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City department bumps up set pay for musicians it books. Other Austin agencies could follow suit.

A person in a funky outfit with arms stretched at the front of a stage with an orchestra in back
Gabriel C. Pérez
Golden Dawn Arkestra performs at ACL Fest in 2018. The band will be one of the first to be paid $200 per musician per hour under the Economic Development Department's new pay scale.

The City of Austin is sponsoring a SXSW show at Auditorium Shores on Thursday that’s featuring a number of local bands including Golden Dawn Arkestra, Heartless Bastards and Kalu and the Electric Joint. The Spaceflights Records showcase is a big event – and not just because of the lineup. It’s also the first time musicians will be paid a base rate of $200 per hour by the city.

“Our commitment to the standard rate of pay is a great opportunity for everyone to learn about music industry standards and fair wages for the valuable services musicians provide,” said Stephanie Bergara, who works in the city’s Music and Entertainment Division, a part of the Economic Development Department.

The department bumped up the base pay for musicians last week after the Austin Music Commission unanimously recommended it. It had been $150 since 2016. The pay applies only to city-sponsored performances; Austin doesn’t have the power to tell venues how much to pay musicians.

“What we can do is, say, when you play a City of Austin event that has a city logo and is put on by us, we're going to pay you this amount,” Bergara said.

She said the department was trying to stay up to date with the cost of living in Austin and to make sure it wasn’t asking people to “play for the same amount of money they would have played for 10 years ago because that's not the reality of the Austin that we live in.”

Right now this rate applies only to bands booked by the Economic Development Department. Up next is an effort to get other city departments to adopt the new pay rate, including regular band-bookers like the airport, the parks department and Capital Metro.

“We're hoping that all of this work that we're doing will inspire other city departments to follow suit in providing standard rates for musicians to be hired at all of their events,” Bergara said.

For now, the new rate applies to events like the Street Performance Program downtown, which has been paused due to COVID, and performances at the Music Commission and other city events. The rate applies only to performance hours, which means time spent on stage.

The Economic Development Department does provide other benefits for musicians who play at their events, including providing sound equipment.

“We make every effort to provide full PA, so you don't bring any sound, no micing, anything like that,” Bergara said. “We have the resources to do that. It is a formal contracting process.”

The department also books bands without making them sign a radius clause – which means they don’t have to wait before playing another show in the area.

To hear the latest episode of Pause/Play visit KUT and KUTX Studiosor wherever you get your podcasts.

Elizabeth McQueen is an audio producer and podcast host at KUTX 98.9, Austin’s NPR music station.
Miles Bloxson is a producer and host for KUT 90.5 and KUTX 98.9.
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