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A music industry tax incentive for Georgia?
Joint Music Economic Development Study Committee conducts panel in Savannah
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This past Friday morning, politicians and music professionals sat side-by-side to discuss a potential new tax incentive to help Georgia grow its music industry.

Lt. Governor Casey Cagle announced Senate appointments to the Joint Music Economic Development Study Committee on July 22. With 13 members, the committee features senators like Jeff Mullis (Chickamauga), Sens. Tyler Harper (Ocilla) and Butch Miller (Gainesville) alongside industry pros like Michele Caplinger of The Recording Academy/GRAMMY Awards, and Brandon Bush, a musician who’s performed in bands like Train and Sugarland and has contributed to over 100 recordings.

There’s no denying the impact Georgia’s film production incentive has had since its 2008 creation. As of June, our state is tied for No. 3 in worldwide film production.

The film and TV industry is responsible for more than 79,000 jobs and around $4 billion in wages and has helped bring 120 more firms to Georgia in the last seven years.

Throughout the three-hour discussion, it was frequently mentioned how film and music go hand-in-hand—original music is needed for everything from ads to apps to Netflix shows—and how this unique tie could be the first stepping stone toward making Georgia the nation’s “Entertainment Production Capital.”

Tammy Hurt, a drummer, managing partner of licensing firm Placement Music, and advisor to Girls Rock Camp ATL, offered compelling stats to the panel in her support of the tax incentive. According to Georgia Music Partners’ 2011 study, music has a $3.7 billion impact on our economy—and that excludes festivals. The study counted 20,000 music professionals in our state and 130 recording studios (all small businesses, as Hurt pointed out).

Hurt suggested a “holistic approach to the market,” reminding the panel that “arts and music are an economic development tool” to create a vibrant state, create jobs, encourage growth, and boost tourism. A standalone music tax incentive, she suggested, would complement the film industry and would create a pipeline for area college students, many of whom graduate and are forced to move to New York, L.A., Austin, and Nashville for steady work.

Speakers advised that bringing in big business would create a trickle-down effect that would affect even our small music communities.

“If you pass it, we will build it, and they will come,” said producer Bram Bessoff, pointing out that Georgia’s central location makes it a great place for touring bands to have their pre-tour production rehearsals.

(For example: Taylor Swift and crew rent out the Savannah Civic Center for three weeks to practice the show, lighting, sound, etc., before taking it on the road).

Brad Gibson, owner of Savannah’s Capital A Productions, echoed this sentiment, adding that it would provide many jobs for local production professionals, caterers, and more.

While the Committee does represent a wide variety of Georgians working to emphasize, as one panelist said, “not only Georgia’s music history, but also our future,” it was troublesome to not see a single African-American on a panel that constantly named James Brown, Little Richard, and Outkast as Georgia’s music pioneers.

It was refreshing to hear Representative Frye praise Athens’s historic and conveniently located venues and rock clubs—that’s not something we hear often from politicians ‘round these parts, but my brain stewed as the panel conjured visions of being “the next Austin.”

But let’s not forget that, over the past few years, Austin venues have been forced to close as condos and luxury hotels pop up and residents complain about noise.

While economic growth and keeping creatives and professionals in Georgia is a wonderful prospect, the same government that’s ready to throw down for that tax incentive needs to be ready to protect its artists and venues as our cities grow to keep up with residential demand.

And though Austin created the Music Venue Assistance Program, which offers low-interest loans to venues for customized soundproofing, venues closing due to noise complaints is an issue that’s awfully familiar to a lot of cities from London to San Francisco.

As monied young professionals flock to cities like Atlanta and condos are built at lightning speed, will the state protect those historic venues that Rep. Frye praised? Do you remember the fury this summer when The Masquerade, one of Atlanta’s best mid-sized concert venues for both touring and local acts, was destroyed to make way for condos?

Having a soundstage, local studios thriving from in and out-of-state business, and composers able to put food on the table year-round right here in Georgia sounds amazing. Thanks to the range presenters, which also included Savannah’s own Dollhouse Productions, Jared Hall, Executive Director of Savannah Children’s Choir and Kayne Lanahan of MusicFile Productions, who introduced the panel to Georgia’s own SXSW alternative, Savannah Stopover Music Festival, the panel heard loud and clear that musicians and industry folks alike want to stay and thrive here.

Once the committee is able to nail down a dollar/percentage amount for an incentive based on the feedback they’ve received, it will be able to take the next steps towards a proposal. Let’s hope when and if it passes, it’s in tune with the needs and interests of Georgia’s musicians.