Bail Out Money Can Save Music

Great news today. Citigroup is returning $20 billion of the federal bail out money. This follows announcements from other banks planning on doing the same.

We've bailed out banks, auto companies and what did we get? Some jobs were saved, but as for the greater good of society, bankers and auto makers basically fuel consumption and pollution.

If banks and the auto industry ceased to exist the world would survive. But could we survive without music?

Let's take the money this time and bail out an industry that actually makes the world a better place -- music.

Listen to this piano piece by a musician who knows how tough recessions can be on his industry:

Piano Duets for Christmas
by David J. Hahn.

What if people like Hahn stopped doing what they do?

It could happen.

"As you might expect, the arts community overall is hit hard whenever a recession sets in," Hahn explained. "Much of our revenue comes from discretionary spending, charitable contributions and federal/local support, all of which has fallen in the past two years."

While it's hard to assess how bad things have gotten for "the working musician community" because it's "so diverse" he offered some examples:

Classical music institutions have been hit most publicly by the recession. Symphonies from Salt Lake City to Charleston have had to take wage reductions in the past year. Even some of the most elite orchestras - like the Chicago Symphony (2.5%), Milwaukee Symphony (9%), St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (12%) - have signed new contracts with wage reductions for their musicians. In one of the most extreme cases, the Honolulu Symphony was reportedly unable to pay it's musicians for much of 2009, and finally filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in November.

Broadway musicians also took a major hit when 11 Broadway shows closed within several months of each other. Between the closings of Xanadu on September 28th, 2008 and Hairspray on January 18th, 2009, 150 musician jobs were liquidated from the New York City theater industry. There are shows that opened or are slated to open in the 2009-2010 season, of course, but that kind of sudden reduction in jobs had a tremendous impact on the theatre musician industry. It was as if everyone on the ladder dropped a few rungs all at once. Musicians that were working their way up from off-Broadway gigs and hoping for a Broadway chair were knocked our of competition for even the off-Broadway work once the market was flooded with all of the elite talent.

The regional orchestras in the New York area also began to have trouble around the same time - ultimately ending with the Brooklyn Philharmonic closing it's doors early on the 2009 season. These regional orchestras often use the same pool of musicians that the Broadway pits use, so local musicians were hit from many different directions.

The domino effect of the recession showed itself in other ways. The temporary lock-out of musicians at the New York production of Tony 'n Tina's Wedding this fall was blamed on a difficult economy - and this kind of thing was not limited to New York alone. An uproar in Texas resurfaced this Christmas season when the Texas Ballet Theatre Company decided, for a second year in a row, to use pre-recorded music for their annual production of The Nutcracker.

I've also noticed that local bars are getting smaller turnouts, and that's been bad news for musicians who do the club circuit. And even DJs are getting hit hard.

"I have seen a lot of companies not make it in the last yr or two," wrote Pete C. Rodriguez Jr, a professional DJ from Arizona who tweeted his response to a question I posed on Twitter last night about the music industry. "It has been really hard for the Wedding industry."

I don't know about you guys, but I'm worried when I hear the people who make music in this country are struggling. Where's the panic? Where are the rallies to help these people?

According the the Bureau of Labor statistics 264,000 musicians, singers, and related workers sustain our nation's music industry.

Under job prospects for the occupation, noted the BLS:

Growth in demand for musicians will generate a number of job opportunities, and many openings also will arise from the need to replace those who leave the field each year because they are unable to make a living solely as musicians or singers, or for other reasons.

There is something wrong with this country. We shower certain professions with gobs of cash and deny others a livable wage.

Many of the banks that are returning the bailout money are doing so because the top dogs at these financial institutions balked at having to keep their annual pay under $500,000.

I assure you, there will be no such protests if we spread some of that bailout money to the music makers struggling to survive in this economy.

Will there be such a bail out?

Hahn doesn't seem hopeful: "There are people talking about it, there just doesn't seem to be anybody listening."

Please listen to this and tell me why we shouldn't bailout musicians. It's Hahn rendition of Auld Lang Syne.