The music man

Councilman David Oh goes into 2020 singing the praises of Philly's music scene

Councilman David Oh and PHL Live recipients
Philadelphia Councilman David Oh is working to boost the music scene in the city. | Image courtesy: Peter Crimmins/City of Philadelphia

David Oh might not play an instrument, drink sugary sodas or have any real problems with paying for parking tickets.

Yet, the man has been fighting zealously to punch up legislation to phase out the much-despised Kenney tax on sweetened beverages totaling 1.5 cents per ounce.

Ask him about it and he’ll say that “it’s simply not fair that a tax such as this only and disproportionately affects small  businesses and low-income consumers.”

The city at-large councilman, who by the time you read will be days away from accepting another term in City Hall has been adamant in his plea that the City renegotiates its longstanding contract agreement with the PPA so as to return parking functions to the city.

“How is it that Philadelphia is the only city in Pennsylvania to have its on-street parking controlled by the state?” he asks this PW writer.

Oh is channeling his inner Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren and is pushing for a bill to provide a major tax credit for residents with student loan debt to encourage recent graduates to continue to live and work in Philadelphia. It’s a proposal that would be worth up to $1,500 a year for five years after graduation. He’s introduced bills that would reject 2019’s inaccurate property assessments and taxes, and get a fresh look at a stupid process. A big First Amendment guy, Oh is not all about doing away with penalties for holding onto library books, but only because he wants to teach children about getting and maintaining good credit. 

As a veteran – “the only veteran currently on Council,” he reminds, proudly – Oh is pleased to be celebrating the seventh anniversary of the Veteran’s Employment Tax Credit he authored wherein if a business hires a veteran, that same business is entitled to a $15,000 tax credit. “Philadelphia was the first city in the U.S. to have this tax credit,” he said.

And, finally, Oh is famously the man behind the Music Industry Task Force, originally formed in 2017, that issued its first conclusive reports to City Hall at the end of last summer. Made up of 13 producers, lawyers, artists, and booking agents, Oh’s Music Industry Task Force was asked to study how Philadelphia could be more beneficial to its musicians, in an effort to drive and heighten the creative economy. 

Oh has long been bullish on making sure Philly musicians and its venues are paid in full, and its institutions recognized, locally and internationally. That’s why he created a Music Industry Taskforce and put forth information for his annual PHL Live talent contest that hit clubs in October and November. 

Many musicians make a lot of money. Many do not, and are struggling. Being ticketed just for doing your job is not a cost anyone wishes to incur.

– Philadelphia at-large Councilman David Oh

The Cobbs Creek-native and first Asian American elected to City Council (in 2012) has made Philadelphia music – its legacy artists as well as its newbies, its live venue stages, the monies surrounding the entirety of its industry, from writing to producing – a hot-button topic.

First, he started PHL Live, a multi-genre, talent contest initiative to help area musicians and singers find larger audiences and bolster economic stability. As chair of the Committee on Global Opportunities & the Creative/Innovative Economy, connecting Philly to the world is crucial. 

“I talk with people from other countries about how to get our musical artists funded overseas, and get overseas investment in Philadelphia’s music scene and output,” he said.

At the very least, Oh wants to make sure his initiatives from the Music Industry Taskforce’s findings make it through the Council and into legislation. “Our music experts came up with what they wanted,” said Oh. “My job was only to tell them what is realistic and do-able, what we can do legislatively.”

It was also good if these initiatives were affordable. Sure, Oh could submit a bill for an idea such as a $20 million all-local music festival, but it probably wouldn’t pass Council muster.

“How about we start with what we believe we can do affordably, such as like a local music industry commission like the Philadelphia Film Office, to provide continuity, outreach and direction?” said the councilman. “Or making sure that musicians get fairly compensated? Or that musicians playing shows at local clubs have freeloading and unloading zones without the fear and expense of being ticketed. Many musicians make a lot of money. Many do not, and are struggling. Being ticketed just for doing your job is not a cost anyone wishes to incur.”

For Councilman David Oh, the music and the economic opportunities it can spurn for residents of Philadelphia is the goal behind the city’s PHL Live initiative. | Image courtesy: Facebook

Oh spoke excitedly about his admiration for the Taskforce’s 13 member team featuring vocalist Carol Riddick, entertainment lawyer Bernard Resnick Esq. and producer-chairman of the Taskforce David Ivory, along with the ever-growing music scene. “Of course, I’m sad that a venue as legendary and necessary as The Trocadero has shuttered – it was necessary to the community and a hallmark of Chinatown – but Live Nation has The Met and The Fillmore, there’s the new City Winery and other venues. All of these new venues show great progress for the concert economy,” said Oh.

Oh went on to say he’s thrilled that so local professionals with thriving careers took time to join his Taskforce, and will continue to do so going forward. “They saw me struggling, but committed, and knew that I wasn’t one to give up easily – that I wasn’t just another ‘all talk’ politician – and joined for the good of the city and for the good of music.”

The conversation turned to how they, as a group, could develop Philly’s music economy to provide the opportunities for people to succeed, while having city government recognize as much. “While we all enjoy music, it is a business, an economic engine, with levels of employment and entrepreneurial opportunities.”  

Oh commends the Taskforce’s investment of time and energy is its first nine recommendations, seemingly simple but important to Oh’s ultimate goals of recognition and outreach. “They didn’t guess. They took surveys, used their expertise, had many arguments. It is not an endgame, but rather what we can do in the foreseeable future… a focal point regarding Philly’s music economy, something for people to rally around.”

From here, Oh intends, under his Creative/Innovative Chair’s banner, to seek resolutions at City Council based on these recommendations. “We’ll take them through bills and tax incentives – just like the film program – and see if we can make it happen.”

You might not agree with his party affiliation – “I know, I’m a Republican,” he said with a laugh – but, in musical terms, his aim is agnostic.

  • A.D. Amarosi's Headshot

    A.D. Amorosi is a Philadelphia-based journalist who, along with Philadelphia Weekly, writes for numerous local, national and international publications including Variety and the Philadelphia Inquirer.