Austin City Council approves hotel tax funding for live music

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Photo Credit: Lauren Ibanez | Daily Texan Staff

The Austin City Council approved a new ordinance last month that will give a financial boost to Austin’s live music industry.

“We will not remain the live music capital of the world if we don’t support live music,” Mayor Steve Adler said at a September council meeting.

The ordinance will take 15% of new revenue from a 2% increase to the Hotel Occupancy Tax, which is a tax on hotel rooms, and direct them to Austin’s live music scene, according to the ordinance. Another 15% will go into historic preservation, and 70% will go to the expansion of the Austin Convention Center. The redirection has the potential to generate up to $3.6 million a year and $40 million for musicians within a decade, according to the ordinance.

Council Member Greg Casar said at the September meeting that he supports the ordinance because it will create a separate source of funding for commercial music and not force the city to choose between it and nonprofit cultural arts.

Catlin Whitington, chair of the Austin Tourism Commission, said at the meeting that live music is one of the biggest sources of Austin’s tourism revenue. Specific criteria and programs from the community must be made to ensure musicians are not nominally impacted by the new funds, Whittington said.

“Our image and brand have been built on the backs of working musicians and those that make sure that the show goes on day after day after day,” Whittington said. “It’s time that we invest in policies and programs that recognize that.”

Jeffrey Hellmer, associate director for academic affairs at the Butler School of Music, said the new funding will be particularly helpful for jazz students performing outside the school.

James Suter, a music performance graduate student, said he hopes the city continues to provide financial help for local musicians. He said he often feels underpaid for his gigs, and many of the musicians he works with are often desperate enough to forgo unions to find work.

Suter also said he wished the city would be more lenient on musicians’ taxes since they pay for expenses such as instruments and transportation out of pocket.

“My instrument costs more than my car,” Suter said. “I know a lot of musicians here that have trouble with taxes because they’re getting so much money from different sources. When you have to file (taxes) … it’s not great for certain musicians.”

Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison also said she is in favor of the ordinance and giving as much support to local musicians as the city gives to big festivals.

“This is an equity issue,” Harper-Madison said at the meeting. “We have a great opportunity here to make big investments in our local culture. That’s including our hardworking musicians and artists who contribute so much to Austin’s identity.”

Patrick Buchta, executive director of nonprofit Austin Texas Musicians, said the funding was important due to the struggles local musicians are facing, such as the rising living costs which push some artists to move to other cities.

“This is the first-ever public for-commercial music in the city of Austin,” Buchta said at the council meeting. “Austin has a history of being the leader across the country and making really lasting changes, and our music community needs these things now.”

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect the allocation of the Hotel Occupancy Tax. A previous version of this article also referred to Whitington as Cat instead of Catlin. The Texan regrets these errors.