Executive Director Carolyn Schwarz gives us some HAAM Benefit Day history (andher picks for next Tuesday's events)
The Live Music Capital—a city home to an estimated 8,000 working musicians—is also home to HAAM (Health Alliance for Austin Musicians), a support system providing low-income artists with access to health services. The nonprofit, founded in 2005 by philanthropists and musicians' rights activist Robin Shivers, seeks to help Austin’s namesake creative class—a not-insignificant number of whom face big financial struggles while they manage their careers
The majority of musicians served by HAAM earn under $16,000 a year, which is well below their qualifying cutoff of 250% below the poverty line. This sounds shocking, until you consider that most musicians don’t get paid for booking, promoting (and even playing) their own shows. But what happens if they get sick, and can’t make it out to a show? Or, worse, can’t afford to get that cough checked out?
HAAM isn't health insurance. Primarily, they provide medical payment assistance, plus custom events and programming to help raise awareness of certain health issues particularly relevant to musicians (hearing health, for example—all those years of turning it up to 11 can take their toll). HAAM is partnered with local healthcare providers—including Seton Family of Hospitals, St. David’s Foundation, Capital Area Dental Foundation, the SIMS Foundation, Estes Audiology and Prevent Blindness Texas—who offer clinics, screenings and evaluations to musicians in addition to primary care and emergency services.
And they’re really making a difference: since their inception six years ago, they’ve been increasing annual enrollment by the hundreds, helping a total of over 2,600 musicians.
Executive Director Carolyn Schwarz has been there from the beginning. HAAM’s first official staff member, she was part of the team that helped organized the first HAAM Benefit Day, now an annual event where scores of local businesses pledge to donate 5% of the day’s proceeds to the nonprofit—all while over 170 local bands play sets all over town.
We talked to Carolyn about HAAM’s early years, the growth of the organization and, of course, what shows you’ll find her at on Tuesday, October 4th—the 2011 HAAM Benefit Day.
How did you end up in Austin, and part of the HAAM family?
I moved out of Wellesley [Massachusetts] when I was 18, to San Francisco. I was there for 14 years and I met my husband while I was out there; he’s a native Austinite, so after we got married we decided to move down here. I’ve been here over nine years, and this is home now.
I have a Master’s in Social Work from UC Berkeley, and I’ve worked a long time in nonprofits and creating social service programs and partnerships. When Robin Shivers was creating HAAM, one of our now-board members, Diana Resnick, knew about me, and another woman named Beth Atherton—who was my boss at the time—recommended me. They knew that one of my personal passions is going to see live music, and my husband is a musician as well, so it was kind of meshing something that’s important to me with my professional skills
How did HAAM benefit day get started?
HAAM Benefit Day started in 2006. HAAM was formed in 2005, and I was the first staff member—then I got pregnant. My daughter was born in May 2006, so I went on 12 weeks of maternity leave, and while I was gone Robin and John Kunz, who’s the owner of Waterloo Records, came up with this idea. John, as the owner of a record store, had participated in different 5% days for different organizations, and our clients, the musicians that we help, are always looking for a way to give back.
While bands play any night of the week, anywhere, and it could potentially be a fundraiser for HAAM, John said, “Wouldn’t it be such a huge impact if, all on one day, we had our musicians give back? And then the business community could participate, too!” All of this happened, unbeknownst to me, while I was on maternity leave. My first day back, they said, “We’ve hatched up this plan, we’re going to do it in the fall, we’ve got Time Warner on board and we’re going to film a commercial. And guess what? You’re going to play a doctor in the commercial.” This was literally my first day back from maternity leave.
I remember looking at Robin and going, “Does this fall under ‘other duties as assigned?’”
How has the event grown over the past six years?
Here was our list of participating businesses in 2006 [Schwarz opens program book with a half-page list of partners]. Last year, this was our list [she opens another book, with over double the number of participants listed].
This year, we have over 170 music performances...What’s so neat about this day is, it’s not just in traditional locations. If you’re a mom with a toddler and you want to get out at lunchtime and see music, you can go to a Thundercloud Subs or to Whole Foods Market to see a band. If you’re more of a nighttime person, you can go out and you’re going to find music in all the bars in town, all the clubs in town—and it’s all going to be in support of HAAM, and the musicians, and helping them get healthcare and stay alive and well.
Is there one common misconception about HAAM that you often encounter?
I think the one thing too that many community members don’t think of is that the life of a working musician is more than just the three hours they’re at the gig. There’s daytime work that goes into it, especially in this day and age of DIY—which, with records labels dwindling as we speak, most people are doing...They’re doing the booking on their own, they’re doing media and interviews, trying to get their name and their face out there...That’s what happens in the hours that people aren’t at the club playing for you and me, and people can really forget that it’s a job. Especially if they’re trying to get above the poverty level, they have to work hard; it really is that one in a million who eventually gets to headline the Erwin Center...It really takes business sense and initiative, and someone who doesn’t have that isn’t going to make it very long in the music industry.
Does the organization get a lot of support from the city?
Musicians are one of the backbones of our economy. The live music scene brings a billion dollars a year to Austin’s economy, so the case Robin made when she built this organization was really a business case: if Austin wants to continue to thrive economically, this place that they went ahead and named 20 years ago the “Live Music Capital of the World,” then there need to be some support services to support this industry—in particularly the working musicians who help bring in that billion dollars. It’s such a dichotomy to think [musicians] are in such a moneymaking industry, but they’re earning $16,000 a year. To me, this seems like something small that we can do, something small but big at the same time, to support this community.
The city has always been a big supporter of ours. We don’t, as an organization, have government funding, so we don’t get grants from them, but they’re always supportive of HAAM.
How are your partners involved with HAAM Benefit Day?
It’s been really interesting this year. We have supporters who have been with us from the beginning—Whole Foods Market, Thundercloud Subs, Whole Earth Provisions—and as the years go on we’ve had great support from Texas Heritage Songwriters and C3 Presents and SXSW, three huge music entities in Austin. They’ve said, “We’re going to support our own, and we’re going to do it through HAAM because we support what HAAM is doing.”
We had a kickoff on Monday night as a way to thank the businesses, and within 24 hours I had 10 new businesses that emailed me asking if it was too late to get involved...And what humbles me about the businesses that have signed on at the last minute is that they’ve missed promotion deadlines; our materials have already gone to print, but they don’t care, they just want to be involved.
Who else helps make such a huge event happen?
We only have three people who work in our office, so this day could not happen without the volunteers who step forward and give of their time and their talent. From the HAAM Benefit Day committee of business leaders who have helped us get all these partners signed on, to the events going on all day, there will be over 200 HAAM-bassadors staffing each one of these music events. They’re also out there collecting with our donation boxes. This year, we have $30,000 in matching grants; C3 put $20,000 forward and Texas Heritage songwriters put $10,000 forward. They will give us that cash if we raise $30,000 from the community, so the money that gets put in our boxes all over town needs to equal $30,000. It’s a stretch goal, and I’m excited to have one this year.
We also had more musicians volunteer to perform than we have spots, even though we have 170 performances, so some of those folks who aren’t playing will serve as volunteers. One year we had Vanessa Lively volunteer, then we had a performance spot open up and she said she’d play. I think she went from staffing a table at Whole Foods Market, down to the Thundercloud Subs on South Lamar to play a show, then went back up to Waterloo Ice House and played a second show. It’s kind of like, who’s not playing HAAM Benefit Day?
What are some notable things happening at this year’s event?
You can start at 7 a.m. and not stop seeing music...I love the unusual ones the best—a couple of the anchors this year are Whole Foods Market, who will have music all day, and Waterloo Records, who are going to have a parking lot show with amazing bands from 4:30-8:30. Opa’s down on South Lamar and Jovita’s, between the two there’s probably 20 performances or more.
[Schwarz scrolls through the event schedule on HAAM’s mobile site] Look at this one—Lone Star BMW and Triumph. All the Bird’s Barbershops. The other one that people wouldn’t know about is Discount Electronics—they have a new store down on Manchaca and they’ve built a stage, apparently the owner has a collection of music memorabilia that decorates the space, and we’ve got Tracy Lynn down there.
We have young acts, even people that can’t benefit from HAAM, because they usually need to be above the age of 19 (otherwise, they’re usually covered by their parents or we recommend them to CHIP) This year we’ve got The Peterson Brothers, they’re teens, they’re amazing blue musicians and they’re playing Antones for HAAM Benefit Day. Here’s unusual for you—St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church has a great listening room, and they’re going to do a jazz show with Rich Harney and Jeff Lofton, an Austin Music Award winner with a new CD coming out.
Where will you be on HAAM Benefit Day?
I spend the majority of my morning at Whole Foods. It’s where we kick off the day and we’ll have KGSR on hand with a live broadcast. We’ve got Nakia and Quiet Company, Terri Hendrix and Lloyd Maines, so I’ll start the day there. I invite the community to come have a cup of coffee with me, because I’ll be needing it—I will have been up since the crack of dawn.
I start there and then just make my way around to different venues. The West 6th Street area has really stepped forward this year...If I weren’t working, I’d be at Phil’s Ice House because I’m a mom. I’d bring my kiddos, and that’s what I think my husband will do.
Aside from HAAM’s existing services, are there any new programs that proceeds from HAAM benefit day will help fund?
Each year we’ve added on. We started first with three core service providers—medical, dental and mental health—then, in 2009, we added the hearing health. Every year we do a client satisfaction survey to find out how we’re doing, and we always ask if we could do more, what would be the top priority. Hearing health was one of our most in-demand services.
A year later, vision came to the top of that list, so in 2010 we launched our partnership with Prevent Blindness Texas. This year, 2011, we added two new things. Nutrition became a really important topic, so we partnered with Whole Foods Market and one of their specialists developed “healthy eating on a budget” tours, where he takes our musicians around the store...We’ve also partnered with AOMA [Austin’s graduate school of integrative medicine]. We’ve been working on avoiding repetitive stress injuries, because when you practice an instrument for hours at a time, you’re at risk the same way you are with a keyboard in an office.
If you go to any given show in Austin, what are the odds that you’ll be seeing someone who works with HAAM?
It’s pretty likely. I often will open up an Austin Chronicle on a Thursday and look at the show listings and feel really excited about the number of people I recognize in the ads, knowing that they have this safety net, that they don’t have to wait it out or walk it off anymore. I just wish Robin Shivers was here to see it—she passed away in 2009. She would be so proud that you can’t go through show listings without seeing people we serve.
HAAM Benefit Day is Tuesday, October 4th. Check their site for show listings, or to volunteer your time.