Faster Than Sound: The Austin Music Census Returns While the Live Music Fund Faces Delays

A spring music ecosystem news roundup with all those familiar players: the Austin Music Census, Live Music Fund, and HAAM

In the crowd at Oblivion Access (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

In 2015, the first Austin Music Census highlighted fault lines in the local music economy still referenced in current policymaking – including that 75% of musicians fell below Austin's average annual wage, with one-third of musicians making less than $15,000 annually.

Last week, partners including Mayor Steve Adler and KUTX announced plans to launch a new survey to provide a "health check" on the music ecosystem. Starting June 20, the 10- to 15-minute online census will be open for three weeks to music industry workers living or working in the Greater Austin area, including Travis, Williamson, Hays, Caldwell, and Bastrop counties. The group seeks responses from musicians, venue owners, music nonprofits, music business professionals, and beyond.

Whereas the 2015 survey was commissioned by the City of Austin and conducted by Titan Music Group, this edition will be overseen by Austin-based company Sound Music Cities. Former Austin Music & Entertainment Division Manager Don Pitts launched Sound Music Cities after running the city music office since its inception in 2010, where he conceived the Austin Music Census idea. He departed local government in 2017 while on administrative leave amid an audit investigation into his handling of an employee filing a fraudulent vendor invoice for $2,500 in travel costs.

His research group has been hired in cities nationwide to consult on music policy topics like noise level disputes. They have also worked on similar census projects in Charlotte, Dallas, D.C., and Seattle. Compared to the 2015 focus on the industry dollar amounts, the new census' expanded questions will also examine social and cultural aspects of Austin music. No personal data will be requested, with respondents submitting anonymously. Results will be released publicly, in a series of infographics and a report, later this year.

The rollout listed support from 19 Austin orgs including ACC, SIMS, EQ Austin, and the city's Economic Development Department – inviting more partners to reach out. Music Commissioner Jonathan "Chaka" Mahone, also behind POC support group DAWA, criticized Music Cities online for not engaging "several key BIPOC-led" groups prior to the launch. This week, the census added 19 more new partners like the Long Center, Latin Music Coalition Austin, and Urban Artist Alliance.

Back in February 2021, the Music Commission supported another survey aimed at musicians in partnership with local data-gathering nonprofit Measure. Mobley, who helped launch the Black Austin Musicians' Collective and presented the survey to the commission, tells the Chronicle he isn't able to share results yet. He also declined to comment on the new Sound Music Cities census.

The Live Music Fund Is Going to Take How Long?

Due to unfilled city jobs, the city Music Division says the long-awaited Live Music Fund will not roll out applications until a year from now, in May 2023. Economic Development Director Sylnovia Holt-Rabb cited staff shortages, including 20 empty positions in her own department, in a presentation to the Austin Music Commission earlier this month. The Live Music Fund was created by an increase in hotel occupancy taxes in 2019, since accruing a $3 million budget.

"Musicians have been waiting for a long time," said commission Chair Anne-Charlotte Patterson, expressing concerns. "The musicians and music organizations, we've been discussing this since 2019 – so 2023, that's four years [later]."

The program will offer small grants of $5,000 to $10,000 to musicians and independent promoters to fund their own projects. In addition to putting on live music performances, the program can also fund typical album expenses like recording, music videos, publishing/sync licensing, digital distribution, as well as vinyl, CD, and cassette production. Alongside musicians, independent promoters, who must not be contractually tied to one venue, will be eligible for the program.

In the next year, city staff will select an outside contractor to administer the grants, as well as another music-focused subcontractor to help process the expected 1,200 to 2,500 applicants. Music Division Manager Erica Shamaly said her department learned from last year's Austin Music Disaster Relief Grant, which was administered by the Long Center, that "to have one third-party do absolutely everything is a lot of work." Commissioners expressed concerns about grant funds being eaten up by the contractor's fee, which won't be determined until later in the solicitation process. After its first year, Shamaly said the annual program will be able to roll out more quickly.

"We simply don't have enough staff [to do it all in house]," said Shamaly. "We have lost a lot of staff, just like a lot of different organizations throughout the country, so we're just doing the best we can. We think this is the best path forward to get it done as quickly as possible in the way that [the commission] envisioned."

The city expects to award 250 to 500 applicants, reflecting the commission's goal to fund many musicians with small grants. After divided opinions on whether the Live Music Fund should support venues, the program will not accept venue applications until its second year. Discussions were also extended by commission efforts to build equity requirements into the program, led by Commissioner Mahone.

"The timeline, while it's not expedient, it's realistic," said Mahone. "We took a long time to deal with a lot of the equity things that have been wrong in the past, [which] could have maybe been done faster in a lot of people's eyes, but I think this is going to be effective."

HAAM Seeks City Funding & Partners With PNC Bank

At a meeting of City Council's Public Health Committee earlier this month, the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians requested $1 million in city funding to continue providing free and low-cost health care to local musicians. The growing organization currently serves around 3,000 musicians, and enrolled more than 220 new musicians in just the first quarter of 2022. CEO Paul Scott noted that the nonprofit annually takes around half a million dollars out of its reserves to cover members' insurance premiums.

"We'd like to enter into a conversation with the city of Austin to see how we can continue to invest in our musicians and their health care, as well as leverage the health care dollars available [through] the work we're doing," Scott said. "We'd like to either see a referral to the city manager's office or a budget resolution for funds."

Adding another resource for members, HAAM also announced a new partnership with PNC Bank last week to provide musicians with workshops on managing personal and business finances. PNC also presents the annual fundraiser HAAM Day incoming Sept. 13, and sponsors the HAAM Corporate Battle of the Bands – open to the public on Thursday, June 2, at ACL Live. In the past year, the bank has expanded music partnerships with ACL Fest as well as a residency program at the new PNC Plaza outside of ACL Live, in collaboration with Austin Music Foundation.


DJ Chicken George, aka turntable extraordinaire Jeff Henry, has been diagnosed with a rare form of skin cancer called cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. The DJ's decades of Austin influence include hip-hop group Third Root and label Austin Boogie Crew. Try Hard Coffee offers all profits from a "Support Chicken George" roast starting at $20, alongside a GoFundMe supporting Henry's recovery.

Voxtrot, blog-era Austin indie act which broke up in 2010, reunites for a fall tour including a Nov. 12 stop at Mohawk. One of two announced archival album releases, Early Music – combining past EPs Raised by Wolves and Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives – is out now, alongside a new video for "The Start of Something" featuring 2005 footage from a gig at old Emo's.

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Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, Music Commission, Anne-Charlotte Patterson, Live Music Fund, HAAM, Austin Music Census, Sound Music Cities, Don Pitts, Erica Shamaly, Voxtrot, Jonathan "Chaka" Mahone, Economic Development Department, Sylnovia Holt-Rabb, Austin Music Office, Paul Scott, Public Health Committee, PNC Bank, HAAM Day, Corporate Battle of the Bands, PNC Plaza

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