaces we will present the findings we discover in them. Please understand that we have a lot to accomplish on very limited resources and we must act immediately.

   If you insist that this data must be validated for you to accept the problem as real (or for you to take action) we can offer you a method to confirm our claims. We ask that you simply discuss these points with some Austin musicians that have been participants in our scene for more than a few years, they will largely confirm our assertions. We have done this research for the last 20 years, and it is how we collected this data. We ask you to take this action because it will (a) give you the confirmation you require directly from the source instead of a study which may not be impartial; (b) give you the opportunity to have a dialogue with someone who is actually experiencing this problem; and (c) save our energy for solving the problem instead of proving to you that it exists.

   We believe you will be fully aware of the problem as its solution takes shape in the form of more audiences, more music, more creative music, and a better local economy. Otherwise, we will prove the problem for you as we find documentation, but we will not wait to begin solving it. We have lost much ground in years past arguing about these issues instead of solving problems, only to see them get worse. That being said, the data we have collected shows:

  • Audiences at local music venues have decreased by 60-70% in the last 15 years while Austin’s size has more than doubled
  • The rate of performance pay for an Austin musician is the same or less now than it was 20-30 even 40 years ago
  • Most Austin musicians do not make their living playing music and often pay to do each performance after promotion and other expenses are tallied
  • The number of Austin music venues has steadily decreased in the last 10 years and that 6th street has fewer than 12 live music venues


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Please support the following Austin music-related charities!
Groundwork Music Project
Austin Tejano Music Coalition
SIMS Foundation
Austin Music Foundation
Grounded In Music
Austin Latino Music Foundation
Health Alliance for Austin Musicians

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        ©2007, 2008, 2009 Troy Dillinger / Dillingerilla Mktg