SXSW Music News: Mitch Ballard Named Head of BMI’s New Austin Office
Texas governor welcomes performance rights organization
By Kevin Curtin,
2:05PM, Wed. Mar. 13, 2019
BMI doesn’t open a new creative office every day. In fact, according to the organization’s Vice President Mike Steinberg, the last time they opened one was two decades ago in Atlanta. Since then, Georgia’s primary destination hub has only grown as a musical hotbed.
The performance rights organization now sets up shop at 1400 South Congress. In doing so, BMI becomes the first PRO to maintain permanent office space in Austin, where several thousand of BMI’s 900,000 songwriters, composers, and music publishers already reside. Around 65,000 are from Texas, Steinberg noted.
BMI has named Mitch Ballard as the Senior Director of the Austin post. He’ll serve existing BMI affiliates, signing new talent, and – according to a BMI press release – “providing enhancement for the already vibrant songwriting community in Austin.” Ballard moved to Austin from Nashville for the job.
At this morning’s press conference, taking place at the Governor’s Mansion, Gov. Greg Abbott heralded the opening as “expanding the footprint of the music industry here in Texas and especially here in Austin.” He noted Texas historically lost homegrown artists to Nashville, New York, and Los Angeles due to “inadequate infrastructure.” Abbott characterized BMI’s arrival as “just the beginning” of Texas capitalizing on our musical talent.
After the presser, the Chronicle asked Ballard – a native Texan whose 25-year career includes working as on-air radio talent, tour managing country artists, and founding a web development firm – how Austin’s new BMI office could be helpful to individual musicians.
“We have an open-door policy,” he said of the face-to-face interactions Austin musicians have rarely enjoyed with their PRO. “Whether they come in to show us a song or have a question about their statement, we’re here to help them.”
During the event, Steinberg clarified that the creative office focuses on artist development and relationships, not enforcement of copyright license fees from establishments.
Texas Music Office Director Brendon Anthony described the courting of BMI as a “multi-year process” primarily helmed by his office and Music Moves Austin, the non-profit music advocacy group headed by Nick Shuley and backed by Gary Keller of Keller Williams Realty. Anthony noted that his office has changed its focus to building industry infrastructure and called BMI’s opening a “huge step forward.”
Meanwhile, Steinberg remembered Abbott planting the seed three years ago: “The governor was giving [veteran BMI VP of Writer-Publisher Relations] Jody Williams a Texas Heritage Songwriter Award and he looked him in the eye and said, ‘I think you’re going to open and office here.’”