Culture

Inaugural census will track Oregon music industry’s economic impact

By Steven Tonthat (OPB)
Jan. 6, 2023 10:46 p.m.

Through Jan. 15, commercial music workers including musicians, producers and venue owners, can make some noise in the Oregon’s first Commercial Music Census. The goal is to present policymakers with hard data on how well the music economy is doing across the state.

Meara McLaughlin, the executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group MusicPortland, worked with sister organization MusicOregon and the Oregon Business Development Department, to launch the census late last year.

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Lawmakers approved funding the census to better understand how to support an industry that some say is being overlooked.

“Conservatively estimated it’s $1 billion in greater Portland and that’s a direct impact,” agrees McLaughlin. “When you start talking about the way it influences business and tourism, that number gets even bigger.”

Once the data is collected, it will go to the economists at Portland State University’s Northwest Economic Research Center for further analysis.

Anyone who works in the commercial music industry is encouraged to take the 5-minute anonymous survey.

Ben Landsverk (right) is Low Bar Chorale's music director. He and other musicians coordinate a group singalong at Revolution Hall's Show Bar.

In this file photo from 2019, Ben Landsverk (right), Low Bar Chorale's music director, and other musicians coordinate a group singalong at Revolution Hall's Show Bar. Through Jan. 15, commercial music workers including musicians and venue owners, are asked to participate in the inaugural Oregon Commercial Music Census.

Meerah Powell / OPB

The mission behind the music census

“If you are a business that only a part of what you do is music related, that’s okay. You come in, you tell us your gross income and then we ask you for factors so that we can extract the part of your business that is specific to music,” McLaughlin says.

She hopes lawmakers will see the hard data gathered from the census and come up with new policies that will help those in the local music business.

“There are lots of incredibly inventive policy approaches that are not just giving money to music. It’s about being smart about how you craft policy that sustains a commercial artistic form.”

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Commercial music is defined as music that has been created, performed and marketed to the public for money and can include anything from pop to punk to hip hop.

According to McLaughlin, Portland consistently ranks among the best music cities in the U.S. Some popular artists from or based out of Oregon include Portugal. the Man and Esperanza Spalding.

“There are more than 13,000 unique acts minimum in Oregon, more than 1,200 identified music businesses and 800 music venues that we found across the state,” she says.

McLaughlin also points out competing ideologies on how to define “commercial music.”

“The arts and culture group says you’re too commercial and the business community says you’re too creative,” she says. ”A nonprofit theatre company that runs the venue where plays are performed has access to all kinds of grants and funding opportunities that a commercial music venue doesn’t have.”

A file photo of guitars at Hank's Music Exchange in Southeast Portland. Oregon lawmakers approved funding the Commercial Music Census to better understand how to support an industry that some say is being overlooked.

A file photo of guitars at Hank's Music Exchange in Southeast Portland. Oregon lawmakers approved funding the Commercial Music Census to better understand how to support an industry that some say is being overlooked.

Sarah Nienaber

Creative cash flow

McLaughlin knows the value of commercial music as a revenue source, but fears that lack of information could have long-term implications for businesses.

“If you put an apartment building directly next to a music venue that’s been there for 20 years, within six months, that music venue will be closed because there is no acknowledgement of the value that this culture delivers into our community,” says McLaughlin.

MusicPortland launched the census in December 2022, and so far, the response has been fairly quiet, with just under 2,000 responses in almost a month.

But despite the initial lukewarm response, she isn’t ready to give up. MusicPortland is planning a big push to get the word out before the Jan. 15 deadline.

“Our goal is to have people say they’re both valuable but they are different and they have different needs and different opportunities for support.”

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