Cash incentives could connect tourism + talent retention + music

by Elizabeth Cawein

The concept for the MEM ambassador program was something I developed fairly early on in this music export adventure. It’s pretty simple: Memphis musicians are already touring across the country and the world, so why not incentivize them to be ambassadors for the city? (Which they definitely already are – so why not equip them with tools and throw them some dollars?)

Bands would apply for funds, go through a tourism training, take some promotional materials for their merch table and agree to do some anecdotal reporting after the tour. Then they’d get cash.

My goal is to launch the ambassador program in 2018, and plans are in the works now for a benefit event to fund the pilot. But! A few weeks ago, I was at the Music Tourism Convention — I blogged a bit about it here — and as is wont to happen to me in those settings, a speaker touched on something that sent me down a rabbit hole with a new idea.

What if musicians were incentivized to continue living in Memphis with forgivable funding?

I haven’t hammered out specifics, but essentially here’s how I imagine it could work: an artist wants to create a record in Memphis, and meets some basic criteria around residency and employment from music. The artist must use all Memphis practitioners to make the record, from the engineer, session musicians and studio to the mastering, CD or vinyl pressing, merch manufacturing, etc. You get it. Start to finish, the cash from the artist’s forgivable loan must all be spent in Memphis.

Once the artist has received the funds, they’d be responsible for paying them back – but for every year they continue to live in Memphis, a chunk of the loan would be forgiven. So let’s imagine that this artist borrowed $10,000. With a low interest rate and a manageable repayment schedule, the artist is paying back the loan at maybe $150 to $250 monthly. In the course of a year, that knocks between $1,800 and $3,000 off the total debt. But if they’ve continued to live in Memphis, another $1,000 would come off the top (or 10% of the borrowed amount). The model guarantees that a bit of money comes back to the funding bank, but also strongly incentivizes musicians to continue living and working in Memphis. (Not to mention requiring them to spend the money here.)

And by the way — if you’re Memphis musician wondering how the heck you can get access to capital right now,  you should check out Slim’s Front Loan from The Memphis Slim House. It’s the only program of its kind in the city and it’s designed for musicians, which means it provides much lower barriers to entry for artists needing funding support than traditional banks. The first loan recipient, Eric Hughes, is actually celebrating his album release this weekend – read about Eric, the loan program and get the scoop on his gig in The Memphis Daily News.

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