Thursday, January 06, 2005


As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
January 5, 2005

They're whistling a new tune in the governor's office these days. And it's a tune that might be appreciated by fans of ranchero, rock 'n' roll, country-western, opera, pow-wow, hip-hop or blues.

Gov. Bill Richardson will ask the Legislature to pass a bill establishing a New Mexico Music Commission, "to protect, promote and archive music in New Mexico," said Billy Sparks, Richardson's deputy chief of staff.

"Music is a longtime New Mexico tradition," he said. "Hopefully a music commission would provide New Mexico musicians opportunities for performing and recording."

"It would be under the Department of Cultural Affairs," Sparks said. The commission would be fashioned after similar music agencies in Texas and Louisiana, he said.

Sparks himself earned a living as a guitar picker and songwriter in Austin, Texas in the early '80s. "The state Music Office has really helped there," he said, noting that Austin is now known as the Live Music Capitol of the World.

Other state governments are picking up on the idea of having music offices. They're in Hawaii and Tennessee, (where it's part of the state Film, Entertainment and Music Commission). The cities of Austin, Memphis and San Francisco also have similar agencies to promote the music biz.

Sparks noted that the film industry is spending $164 million a year shooting movies in New Mexico. "And every film has music," he said.

"There's a new Grammy Award category, Native American music, which has been won by New Mexico musicians," he said. "There's the mariachi festival in Las Cruces. But there's no central place for information about all these activities."

Sparks said the commission would provide a clearing house for information regarding New Mexico singers and bands, as well as musical businesses such as recording studios and record companies.

"It's like the Film Office directory," he said. "It would be a directory of where the studios are and who's doing what."

The Texas Music Office's website has a talent register of more than 6,000 musical acts, as well as directories for live music venues, radio stations (broken down by musical styles), record stores, record distributors, musical instrument businesses, music publishers and distributors, CD manufacturers, college music programs, entertainment lawyers, and even music journalists.

The governor will ask lawmakers for $100,000 to get the music commission going, Sparks said. A full-time director would be hired.

Casey at the bat: Casey Monahan, a former music writer for the Austin American-Statesman, probably knows more about state music agencies than anyone else. He's been the director of the Texas Music Office since it started in 1990, working for Governors William Clements, Ann Richards, George W. Bush and current Gov. Rick Perry.

Asked in a phone interview Wednesday for his advise to New Mexico in starting a music commission, Monahan said, "I'd advise them to interview as many music-related business owners, bands, and music educators as possible and ask them what the state government could do to make their lives easier.

"You have to develop an agenda based on the needs of the industry after these interviews are conducted," he said.

And what should a New Mexico Music Commission avoid?

"The main thing is to avoid creating expectations that can't be met," Monahan said.

(Note to area musicians: I think that means the state isn't going to guarantee you gigs.)

"The Texas Music Office operates kind of like a chamber of commerce within the governor's office to promote the music business," he said. "It's important that you don't compete. We don't do big events or release our own records. We represent all the music business in Texas."

(That doesn't mean Monahan can't work on records as a private citizen. He was the producer on one of my personal favorite albums of the '90s, All That May Do My Rhyme by psychedelic Texas wildman Roky Erikson.)

Commissioner Randy Travis?: Well, maybe. Sparks said if the Legislature passes the proposed bill, some of New Mexico's best known musicians could be asked to become commissioners. But he stressed that nobody has been approached for the job.

It would be hard to beat the Louisiana Music Commission for star power though. The chairman of that board is Ellis L. Marsalis Jr., father of famed jazzmen Wynton and Branford Marsalis. Other members include Jean Knight, singer of the '70s soul hit "Mr. Big Stuff" and bluesman Ernest "Tabby" Thomas.

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