Health Alliance for Austin Musicians

Paige Juarez, local audiologist at Estes Audiology, helps make a custom earplug mold for local musician Roger Mason on Tuesday morning.

Photo Credit: Mariana Gonzalez | Daily Texan Staff

The Moody College of Communication helped educate local musicians about hearing loss and provided them with custom earplugs at the UT Speech and Hearing Center on Tuesday.

The program, which is a collaboration between Estes Audiology Hearing Centers, the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM) and UT’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, gives local musicians who are insured through HAAM accurate hearing tests and individual counseling about how to protect their hearing.

Soriya Estes, president and founder of Estes Audiology, said the main draw for musicians to come to the center is to have access to an affordable set of custom, filtered earplugs. Custom earplugs usually cost more than $200, but are available for a $25 co-pay through the center for musicians. Estes said, the program, which runs four times a year, has served about 1,500 local musicians since 2009.

“Many musicians with HAAM — and just musicians in general — don’t like foam plugs in their ear because it muffles sound, so they elect to not wear anything because they don’t want to compromise the sound on stage,” Estes said. “But then they’re damaging their hearing permanently, which then further compromises it later down the road.”

In individual counseling sessions, clinicians discuss the duration and intensity of each musician’s set because it helps them to customize the hearing protection, which is essential for preserving the musician’s livelihood and employment, Estes said.

Alison Barry, Spanish and communication sciences and disorders senior, said she would love if the center had resources to provide services to student musicians or to help stress the importance of hearing protection to those students.

“Musicians and people who enjoy concerts — specifically loud music, like rock, techno or metal — need to realize that they are incurring damage every time they attend a concert without proper hearing protection,” Barry said. “They need to take these precautions early in life if they want to be able to hear just as well in their old age.”

James Booth, communication sciences and disorders professor, said the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders got involved because the program fit its mission of community outreach and directly improving lives of community members.

“A startling figure is that adults with uncorrected hearing loss suffer from much higher rates of depression,” Booth said. “Not being able to hear isolates us from the world. Musicians help to make Austin a great place to live, and many are struggling financially, so we should do what we can to help.”

The band Charlie Belle plays during a Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM) event at Noodles & Company.

Photo Credit: Debby Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

The Health Alliance for Austin Musicians held its eighth annual city-wide fundraiser on Tuesday, featuring live performances from over 200 artists.

From 6 a.m. Tuesday to 2 a.m. Wednesday, 290 local businesses, such as Whole Foods, Noodles & Company and Whataburger, participated by making a cash donation or by donating 5 percent of their day’s proceeds. The funds help provide access to health care for uninsured musicians.

“With Austin being the live music capital of the world, musicians bring almost $2 billion into the city’s economy, but the musicians themselves live on very low incomes,” said Carolyn Schwarz, executive director of the alliance.

Austin’s culture banks on the eight to nine thousand musicians residing in the city, according to Schwarz. These musicians have little to no health care, she said.

“Of the 3,000 musicians we have helped, the average income is about $16,000 per year,” Schwarz said. “On that income, you are paying your rent and buying your food, but not able to pay for health insurance.”

Founded in 2005, the health alliance partners with Austin area health care agencies to provide medical, dental, mental, hearing, vision and nutrition services to members.

The community can contribute by eating and shopping at participating venues and filling tip jars for performing musicians. Last year, the organization raised $312,000.

“It’s a beautiful city-wide event, where our musicians donate their time and talent, and the community gets to have fun while listening to music,” Schwarz said. “We are relying on this fundraiser for a third of our budget this year, so it’s very important to us.”

Erin Houser, an volunteer ambassador for the organization, said she is personally connected to the cause.

“My husband has been a professional musician for years and was a member,” Houser said. “Here in Austin, because there are so many musicians, it’s hard for a working musician to actually make a living wage.”

Several musicians performed near the UT campus, including alumnus “SaulPaul,” who played outside Texas Hillel.

“To me, the most fun and ostentatious part of this day is the fact that you get to see music in traditional and non-traditional locations,” Schwarz said.

Students dining in Noodles & Company listened to live performances by Charlie Belle. Biology major Karthik Raja said he enjoyed the entertainment and planned to learn more about the program.

The health care alliance set a goal of $350,000 for this year’s fundraiser.

“It’s a uniquely Austin kind of event,” Schwarz said. “And a uniquely Austin organization.”

On Tuesday, more than 250 musical acts will be taking the stage at venues all over Austin for the seventh annual Benefit Day for the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. HAAM Benefit Day 2012 will bring local businesses and residents together in support of the professional musicians that have given this city its unique musical flavor.

Founded in 2005 by the late philanthropist Robin Shivers, HAAM is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing the working musicians of Austin with access to affordable health care. In addition to medical services, HAAM also provides access to low-cost dental, vision, mental and hearing health services. Now in its seventh year of existence, HAAM has more than 2,700 members, making up over a quarter of the city’s musicians.

“HAAM is a family,” said local musician Graham Wilkinson. “It’s a community within the music community, just caring for each other.” Wilkinson has been part of the Austin music scene since 2005 and has been a member of HAAM since 2007.

In a city made famous by its live music, many professional musicians are still struggling to make ends meet and often feel that they have to forego purchasing basic health care. “When I was looking for some kind of coverage for myself, I was having a hard time finding something that would provide for me,” said Kyle Artrip, singer for Austin punk band Creamers and a recently approved HAAM member. “I definitely don’t think it could exist anywhere else but Austin.”

“Austin’s 8,000-plus musicians bring more than $1.66 billion in economic activity annually to Austin, but the majority of them are among the ‘working poor,’ without health insurance or basic health care,” said HAAM executive director Carolyn Schwarz. 

This year’s Benefit Day boasts the participation of more than 240 local businesses that will be hosting musical performances throughout the day or donating 5 percent of Tuesday’s profits to HAAM. Music starts as early as 6 a.m. at Whole Foods Market on North Lamar Boulevard and ends in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Printed on Monday, October 1, 2012 as: Austinites support live performances

The Greg Williams Quartet plays to the lunch crowd for HAAM benefit day on Congress St. Tuesday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Jono Foley | Daily Texan Staff

Without health insurance, many Austin musicians would be without work or the ability to support their busy schedules, said Nakia Reynoso of Nakia and the Blues Grifters.

He said that without the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians there would have been many days where he would be in bed, sick and unable to perform.

Downtown Austin was made into a music venue Tuesday as part of a day-long benefit for the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. The benefit included more than 170 performances by local Austin musicians, including Nakia and the Blues Grifters, Akina Adderley & The Vintage Playboys, Greg Williams Quartet and others at participating retailers, music stores and restaurants, said executive director of HAAM Carolyn Schwarz.

“It’s a way for everyone to get involved. You just go out and do what you normally do,” Schwarz said. “When you shop at one of the venues, 5 percent of all the sales go toward the musicians.”

HAAM provides affordable health care for low-income, working Austin musicians who live on an income of less than $27,000 a year. The benefit, which is now in its sixth year, is hosted by HAAM in hopes that it will reach a goal of $250,000 from business grants, donations and sales during the benefit. Participating venues included Whole Foods, Waterloo Records, Thundercloud Subs, Romeo’s Italian Grill and Bar and others.

“The benefit is for the musicians and the city,” said Waterloo Records manager Matt McCarroll. “We want to keep our Austin musicians healthy. This has been going on as long as I’ve been here, and it’s certainly going to be happening a while longer.”

Schwarz urged people to come out in support of Austin musicians, saying that $30,000 would come from sales at participating vendors alone, highlighting the fundraising ability of Tuesday’s drive.

“Every dollar counts — whether it’s $1 or $10,” Schwarz said. “It just really means a lot to us to get this message out to help our musicians get the health care they need.” 

Printed on October 5, 2011 as: "Benefit held for musicians' health care"