'New York Is Music' Coalition Aims to Stimulate Empire State's Ailing Music Industry

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About a year ago on a routine trip to Los Angeles, Downtown Music Publishing CEO Justin Kalifowitz noticed the music industry members he talked to out there -- managers, clients, lawyers -- said they hadn't been to New York in a while because they didn't need to.

"The music business has been drifting," says Kalifowitz, remembering anecdotes from studio owners who lost a job from L.A.-based musicians who couldn't fund a trip to Manhattan, and artist managers whose clients could no longer afford rehearsal space in Greenpoint. That's when he realized part of the problem: policy makers don't understand the scope of New York City and the state's music business.

Enter New York Is Music, a coalition comprised of 60-plus music organizations including Glassnote Records, BMI, and the Clive Davis School of Recorded Music, which Kalifowitz founded with William Harvey Studio's Bill Harvey.

Announced today, the collective's first initiative is to help pass the Empire State Music Production Tax Credit bill, which provides music recorders and producers in the state of New York with a 20 percent income tax credit (amounting to $60 million in tax breaks, according to the New York Times). It's much like the state's film tax credits, or, as Kalifowitz points out, New Jersey's initiative to move 50 Sony jobs from Long Island City to East Rutherford. "We don't have anyone at the city or state level looking at music business as a significant opportunity," he tells Billboard.

He's found at least one ally in New York State Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (Brooklyn, District 50), who introduced the Empire State bill. Indeed, the oft-derided borough is actually a hub of music activity. "If one were to say, where's the center of 21st-century New York music? It would be foolish not to say North Brooklyn," says Kalifowitz -- even though he acknowledges that music thrives elsewhere, like the music industry program at Syracuse University or Upstate Shows, a concert promotion company.

One of NYIM's members, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, is behind an initial study on the music industry's growth in Williamsburg, similar to comparable surveys in major cities like Austin, Chicago, and Toronto. "Part of our issue is there's no statistical evidence," says Kalifowitz. "The challenge is self-identifying who we are as an industry."          

Kalifowitz says this initiative isn't meant to fix the broader ills of the music industry, a veritable Pandora's box of declining album sales, closing record stores and radio stations -- not to mention artists trying to negotiate sustainable pay rates from music streaming. But, he adds, "Creation of music should be where commerce is occurring as well. Business grows even faster when there are clusters of industry around it." With all the local studios, hotels, taxis, gear renters, engineers, and indie and major labels, there's no reason the city can't look the way it did 10-15 years ago, when Sony "had over a dozen rooms on 54th street," including the Hit Factory recording studio, which closed in 2005, and the Record Plant, which suffered in the early '00s from bands' dramatically decreased budgets (those indie Brooklyn bands just couldn't afford a studio with a Jacuzzi). 

On the other hand, he adds, music-driven tech companies -- Soundcloud, Pandora, Spotify, the very services changing the fabric of the industry -- are providing a whole new set of jobs. "I love music and I love New York," added Harvey in a statement. "I saw that people, even those involved, don't realize the scale and diverse nature of New York's music industry. It's an industry that requires a whole ecology in place to be creative and prosper, and in New York, it's an ecology in danger of collapse."

Maybe they are speaking for the music industry as a whole after all.