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Interview: Can Working Musicians Still Lead a 'Sustainable' Life?

Ludwig sterling fotography

A little about Gary Powell: the Austin musician and producer has produced 147 albums, which have sold 45 million copies in 69 countries. That's a lot of numbers for a music guy. But Gary Powell is not apologetic about numbers in his profession. As a matter of fact, he says "money is good." And he is committed to helping his students at the University of Texas' Butler School of Music find their way in the rapidly-changing music business.

A Grammy-winner who’s produced albums for Walt Disney Records and children's artist Joe Scruggs, Powell says musicians need to learn how to create a "sustainable" career: one that provides food, shelter, health care, transportation, and some funding for retirement.

“There’s other people that choose to chase celebrity – which is not a bad idea. Except that the percentages of people that can achieve extreme celebrity are unbelievably small. So instead of taking the long risk, you might want to prepare in the meantime so that you can play both sides of that coin at the same time.”

And Powell says audiences need to learn to pay for the music they like: 

“It takes another layer of knowledge and perseverance for a customer of one of us – the musicians – to actually find a way to buy something … There’s nothing that not been affected by this digital media. Including the public, who now – just like the musicians – has a larger and bigger responsibility for finding out how to buy the art they wanna have.”

Jennifer Stayton is the local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" on KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @jenstayton.
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