Chuck Leavell

ATLANTA – Georgia’s film industry took off after the General Assembly significantly strengthened the state income tax credit for movie and TV productions in 2008.

The industry’s annual economic impact has soared from a relatively paltry $242 million the year before lawmakers upped the ante on the credit to $4.4 billion last year.

Now, the Peach State’s musical performers and producers are urging lawmakers to give them the same boost by sweetening the incentives the state offers their industry.

“We see what has happened with the film business,” Chuck Leavell, the Georgia-based keyboardist for The Rolling Stones and previously for The Allman Brothers Band, told members of a legislative study committee. “You’re going to attract all manner of performers … if we can put these incentives in place.”

The Joint Georgia Music Heritage Study Committee began a series of meetings Sept. 7 looking for ways to grow the music industry in a state with a rich and diverse musical history including the Allman Brothers, Otis Redding, Little Richard, James Brown, Johnny Mercer, Ray Charles, and Jason Aldean.

The General Assembly passed legislation in 2017 providing tax incentives to musical productions, including both live and recorded performances.

But the tax credit is due to expire at the end of this year unless the legislature renews it.

A bill introduced during this year’s legislative session called for lowering the spending threshold to qualify for the credit from the current $500,000 for a live performance to $100,000 and from $250,000 for a recorded performance to $50,000.

House Bill 1330 also proposed doubling the value of the tax credit from 15% of a production company’s qualified expenses to 30%.

The legislation made it through the House in March but died in the state Senate, shoved aside by other business in what was a particularly busy flurry of election-year lawmaking.

Entertainment lawyer Steve Weizenecker, who has been involved in efforts to pass both the film and music industry tax credits, said he expects supporters to try again to get the bill through during the 2023 session beginning in January. He said he’s optimistic about its chances.

“Everybody, no matter what your political stripe, likes music and wants to see it grow,” Weizenecker said. “It’s an easier thing to sell at the Capitol.”

The study committee’s kickoff meeting was held in Macon, which boasts an especially vibrant music scene. The city is home to The Big House Museum, where The Allman Brothers Band lived during their heyday in the 1970s; a restored Capricorn Studios, where the group recorded; the Otis Redding Museum, and the Little Richard House.

Among the city’s performing venues, The Macon City Auditorium just got a $10 million facelift, and construction is underway on a 10,000-seat amphitheater.

“Music brings us together. What brings us together also makes money,” Alex Morrison, director of planning and public spaces for Macon-Bibb County, told committee members. “We hope we can be an example to the rest of the state of how we use music to grow our economy.”

Leavell said strengthening the tax credit would help Georgia attract music producers and performers who otherwise might be lured elsewhere.

“We know the competition, what’s happening in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Tennessee,” he said. “We need to get at least even with these guys.”

Leavell and others also asked members of the committee to support the creation of a state-level music director or commissioner who could promote the music industry full time in the same way Lee Thomas, director of the Georgia Film Office, advocates for the film industry.

“If all they’re thinking about is how to grow music in Georgia, it’s going to grow a lot more,” said Julie Wilkerson, executive director of the Macon Arts Alliance.

The study committee will hold its next meeting in Athens, another epicenter of Georgia’s music heritage, from R.E.M. and the B-52’s to Widespread Panic.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation