Justus Rivera is a violinist who's been performing in Philly for over a decade (Facebook)
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City Council is considering a permanent office focused on bolstering and boosting the local music industry.

Councilmembers Cindy Bass and David Oh last week introduced a proposed amendment to Philadelphia’s Home Rule Charter to establish a “Music Office.” If approved by lawmakers, its creation would be posed to voters as a ballot question this November.

The city’s Music Industry Task Force has been calling for such an office since 2019, and Council recently passed a resolution in support of task force recommendations. 

Formal institutional support for the Philly’s many jam sessions, DIY concerts, public performances, and the formal industry is exciting to participants, who point out the wealth of musical talent the city produces. 

“A joke I always hear is that ‘Every touring artist has one Philly musician backing them,’” Damani Okuri, bassist for the band Mobbluz, told Billy Penn. “It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but damn near true.”

The office would be guided by “a particular expertise and focus on economically promoting all elements of the music industry in Philadelphia,” according to the ordinance, headed by a director — appointed by the mayor and approved by a Council majority. 

It would serve as a liaison between local networks of musicians and municipal government, and could come with an advisory board made of local musicians, industry experts, and officials.

A model already exists, the task force report notes: the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, which was created in 1985 to help coordinate opportunities and boost film industry activity in the region. (In 1992, the GPFO spun off as a nonprofit that receives some government funding.)

An Office of Music could play a similar role, advocates say, along with marketing the city as a musical center of gravity in the Northeast and doing more to support public performances in transit hubs.  

“I used to perform at Suburban Station around rush hour time,” said Justus Rivera, a violinist who’s been performing in Philly for over a decade. “I tried to do it probably like a month ago, but I got kicked out … I don’t know what changed.”

The task force’s report, mainly the result of discussions among its 14 members — a mix of musicians, entertainment attorneys, city officials, and engineers — encouraged a series of actions that could help the city’s music scene build wider renown while creating a more stable environment for local artists. 

For example, running an awareness campaign around how much musicians should get paid for live gigs.

“I truly hope they develop a campaign for fair compensation,” said Okuri, of Mobbluz. “One of the first gigs I had when I started playing seriously was house band in a bar once a week from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. making roughly $50 per musician.” 

Performers are asked to promote a venue and help attract business, but often get little in return, per Okuri. “Money notoriously circulates terribly within the music scene,” he said.

Both Bass and Oh — who co-sponsored the bill during his last Council session before resigning to run for mayor — have a record of supporting the performing arts. Bass’s yearly Summer Event Series always aims to bring free performances to her district and Oh has been part of crafting PHL LIVE Center Stage, which recently brought a variety of Philly musicians together to compete for a series of prizes. 

Jordan Levy is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn, always aiming to help Philadelphians share their stories. Formerly, he has worked at Document Journal, n+1 Magazine, and The New Republic. He...