If you’ve just dropped in on this article, you may want to read part 1 first. This is part 2 of a review of the Denver Music Summit. The content below covers a symposium that took place on 12/9/10 from 8:45AM till noon at the Curtis Hotel, featuring several high level speakers. “Committment to Music on a City and State Level” was the second topic of discussion at this round table.
Throughout the symposium, the main thrust was ernest conversation about how to turn Denver into a “Music City” (or whether “it already was one and we just need to get over our inferiority complex.” – Laura Bond). Nancy Laflin (Executive Director of the New Mexico Music Commission) introduced some of Governor Richardson’s music initiatives in NM…
Nancy mentioned two specific items that helped enhance the music community in NM: a referral network (website) and educational television series. The referral network was a way to centralize information about musicians, a calendar of all major events in the area, employment opportunities and other educational information for musicians. The television series helped elevate music awareness and also offered educational content. By the end of her speech, Nancy acknowledged that there was a changing of the guards occurring and the commission would be coming to an abrupt end. She had only learned this news herself the day before the symposium.
Rose Reyes (Music Marketing Director of Austin, TX) then offered probably the most significant content of the entire symposium. Austin has successfully branded themselves as “the live music capital of the world” and Rose illustrated some very pragmatic steps that helped them live up to this title.
First, Rose acknowledged that most musicians can’t make a living within the city of Austin alone. They need to be able to tour, license their music and take other steps to make a sustainable income. She stressed that Austin has evolved organically (and authentically). Some of the venues from back in the ’30’s and ’40’s are still open today. Austin has some purely iconic venues (about 200 total venues, but only a handful that are thoroughly dedicated to the community).
Rose feels that branding was truely the key – declare what you are and live up to it. But she also acknowledged that the diversity amongst musicians was critical to their overall success and they have tried to actively promote leaders in the music community at every turn. Austin has many, many music festivals (Fun Fun Fun Fest! is one of the faster growing ones). They also champion the under 21 music scene (U21) by keeping a strong database of under 21 acts and fostering mentorship programs. She said the U21 scene is the next generation of Austin musicians and deserves strong, postive support.
Austin has the largest per capita (across US cities) of music camps and a broad diversity of camps. They have a person on staff that is solely dedicated to music developments (Don Pitts). Austin has multiple city funded music series, music at the airport and they even take (paid!) musicians on the road with them, like salespeople. Every city council meeting since 1991 has had live music performers (unpaid here, but they offer these musicians other benefits for playing).
Austin has a music industry loan program and a health alliance for Austin musicians (partnering with key hospitals and there are currently 2000 musicians in this program). They work on retention of local music businesses, have a live music task force and Rose said “we actively try to plug music into everything we do.” Austin has dedicated music web sites and publications and even CD compilations (10th year doing this) that the city uses as calling cards, complete with a mini guide to venues and local music calendars.
Austin hosts a giant media reception at SxSW (South by South West). They know that the festivals they fund are actually putting money back into the local economy. The city also makes it very easy to license music – they want to be perceived as very easy to do business with musicians. They also have a new organization, the Austin Music People (AMP), that tries to identify all Austin citizens with music. This is branding at the deepest level. They are coalition-minded and make sure that as many of the right people get involved with their movement.
At this point, Steve Sander (City of Denver), mentioned Visit Denver and how strongly he felt about the idea of creating experiences for music goers. He echoed Tony’s idea of “turning corners” and not knowing what pleasant music experiences you might encounter. He stressed the importance of creating “proof points” to raise consciousness of the music environment; that there should be big, memorable events to remind people of the concept of music. He said that music “should be front and center on an everyday basis.”
Laura Bond asked Rose how Austin has accomplished all of these great things. Rose said simply that you start at the beginning. Austin utilizes many interns and gets involved in as many collaborative projects as possible. They actively involve radio/television/film to help convey the deeper messages.
At this point, moderator Tony Garcia mentioned his concerns about the politcal changeovers occurring. He said that DOCA (Denver Office of Cultural Affairs) is in a holding pattern for the next six months. This reminded all present of NM’s “nail in the coffin” for the NM Music Commission. Where are the nurturing funds for Denver’s Music City to come from?
Steve Sander mentioned that there needs to be a voice (or voices) for the music community. Tony stressed that there really needs to be “a little bit of watering.” The music community is in essence a very fragile thing and needs to be supported properly. He said that there needs to be strong vision and consistency in support. And this leads to the final topic of the symposium: where does Denver stand as a Music City? More in part 3…