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Jeff Miers’ Soundcheck: For working musicians, ‘new Buffalo’ is same old song & dance

Jeff Miers

I got the call that every parent simultaneously hopes for and fears.

My son has been in the Los Angeles area doing some work in and around the Winter NAMM convention, that yearly gathering  of the music biz in Anaheim, where the industry breaks out its newest gear and the world’s greatest musicians show up to test it out, perform together, hob-nob and party. He called to say that, as much as he’s torn by the idea of leaving home and moving to the other side of the country at the age of 18, being in LA has made it clear to him that he just can’t make the kind of connections and build the kind of life that he’s worked to attain living in Buffalo.

“I’ll always love Buffalo, but it will kill my career if I stay there, Dad,” he said.

As much as I wanted to convince him otherwise, I knew he was right.

But why, in a city that is absolutely brimming with musical talent, boasts several world-class recording studios, reputable high school and college music programs, and a public that has an insatiable desire for live music, do promising young musicians feel they have no choice but to leave to make it?

Sure, hardworking musicians, engineers and producers can eke out a living here if they’re willing to work six and sometimes seven days a week, taking every gig they can get. But the opportunities for growth in this region are close to nil. Real estate developers might find the “new Buffalo” abundant with tantalizing financial opportunities, but musicians are making the same money they made 35 years ago. (An average of $75-$125 a gig.) That’s pathetic, frankly.

Social media is awash with complaining sessions regarding this reality, but it’s obvious to anyone who has lived here more than a few years that pointing out the problems has done little to solve any of them.

A few weeks back, Nashville became the beneficiary of a new incentive program aimed at keeping area musicians, composers and recording engineers fully employed and thus, eager to stay put. On Nov. 20, the Tennessee Entertainment Commission announced the launch of a new scoring incentives program. The goal is to bring more work involving soundtrack scoring for film, television and video games to Nashville. They’ll do this by offering a 25 percent rebate for music-scoring projects that spend $50,000 or more within the city of Nashville, or $25,000 in other parts of the state.

The Western New York film industry has gotten a boost via a $420 million incentive program from the New York State Governor's Office of Motion Picture & Television Development that has resulted in an increase in production and post-production film work.

It’s time to apply a similar approach to the songwriting, composing, beat-making and video game soundtrack composition aspect of the Buffalo music industry. And would it be going too far to suggest that we might start treating live performance similarly? Would it be wrong to offer some sort of incentive to bars that consistently book local musicians to perform? Is an enforced living wage for musicians in the area simply a pipe dream?

Perhaps. But we’ve got the talent. We need to something to keep it here.


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