Monday, December 17, 2007

The Year of Austin Music?

Austin music veteran Troy Dillinger is heading a campaign to have City Council proclaim 2008 as “The Year of Austin Music.” His objective is to get Austinites to see live music at least once a month. Despite explosive population growth and a go-go economy, Dillinger says it’s harder to make a living as an Austin musician now than it was 25 years ago when our population was smaller and our economy was in the bog.

"I made the same amount of money per night playing in Austin clubs in 1966 as I did in 2006," local guitarist John Inmon quips on the campaign's Web site. "But in 1966, one night of work paid my rent."

I’m not aware of any systematic study of musician wages in Austin, but I don’t doubt the veracity of such claims. Go-go economies seldom favor the plight of people like musicians. Between higher living costs, tour-killing gas prices and declining CD sales, the break-even point for marginal musical pursuits is farther away than it used to be. Making less at the door is just salt on an already-nasty wound.

Austin's live music market balance overwhelmingly favors the buyer. It’s laughably easy to find free shows featuring top local performers playing for tips. The drawing power of “live music” has compelled scads of heretofore-unrelated businesses to offer it regularly. No one expected to see live music at grocery stores and airports 30 years ago, but now the concept flirts with ubiquity. With so much live music available for free, where’s the impetus to pay for it?

Although commissioning a blue ribbon committee to write a white paper that ferrets out all the “whys” would be interesting enough, it probably wouldn’t change anything. Maybe Dillinger’s campaign will strike a chord with salarypeople who like the idea of living in a live music mecca but aren’t getting out to the shows. A little civic-minded encouragement won’t hurt.

Of course, if you really want more day jobbers at shows, it might make sense for Tuesday night headliners to start playing before midnight.

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