Following proposals formulated last year, the City of Austin looks set to create a department dedicated to developing the local music community. Indie Sounds got the scoop from Paul Oveisi, owner of Momo's and a leading advocate for the department's creation.
Indie Sounds: Why does Austin need a music department?
Paul Oveisi: It only needs one if it wants to take itself seriously as a music city. Every city with a strong music presence has more substantial civic resources devoted to foster, develop, encourage and deal with all things music. At least as it pertains to city policy. Austin should be leading by example. At this point, I'd say we rank near the bottom in terms of City resources devoted to music.
long overdue in Austin, is a department that will not only work with
developing the music community, but will also work with stakeholders in
making sure music is done right.
Take, for instance, the recent mess with the sound ordinance. A qualified music department could have dealt with this long ago. Instead, we have city staff and Council members having to react to conflicting ordinances and angry stakeholders. Without a department, we are stuck in reactionary mode and have no brains trust to make sure policy has music in mind and the resources to create practical solutions for all involved.
IS: How did the idea for the department come about?
Paul: It was a central recommendation of the Live Music Task Force created by the City Council in 2008 to respond to the major problems facing the music industry.
IS: Given current economic times, can the city afford such a department?
Paul: One could argue that given current economic times, we can't afford not to.
Music generates $1 billion in revenue for the City. And over $25 million in City tax revenue (coincidentally this is roughly the same amount as last year's budget shortfall). The Task Force reported that, in part because of a lack of a Music Department, the industry is under-performing. It's not a stretch to argue that a Music Department's efforts in growing this part of our economy would directly benefit City tax revenue. Moreover, the Task Force reported that current City music efforts are largely unorganized, inefficient and poorly managed.
Bottom line: creation of an efficient, focused, music department won't cost much and is a prudent investment for the City.
IS: Can you explain in a bit more detail what the department is going to do at a practical level?
Paul: Three things ...
1. As stated above, one of the objectives will be to cultivate, strengthen and expand the music community. This would be done by:
Recruitment: Attracting top tier management, booking agencies, publishers and other music industry components to Austin.
Fostering: Working with and cultivating the existing Austin music community.
Incubation: Creating programs for start-up components of the music community. Engaging local business leaders, colleges and universities to do the same.
2. Coordinating all stakeholders: making sure there is adequate communication between City leaders, musicians, music related businesses, neighborhood associations, tourism, etc.
3. Making sure the quality of life for the music community is high: keeping an eye on needs, such as affordable housing, transportation/parking programs, adequate health care, professional services and loan programs.
IS: And what it is not going to do?
Paul: It won't waste taxpayer time or money. And it won't cook.
IS: When do you expect the department to be formed and operational?
Paul: The way things have developed over the past few months, my guess is the directive will come as soon as June 18th. It could take a couple of months to get fully operational, but I wouldn't be surprised to see this department hitting the ground running.
IS: What do you believe will be the biggest opportunities and challenges that the music department will need to immediately address?
Paul: Prioritizing. The department will likely be created on a shoestring and won't be able to do everything on its wish list. The top priority will be engaging the music community and formulating a realistic game plan.
IS: Will the changeover of City Mayor affect that plan? Is Lee Leffingwell a supporter of the department's creation?
Paul: I think all Council members and Mayor-elect Leffingwell support music in the broad sense and accordingly, I think they all see the need for the music department (although some are clearly more vocal advocates than others). Budgetary concerns are obviously weighing heavy on everyone's mind. I would expect that as economic conditions improve, the department will be afforded the opportunity to become more ambitious.
IS: So are you going to run for Mayor in 2013? Or are you going to support Ihor Gowda's campaign?
Paul: Certainly not - and that's the answer to both questions!