AUSTIN (KXAN) — In the city known as “The Live Music Capital of the World,” the coronavirus pandemic creates unprecedented hurdles for the people who have earned Austin that title.
A host of local organizations are teaming up to collect data on how exactly COVID-19 is impacting those who make a living through Austin’s music scene.
The survey is live through Saturday, May 2 and anyone employed in the music industry in Austin is welcome to take it. You can find the link here.
The groups behind this effort are referring to it as the “Music Cities Together Initiative”. The survey framework was started by Sound Music Cities, the company where the former head of the City of Austin’s Music and Entertainment Division Don Pitts works.
Pitts explained that his company’s other projects were postponed and canceled due to the virus, so Sound Music Cities put their time into creating surveys in an attempt to help music communities across the country.
While these surveys are going out in other cities including Chicago, New Orleans, Dallas, the Austin version of the survey has gotten particularly strong buy-in from many local groups. Partners in this effort include Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM), SIMS Foundation, Austin Music Foundation, Black Fret, Red River Cultural District, EQ Austin, and Austin Texas Musicians.
Why gather these responses?
“I think this data will hopefully help the policymakers kind of identify the path forward,” Pitts said, explaining that local governments had already begun asking for this kind of information earlier on in the pandemic. Now that musicians, producers, and venues have had time to understand their “new normal” during COVID-19, he’s hopeful to have better information about what will help them.
“One of the main goals of the initiative is to really democratize the resources of music scenes,” Pitts said. “And to hopefully prevent cities from spending too much money on consultants and so forth.”
His company will be giving this data to cities for free in hopes that more money can go toward meeting the needs of people in the music industry.
So far the survey has collected around 350 responses in the Austin area.
Austin singer Nakia Reynoso, who serves as president of the local musician advocacy nonprofit, Austin Texas Musicians, believes the survey is capable of reaching even more people. He noted that the 2015 Austin Music Census collected thousands of responses, that report took answers from around 4,000 people working in Austin’s music industry.
In a video interview, Reynoso said, “if you’re watching this at home and you’re a musician, a music business, a venue, if you’re involved in sound or production any of those things, please take the survey.”
“To really understand the data, we need a large set of data to analyze,” he continued.
Citing more data from the Austin Music Census, Reynoso noted, “we know that many of those musicians operate below the federal poverty levels.”
“It’s astounding how many musicians get by just because we have organizations like HAAM and like SIMS,” he said. “And HAAM and SIMS depend on this kind of data to help them forecast and model.”
Reynoso hopes the survey data will not only be used to direct funds for people working in music, but also to direct funds for the nonprofits that exist to lend a hand to those in the music industry.
“I cannot stress enough that if we lose HAAM, if we lose SIMS,” he said, tearing up, “It’s going to be bad. They make it possible for so many of us to stay in the city and in music.”
Reynoso noted that many nonprofits that typically support musicians may not have the same kinds of funds to operate with a lack of live music events to fundraise.
“We will probably begin looking to the city to help us do that and we need this data to do that,” he said.
The City of Austin has already taken some actions to offer assistance to the local music community during the pandemic. Last week, Austin City Council approved an ordinance that provides $1.5 million to create an Austin Music Disaster Relief Fund which will go to musicians faced with economic challenges tied to COVID-19. In late March, the city also approved a resolution that directed the city to prioritize resources to help those financially impacted by the cancellation of SXSW.
Reynoso believes this financial relief will be especially important to support Austin’s musicians until they are confident it is safe to begin performing live in venues again. Austin Texas Musicians polled its members over the weekend about when music venues should reopen and when they would be comfortable playing gigs again.
“The resounding response was not until there’s science, not until there’s a vaccine, not until it’s safe, not until it makes financial sense for the venues,” Reynoso said.
While some artists are able to make a little money doing virtual concerts from their homes, Reynoso believes community organizations and additional funding sources will be necessary to keep many people afloat.
Jeska Bailey and Guy Forsyth perform during a Facebook live from their Austin home during the coronavirus pandemic. Screenshot Courtesy Guy Forsyth Band Facebook page.
Austin musicians Jeska Bailey and Guy Forsyth (who also happen to be married) say they have taken this survey already.
“Its a short survey it doesn’t take a chunk of your life away,” Bailey explained.
Bailey and Forsyth both say they would not feel safe performing live for an audience in the near future, even six months from now seems too soon to them.
“I don’t want to be in any situation where I am around other people,” Bailey said, expressing fears of spreading or contracting the virus. “I don’t want to hurt anybody, I don’t want to hurt my family.”
“There are things that have to happen before we can consider [performing in person again]” Forsyth added, noting that he would like to see more widespread COVID-19 testing before he performs before an audience again.
To earn extra money in the meantime, the couple have been hosting live performances from their home every few days through Facebook Live, suggesting donations to from their virtual audiences via Venmo. The two have even launched a “World Tour” of virtual shows from their house, featuring stops to perform at places like “The Kitchen,” “The Bathroom,” and “The Upstairs Office.”
While the two have a roof over their heads and are used to living frugally, they aren’t bringing in the same income they were before.
“Something I’ve been struggling with during this is just the level of begging I’m doing,” Bailey said, explaining that she often finds herself “spamming” contacts to get support for these virtual performances.
“Something I’d really like to get out there is: be patient with artists or musicians if they are spamming you or writing you or asking you to tune in or asking you to share, it’s all we have right now,” she said, noting that any type of advertising would be completely out of their budget.
“We really need you to help us matter,” she added.