The proposed discount program is designed to help small Texas music venues stay close

Texas lawyers want a new program to help the state’s smaller music venues and festivals offset their costs, making it easier for local artists to pay for performances.

The bill passed by the House and Senate would allow music venues with a capacity of less than 3,000 to apply for tax breaks of up to $ 100,000.

Music festivals in Texas counties with fewer than 100,000 residents would also be eligible to apply.

Venues and festivals would have to show that they pay for their musical performances with part of the ticket sales or with advances. To qualify, applicants would need to have worked at least two years prior to the requirements of the program before they can submit the request. A number of restrictions to ensure that discounts only go to music venues in good faith are also included in the bill.

The money would be distributed through what lawmakers call the Texas Music Incubator rebate program. The State Bureau of Music, Film, Television and Multimedia would select those to receive funding on the basis of which “the communities in which they operate would receive the most economic benefit [they] are … and in the Texas music industry, including live musicians. “

The legislation, Senate Bill 609, hit the governor’s desk last week. It is now waiting for his signature. If he inked it, the office would start accepting applications from September 2022.

“We have so many great venues in our state that have suffered, be it natural disasters, hurricanes, frosts or pandemics,” said state Senator Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, who drafted the bill.

“This program will allow these venues to reopen, stay open and keep their people busy. And Texas is known for many of these historic venues, ”said Senator Alvarado.

As for the focus on smaller venues, “We know these have been injured,” she said.

Funding for the program would be drawn from existing taxes on alcohol sales at the venues.

The legislation proposing the program hit the governor’s desk last week. It is now waiting for his signature.(Smiley N. Pool / employee photographer)

Those taxes are typically the second largest spending for small venues after just their property taxes, mortgages, or rents, said Rebecca Reynolds, who served as president of the Music Venue Alliance Austin for the bill.

“So it would be of great help to venues trying to pay a musician higher wages and a professional wage,” she said.

Edwin Cabaniss, the owner of the Kessler Theater, who also pushed for the bill, said its structure meant that venues with more alcohol sales would contribute more to the program, which in turn would provide funding for smaller applicants who may be more financially vulnerable.

“It’s a program that allows medium and large venues to be shared with smaller venues that may never be able to generate it for themselves,” he said.

This could be a boon, especially for rural venues that – unlike Kessler and others in large metropolitan areas – don’t have large potential customer bases to fall back on. And it’s no secret that the most distant Texas venues are some of the most culturally and historically significant.

“The real magic happens when my excess incubator funds are used in smaller communities like Prosper, Granbury or Athens,” said Cabaniss.

Under the program, “the money is going back to save and maintain some of the state’s most famous cultural institutions,” he said.

Cabaniss, Reynolds, and others pushed for laws like this even before the 2019 pandemic. Since then, “we’ve lost an estimated half of the small venues in the state,” Cabaniss said. By his census, there are currently around 350 to 400 venues across Texas that would be eligible under the proposed program.

“If this bill had been passed two years ago, that number could have been twice as high.”

The state’s music industry supports 80,000 jobs, a number that gets closer to 100,000 when music education is included. This is according to a study that the Texas Music Office completed in 2019. If Governor Abbott signs the bill, will that help you get there fast enough?

At least, said Senator Alvarado, it is “the light at the end of the tunnel” for venues. “You can plan, at least if you know it’s on the calendar.”

Meanwhile, the live music has started a slow crescendo and some regional and national tours have re-booked dates. Festivals are also making a provisional comeback. On Friday, the Lights All Night electronic festival in Dallas announced that it would return this New Year’s Eve after being canceled last year. A smaller spin-off is also debuting in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, headlining the Grammy-winning French duo Justice.

But no one is turning it to 11 yet.

“Many venues are still plunging into the waters of reopening this summer,” Reynolds said. “So if they have a cushion like this for their running costs, it will really help them get back up. And I know that a lot of the new operators feel like they are just looking into the abyss, you know, will people come? “

The federal government has also signed up to the Save Our Stages Act. The program, co-authored by Senator John Cornyn of Texas, started a $ 16 billion program to provide grants to venues nationwide.

“Save Our Stages is also critical,” Reynolds said. However, the main difference from the proposed discounts in Texas is that Save Our Stages is a one-time disaster relief and the discounts are part of an annual program.