Music » Music Features

A $25k Question

Incentives may bring niche music production to Memphis.

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Music producers in Tennessee had much to be thankful for last week, especially with this announcement: "The Tennessee Entertainment Commission [TEC] Scoring Incentive Program offers a grant up to 25 percent on qualified Tennessee expenditures to companies producing original scores for film, television, animation, commercials, gaming, and multi-media projects within Tennessee."

Jon Hornyak
  • Jon Hornyak

For film producers to receive a rebate for hiring local soundtrack producers is a game changer for creatives in these fields. I sat down with Gebre Waddell and Jon Hornyak, president and senior executive director, respectively, of the Recording Academy's Memphis Chapter, to find out more about how this program came to be, and what it might bring in the future.

Memphis Flyer: I've heard about this being in the works for a few years now. What finally made it happen?

Hornyak: The central roadblock on this was the minimum spend. When we started working with [TEC executive director] Bob Raines, the minimum was $100,000, and it just wasn't gonna work for us. We couldn't support that. Bob kept working on getting it down, and it still wasn't down enough to make it work for us in Memphis.

Why was the minimum budget for scoring projects such an issue?

Waddell: With the TEC and the people that will have to administer the program, we're talking about just a few people that have a large workload to deal with. They have to have some kind of limitation so things can work for their staffing levels. And I know these people; they are very passionate people who work till late at night every night, and to put more on their plate was just impossible. So there had to be something to manage the administrative workload.

Was this always for scoring projects only, or music production in general?

JH: If it was for regular album production, the major labels in Nashville would gobble that up. So we were trying to look for a niche that could help the music industry in Nashville and Memphis, but not the typical recording of albums and such. The answer was music for video games and independent films. Nashville was already starting to make music for video games. And in Memphis, when you look at some of the things that Ward Archer's been doing at his studio or what Jonathan Kirkscey's done or what Scott Bomar's done, that niche would work here as well.

Gebre Waddell - JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • Gebre Waddell

GW: The Recording Academy didn't want to support this legislation unless the threshold was gonna be $50K. But the problem was, that $50K level would have only helped Nashville. At a luncheon for this program, we asked all these music producers from Memphis, what's the maximum you've had for a scoring project? And there was a resounding answer in the room: If we did not lower the threshold to $25K, Memphis would see no benefit from this legislation.I talked to Bob Raines afterward and said we should consider having different thresholds. Just getting from $100K to $50K took years. To get it down to $25K across the board didn't seem like it was ever gonna happen. So I suggested one threshold for Nashville, and a different threshold for the rest of the state. And that one suggestion was like a Hail Mary pass. It sounds like a huge challenge, legislatively, but it made sense. There's a primary market, meaning Nashville, set at $50K, and a secondary one that's the rest of the state, set at $25K. That checks all the boxes for administrative concerns, and ultimately that's what was adopted.


JH: From the beginning, Raines felt it needed to help the entire state, not just Nashville, for this to work. And we feel good about how it ended up. Because Tennessee is in the incentives game: That's how Christmas at Graceland got made and how the Sun Records series got made. And this opens the door to future things we can do on a local level.

GW: It couldn't have happened without building a bridge between Memphis and Nashville. We're working together. It's a healing thing. And in this instance, we came together and did something for part of our shared culture, which is music.

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