Keeping Austin Creative

New initiative wants to tune up wages for Austin musicians

New initiative wants to tune up wages for Austin musicians

SXSW 2015 Shoes Migos
A new initiative aims to keep Austin musicians in Austin. Photo by Daniel Cavazos

Can you get by on a yearly income of $15,000? No? We didn’t think so. Today, nearly one-third of Austin musicians are earning $15,000 or less per year, including jobs outside of gigs at music venues.

Recognizing that so many Austin musicians are struggling to afford even the basic necessities, local music professionals and fans have kicked off an initiative to boost the pay of vocalists, drummers, guitarists, pianists, and other music makers living in the “Live Music Capital of the World.”

During a February 21 forum at The North Door, organizers and supporters introduced the public to the initiative, known as Musicians’ Living Wage. Organizers describe Musicians’ Living Wage as a platform for promotion and discussion, all aimed at helping musicians earn enough money to live — and thrive — in our community.

The co-founders of Musicians’ Living Wage are Brandon DeMaris and Debbie Stanley, both of Austin.

“I’m a musician myself, as well as a music fan and an industry professional, so I have a lot of skin in the game on this issue,” says DeMaris, a concert and event promoter. “We’re taking a fairly bold stand in claiming Musicians’ Living Wage is a movement, but I wouldn’t hesitate to say that there are plenty of folks who are eager to join the conversation and advocate for the musicians they know and love.”

Stanley, a professional organizer whose clients include musicians, adds: “Shortly after I moved here, someone told me, ‘The miracle of Austin is that we’ve got world-class musicians playing for the tip jar. And the tragedy of Austin is that we’ve got world-class musicians playing for the tip jar. Since then, I’ve shifted my professional focus [to] the music industry, and I’ve learned that the miracle/tragedy paradox is deeply entrenched, and there are decades of reasons for it.”

With the kickoff behind it, Musicians’ Living Wage will start organizing focus groups to hold in-depth conversations about the financial struggles facing Austin musicians, according to DeMaris. “There are so many perspectives to represent in this issue,” DeMaris says, “and we’re inviting anyone to the table to brainstorm and try new ideas.”

To sign up for a focus group, ask questions, or offer feedback, visit musicianslivingwage.com.