It may be too early to say, but the Levitt Pavilion model may just be the savior of the music industry.I
That thought struck me as I watched the panel discussion at the Oriental Theater last month hosted by the Friends of Levitt Pavilion Denver (disclosure: I was a member of the board of directors for a couple months back in 2013 before I got too busy to continue).
Background: Levitt Pavilion is a nationwide non-profit whose mission is to ensure the performing arts are accessible to everyone through high-quality, free concerts. The organization has helped launch large, community-changing venues across the nation; Denver’s new amphitheater at Ruby Hill Park, opening in 2016, will be the seventh such venue. With a capacity of 7,500, it’ll be right between the size of the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver and Red Rocks in Morrison. And it will also produce at least 50 free concerts every year (a big number of those will be local Colorado acts).
But, as Executive Director Chris Zacher pointed out, “it’s not free for the musicians. We’re guaranteeing an average of $1250 for every band that performs here.” That struck a very important chord in a roomful of musicians and music industry people.
Colorado has a musician’s union, and yet there are very few houses that pay union scale. There are several other music and musician advocacy groups throughout the state and while it’s hard to disagree that the local music scene is as robust as it’s ever been, the most consistent complaint from professional musicians I’ve heard is the low pay they’re forced to endure from club owners who profit from their work. And still, there’s also never any shortage of acts willing to take even less. It’s a vicious cycle. Musicians can’t get enough of a foothold among themselves to wield any clout when it comes to valuation of their product.
Enter Levitt Pavilion.
They’re setting a floor themselves, and not allowing musicians to screw it up. A 2-hour set for $1250. Let’s do a little math. Let’s say you’ve got an hour at either end for set-up and tear down, and you have six people in your band. That amounts to about $52/hour per band member. If you stretched that to a yearly salary, it would be more than $100,000/year.
In my mind, that’s absolutely a fair wage for a professional musician. And best of all, the Levitt Model is certainly sustainable. Example: City Park Jazz in Denver has been operating in a similar manner for almost 30 years. And Zacher left his post as managing director there to take the role at Levitt. He knows this space better than anyone.
But the lede, at least to a musician, is the fact that this model isn’t letting you undercut each other anymore. And in a country where the music industry continues to devalue itself (Give your music away for free! Play shows for the “exposure!”) it seems that many musicians are buying the hype.
Thankfully, Levitt is setting a new standard for the rest of the country to live up to, one venue at a time. And it’s happening just down the road.We’ll be revisiting the Levitt Pavilion story as it develops over the next year. For information on Levitt, including how you can get involved, check out levittdenver.org.