The team behind DeMaris Entertainment is working to encourage the live music communities in Austin to come together to support the music scene. Musicians’s Living Wage is a movement to facilitate conversations to help musicians, fans, and industry professionals provide viable careers in the live music capital of the United States.
“I identify with the musicians who are on the war path to make this their career despite the odds. I want to be a part of improving the standards to make that happen,” said Brandon DeMaris, a local Austin musician and owner of DeMaris Entertainment. “My company was a booking agency so we were booking bands for ten years. In the last couple of years we started doing more talent buying and what I have found is that the consumers who hire musicians are uneducated about what the right rate would be, like what does equitable pay look like. We started that dialogue internally in my company and realized there really are not industry standards for how much a musician should get paid.”
To address the living wage of Austin musicians, DeMaris decided to hear from the community and put together a panel discussion with individuals from the artist, fan, and professional sides of the industry. The event, Musicians’ Living Wage Launch: Panel and Performances, took place on Feb. 21 with several performances from Austin musicians and representatives for Austin Federation of Musicians, Austin Music Commission, Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau, local talent buyers, and artists.
“Everyone spoke up on behalf of their own segment and said it is our problem to solve,” said Debbie Stanley, Systems Manager at DeMaris Entertainment. “The musicians on the panel said we have to be better business people and we have to hustle harder. The business people on the panel said we need to educate about the economics of this problem so that everyone knows what we’re up against and what needs to happen. The talent buyers said we have to hold strong and not allow ourselves to not be pressured into trying to book bands for free.”
Stanley explained that the major takeaway from their launch was the need for more artist education and consumer education. Due to the perception of steep competition in the live Austin music scene, Stanley has observed that people are concerned about sharing ideas with one another in the case that they will be stolen by other struggling musicians.
“They are perceiving each other as competitors and that there is a scarcity of opportunity,” Stanley said. “What we are trying to accomplish is to make everyone feel safe to have these conversations in a collaborative spirit. We’re not promising that there is enough opportunity for everyone. We don’t know that. But we do believe that the answers are going to come from everyone getting together with their ideas. That’s naturally going to generate new ideas, so we want to continue to facilitate the conversation.”
Moving forward, Musicians’ Living Wage has and will continue breaking the music community down into focus groups to help solve the issue of musicians being able to survive off their chosen career path. A first-of-its-kind census in Austin was released in 2015, stating that the city was in danger of losing its status as the “Live Music Capital of The World” mainly due to musicians and music venue owners inability to afford to live and do business in a city that is becoming financially hostile towards the creative class.
“There is a cost of living problem here that’s been identified pretty clearly,” Stanley told Amplify. The census “showed that a lot of musicians here are not making their living from music. If they were relying on just their income from music, they would be well below the poverty line. Austin is not a city that you can find housing anywhere central if you are living below the poverty line.”
As SXSW gets started today in Austin, Musicians’ Living Wage will be conducting focus groups as the music industry floods the city.
“The panel that we put on was originally intended to be a SXSW panel,” DeMaris said. “I applied to present the panel with the exact people we had on Feb. 21 and we were declined. We just took it into our own hands. For Musicians’ Living Wage in particular, we are hosting our focus groups and doing exactly what we said we would do which is our due diligence to organize and facilitate this conversation.”
They have already begun discussions about per gig payments, activism by fans to demand musicians get paid for their work, and begun talks with the Music Venue Alliance Austin that has already made strides with agent of change policies in the city.
Stanley added “What we are hoping will come out of the focus groups and what we are continuing to look for in our own research is how do we activate effective artist and consumer education. How do we bring those camps together so that they are understanding one another.”