SOCA: Austin’s “Kozmetsky Moment”

Since this is Austin, the change agenda’s focus on affordability must also deal with challenges in our local music industry and with our creative arts. SXSW and ACL are booming, but we’re losing creatives as we lose creative opportunities in an ever more expensive city.
We must manage growth to help live music in the Live Music Capital of the World. If we fail, Austin will never produce another Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughn or Manuel Donley. Affordable music venues are incubators that allowed Grupo Fantasma, Spoon, and Gary Clark Jr. to develop their craft before launching on the world. This is equally true for the visual and performing arts.
This is why this week the Council approved a resolution to activate key components of the omnibus, including a trial period to extend the hours for live music on Red River. I look forward to working with the Mayor Pro Tem and Council Members Casar, Renteria, Troxclair and our Council colleagues on making more progress to help the local music and creative industries while protecting the residential quality of life.
These industries are in a crisis, but I hope we can realize what I think is a remarkable opportunity. Austin, as a tech center, has an opportunity to leverage this capacity to develop new ways for the music industry to make money in uniquely Austin ways. If we can come up with new ways to play entire genres of music, if we can reinvent entire audiences for music, then why can’t we come up with an Austin way for musicians to make more money?
This is a perfect example of what I’m talking about when I talk about how Austin is good at change. Austin became a tech center in the first place because George Kozmetsky – the late UT business school dean – focused Austin on the intersection of business, government, and academia. This created the critical mass of collaboration that made us one of the world’s leading tech cities. It’s why the chip factories were built here in the first place, and it’s why today we have the infrastructure to foster new innovations.
I think we are at a “Kozmetsky” moment now for Austin’s local music industry. I am not persuaded that the international music industry has things so figured out that there isn’t room for Austin to rank alongside London, Los Angeles, and Nashville as one of the world capitals of the music industry. But if we’re going to succeed, it could well be that we’ll need to do things the Austin way by maximizing our strengths as a tech city.

If we can begin to figure out the future new Austin music product, do something about affordability generally, and, work with folks in the community, especially our champion Gary Keller, to help save some iconic music venues, we may finally find the formula to sustain our music industry. To this end, this spring we should announce the beginning steps to a crowd sourced mini-bond program that would allow thousands of us to invest together in a community effort to preserve those iconic music venues.
And since this is Austin, there will be more innovations and new ideas to help drive the change we’ll someday celebrate. In fact, tonight I’m pleased to highlight just one more example of how the tech community is creating new opportunities for the local music industry. It’s an app created right here in Austin called “TipCow.”
One of the inventors came up with the idea when he was out listening to live music and wanted to tip the band but didn’t have any cash on him. He looked at his phone and thought, If I can order a pizza with this, why can’t I tip the band?
Now, if you download TipCow, you can look the band up on the app and give them some money regardless of whether you’re at the show. Anyone with a phone can stream a show with a link to TipCow, and that means the band’s audience – and customer base – is now anywhere in the world.
It’s easy, it’s creative, and it’s a perfectly Austin way to pay musicians. You can’t expect someone to make it as a working musician in Austin if you’re not willing to pay them for their work. It’s the “give honor to whom honor is due” principal. So I want to set an expectation in Austin that we tip live musicians. Just because sometimes there’s no cover charge doesn’t make the musicians volunteers.