With the Live Music Fund Off the Ground, Commission Brainstorms More Marketing Initiatives

Could a Local Entertainment Promotion Fund take off?

Music Commissioner and musician Scott Strickland speaking at the Come & Save It rally at City Hall in Nov. 2020 (Photo by Jana Birchum)

With applications for the 2024 Austin Live Music Fund open to the public until June 18, the Music Commission spent this month’s meeting brainstorming other ways to support local musicians.

On Monday night, Secretary Scott Strickland and songwriter Chris Hawkes presented an idea for what they were tentatively calling a Local Entertainment Promotion Fund. Aiming to boost awareness for local musicians and assist local venues in their advertising needs, the pair suggested using a portion of the city’s Hotel Occupancy Tax – which funds the Austin Live Music Fund – for marketing.

Hawke, who said his main goal is to “make every musician in Austin a household name,” suggested the program buy radio advertising time to create something like an “Austin Live Local Minute,” which would broadcast a list of local concerts happening each night. He also proposed the creation of microgrants for independent musicians, promoters, and venues to go specifically toward marketing needs.

While the rest of the commission agreed with the presentation’s basic argument – that the more advertising a concert gets, the better it’s attended, and the more money local creatives receive – they deliberated over the best course of action to implement the plan. Vice Chair Anne-Charlotte Patterson pointed out that programs using Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) funds must encourage tourism, so any city-funded live music marketing must target out-of-towners, not just the local community.

Music & Entertainment Division Manager Erica Shamaly presented another important issue. “As the city, we don’t want to compete with our radio stations and other community organizations that are doing a great job of promoting music,” she said. “Whether it’s Do512, The Austin Chronicle, KUT, KUTX, KAZI, KOOP, we have a lot of radio [stations] that actually [say], ‘Go check out these shows tonight.’”

Shamaly continued, “It puts the city in a weird place to compete with that, to take city funds and then undercut small businesses in Austin who are already doing this.” She suggested encouraging various media organizations to come together for a concerted marketing effort but emphasized, “The city is not the person who could coordinate that. That’s just not our role.”

Others had their own ideas for music promotion. Noting the disinterest of big-time promoters to add local support to nationally touring artists’ bills, Far Out Lounge owner and Commissioner Pedro Carvalho suggested the microgrants could be used to pay local acts to open up popular shows.

“The exposure a local musician [would get] – maybe if they’re not at the level of Gary Clark Jr. yet, but they will be – they get to play these massive shows and they get to be exposed to the PR machine behind them,” he said.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Celeste Quesada reminded the group of the power of existing events directories, like those found on Visit Austin, Do512, and The Austin Chronicle. Admitting that these websites may not be “sexy” enough to entice a wide audience in their current forms, she recommended the city evaluate how current marketing tools could be improved.

“I do think it’s really important to really dig in and critique what we have, and not just throw something else on top of what we already have,” she said.

Willing to advocate for his idea, Strickland reminded the commission of the long gestation period for the Austin Live Music Fund. “I think we all remember the talks and how seemingly impossible it was, and then we came together over some time and we figured out how to do it,” he said. “Now that program is heralded, all over the country, at least, as being one of the most innovative programs in the country for the sustainability of live music.”

Strickland continued, “I believe this is possible. If we’re waiting on Sonic Guild or Austin Music Foundation or another one of these organizations, Music Makes Austin, whatever the case may be, for those dollars to trickle down to us so that we can eventually begin to showcase and advertise ourselves and promote our own shows, we would never receive that money.

“The only way local artists are going to continue to grow and not be eclipsed by the artists that are making the managers and the promoters and the booking agencies – and all these other people – all this money, is for these artists to be economically viable. For local artists to become economically viable. And the only way that’s going to happen is if they have the dollars to advertise themselves to make sure that people are going to their shows.”

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Austin Music Commission, Scott Strickland, Erica Shamaly, Pedro Carvalho, Celeste Quesada, Anne-Charlotte Patterson, Chris Hawkes, Austin Live Music Fund

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