Artist & musician license fee law draws fire
Joe Courter
October 2000

On September 26th there was a great gathering of musicians at the Thomas Center, but they weren't performing on stage. Well over a hundred musicians (and reporters) turned out to oppose an idea which emanated from the City of Gainesville Finance Department: enforcement of an obscure 1953 law that required musicians to purchase a $105 annual occupational license. Tuesday's meeting was called for by the Department of Cultural Operations to get a sense of local musicians' feelings, and their response was overwhelming.

Charlie Scales, manager of Hyde'N'Zeke Records and a musician himself ('Root Doctors,' etc.) heard about the meeting and e-mailed as many folks as possible in four hours, helping to account for the large turnout. Originally, the city was just notifying those musicians who had contracts to perform for the city at the Downtown Concert Series Friday nights, but Scales rightly thought more people ought to know.

Things are still a bit nebulous--City Commissioner Warren Neilsen described the issue as "one of the little glitchy things that come along; we didn't know about it. I think you'll find out that we're pursuing avenues of remedy to that situation." Scales reported that he was waiting for a copy of the 1953 ordinance and had a couple of lawyers lined up to look at it; he had also contacted "some well-known bands" to stage a support rally, should one be needed. Student Government at UF is also organizing against the fee.

Probably the city will back off from the $105 per year per musician, but what they'll decide is anyone's guess. The city needs to propose a fee schedule, Scales said, and possibly most Gainesville musicians wouldn't be at a level of income that would require them to pay the fee.

As to the origin of the 1953 law, Scales speculated, "At that time there was a musician class. Those were the days when musicians were highly trained...and most of the jobs were based on big band-type situations. There wasn't such a big amateur market. That changed when rock came around, and anybody who could play three chords formed a band and started playing out. It was just a different situation, a different level of musicianship," Scales said.

The day before, the City had outlawed fliering on utility poles (again) and many took the musician fee as another assault on the flourishing culture in the City. "They must keep hearing about the 'rich cultural scene' we have in Gainesville, and figure that must mean money," another observer speculated.

"For now it's a wait-and-see attitude. There are several people researching the law with attorneys and finding out exactly what the wording is. We'll see how the city reacts, and we'll take it from there," Scales said.

Keep in touch with Scales at Hyde'N'Zeke for more information.

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