Playback: Priced Out?

Soon, Austin’s golden geese – musicians – will be priced out of the live music capital

Guy Forsyth, donating his craft to the 2010 Help Us Help Haiti benefit at the Austin Music Hall
Guy Forsyth, donating his craft to the 2010 Help Us Help Haiti benefit at the Austin Music Hall (Photo by Gary Miller)

Austin stands burdened with a cultural conundrum: A largely impoverished class of musicians earns the city a hip reputation, in turn contributing to its spectacular population growth. Consequently, rent and real estate grow more and more expensive, making it difficult for musicians to afford living here.

Put simply, musicians are being negatively impacted by the economic growth that they help stimulate.

At least that's what I've gathered from a recent report titled, "Keeping Austin Creative: A Study of the Housing Needs for Austin's Creative Community and Supporting Sectors," by Pegasus Planning & Development for the Austin Creative Alliance, a local arts advocate.

The crux of the report reveals that the economic impact of Austin's creative sector, of which music is a large component, has outpaced the city's overall growth, rising from $3.25 billion in 2005 to $4.35 billion last year. Musicians' incomes, as you might have guessed, aren't growing so fast. According to the survey, musicians in Austin average $23,371 annually, with $15,504 of that coming from creative work and the remainder coming from side jobs, which 81% of musicians have. For them to live off just their music, the study suggests monthly rent would need to be about $388.

Jay Moeller, of the Fabulous Thunderbirds and the Moeller Brothers, remembers when rent was in that range.

"In 1990, Austin was cheap – rent was about $300," he recalled. "At that time, I could hustle up three shows a day and make $91 and have rent money in one week."

Average rent reported by musicians in the survey is $749, which means they're spending considerably more of their income on rent in Austin than the average American family.

"I noticed two or three years ago, players moving to Bastrop or Kyle where they can live more affordably," reports Moeller.

Local guitar phenom Jonas Wilson moved to Bastrop several years ago because rent for his Austin recording studio was impossibly expensive.

"For a musician, moving to an outer area can help you save money on housing," offers Wilson. "But then you spend that money on gas driving back to Austin all the time."

Wilson commutes to Austin daily where he teaches guitar and piano lessons and plays several gigs a week.

"Sometimes I'm traveling hundreds of miles to make $500," he sighs. "When you look at transportation and housing together – and if you're continuing to work in Austin – it's not much more affordable for a musician to live out of town."

The report, which focuses on the housing needs of artists, pleads for Austinites to vote yes on the affordable housing bond in Tuesday's election. If approved, the city could borrow $65 million and utilize funds for building and preserving affordable and ownership housing. Seeing the income figures also underlines static pay for local artists.

"I could say you literally don't make any more money playing a gig in Austin today than you did 23 years ago," confirms Guy Forsyth, who began his music career in Austin in 1990.

"Of course the cost of everything else has gone up, from a gallon of gas to a gallon of milk, and especially housing."

Forsyth, a successful touring artist and alumni of the Asylum Street Spankers, feels that the increase in Austin's cost of living and flat-lined pay for local musicians has created an unsustainable artistic ecosystem.

"The threat is that musicians will be pushed out," he says. "If music is what you want to do, you'll go elsewhere if necessary. Things that are donor-funded like ballet and orchestra will continue to exist, but the slacker culture won't if people don't actively save it. Austin will then have to compete with Dallas and Houston on a level playing field because the cool aspects of our culture will be destroyed.

"We need to look at the thing that makes Austin great and protect it on the level of the working musician by making it affordable," he stresses. "What I would like to see is the city give back property tax credits and rent vouchers for people who can prove they make a living as musicians – for us providing the culture that makes the city thrive."

If the Pegasus report data demonstrates one thing about Austin's musicians, it's that they're willing to sacrifice all luxury to follow their hearts. Yet as Austin booms and rent increases, we're running out of room at the bottom for them. Read the report:

Bad Lovers, Good Rockers

The Bad Lovers ply a self-assured sound: heavy soul, country, and old rock & roll played with youthful rawness. Such heavy-handed racket grounded their debut, last year's Actin' Strange, but their follow-up will edge the locals among Austin's best vintage rock revivalists.

Less a departure than a detailed development, Wild Times finds the local quartet stepping up its songwriting with Jimmy Wildcat's raspy optimism and glorious chorus craft while also expanding their sound to include piano, cello, bongos, acoustic guitar, electric kazoo, harp, and gang vocals.

"The first record sounded exactly like we did live, which was awesome and people liked that it was raw," says drummer Caleb Dawson. "With this one we wanted to create something that was a separate experience from seeing us live."

Wild Times, out on local DJ Ben Tipton's Burger City Rock N Roll, hits the market tonight, Thursday, at the Bad Lovers' tour kickoff at Hotel Vegas, after which they load up their poncho-covered boogie van for a West Coast tour. Snag a copy of Wild Times at Waterloo, Trailer Space, and End of an Ear starting Friday.

Bland Goes Barrett

Pink Floyd tribute bands are a dime a dozen. Every college town has one, complete with inflatable flying pigs and a laser light show. Friday's Dark Side of the Rainbow event at the Austin Music Hall offers something a little less predictable as locals Christian Bland & the Revelators open the show with a set of Syd Barrett-era Floyd.

"The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is my all-time favorite album," says the Black Angels guitarist of Pink Floyd's first album. "Barrett's guitar-playing and use of the Echorec effect is my main influence. He created his own way of playing that wasn't technical, but instead like an artist who painted with his guitar."

Bland's band will do its best to simulate the vibe of famed swinging Sixties London venue the UFO Club (pronounced yoof-oh), with silhouette lighting and psychedelic oil projections.

Headlining is a locally assembled cover band, including notables like Benjamin Hotchkiss (Skyrocket!, Real Heroes) and Darin Murphy (Skyrocket!, Color) doing multiple sets including Dark Side of the Moon in entirety. The event also includes a costume contest with cash prizes.

Half Notes

› The wisest monk in the Wu-Tang temple, GZA returns to Austin on Sunday to perform at the Moody Theater with local Latin funkers Brownout providing the beats. "The Genius," Brownout, and Grupo Fantasma, which puts on a Día de los Muertos show Saturday at Empire Automotive, have been throwing down together since first collaborating at SXSW 2012. "We really do have great chemistry with him," admits Brownout bandleader Adrian Quesada. "He's a cool-ass dude too."

Housecore Horror Fest triumphed in its first year with good attendance and great performances at Emo's and Antone's. Organizer Phil Anselmo was a man of the people, walking through the crowds with a red solo cup in hand, posing for pictures with fans, talking football with anyone who liked the Saints, and cheering on the bands. See wraps for all four nights of metal at Earache!

› The Club de Ville sign was carted off in a pickup truck last week, which doesn't inspire any confidence for the brand's future there.

› Indie folk sextet Wild Child hits Waterloo Records for an in-store performance on Sunday, 5pm. Their new CD, The Runaround, was funded with a lofty $40,000 Kickstarter fundraiser and produced by Ben Kweller.

› Local reverb-worshippers Holy Wave played a last-minute Lou Reed tribute set on Monday at Hotel Vegas. Included were touching renditions of the Velvet Underground's "Sunday morning," "Femme Fatale," and Reed's "Satellite of Love." Reed died on Sunday at age 71.

› Industrial legends Nine Inch Nails tape Austin City Limits at ACL Live on Monday.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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