Mayor Says Austin’s Music Scene Is at a Tipping Point

New Austin Music Census shows how the city’s in danger of losing its most popular brand.

Sixth Street in Austin (Photo by Larry D. Moore)

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Music is a vital part of Austin’s social fabric and economy. But according to a recent survey, the people behind the valuable city brand aren’t getting their fair share of the earnings, and the city isn’t doing enough to make sure the industry is sustainable.

The City of Austin Music Office commissioned a survey of about 4,000 Austinites with music-related careers, including everyone from artists to venue owners. According to the office, the newly released Austin Music Census is the first time a city has taken this granular a look at its music industry data.

Affordability was identified as a key problem. As Austin gains in popularity, it’s becoming a lot more expensive, pricing out the musicians who maybe contributed to its desirability in the first place. As Texas Monthly reports:

A KUT study cited by the Census notes that, on the minimum wage, someone in Austin has to work 88 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom apartment. Thirty-two percent of Austin musicians earn less than the minimum wage, which means that some of those folks are gonna have to start thinking about getting out of town.

The Census points to affordable housing for artists — following models in New York, Nashville and Minneapolis — as one solution, but goes on to note that currently, Texas state law prohibits the city from making such special provisions.

Despite the city’s efforts through the Music Venue Assistance Program to help venue owners comply with Austin’s sound ordinance, the Census cites “61 percent of respondents found it extremely or moderately difficult to communicate with the proper officials,” and “nearly two-thirds of all venue respondents are experiencing trouble with inconsistencies in sound ordinance enforcement.”

Beyond citing some dim statistics (20 percent of Austin musicians live below the federal poverty line), the 200-plus-page report also offers successful examples to follow from other cities and recommendations for how policymakers can make helpful changes. Ideas include establishing a “music zone,” similar to urban innovation zones, creating entertainment districts, and making performance permitting easier.

“The report shows that our music industry and culture are at a tipping point,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler, according to the Austin American-Statesman. “One of the things that makes Austin special and part of our soul is the creative culture and music in our city.” Adler called it a “grave concern” that Austin could be at risk for losing what he called a “foundational element” of its culture.

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Jenn Stanley is a freelance journalist, essayist and independent producer living in Chicago. She has an M.S. from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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Tags: affordable housingarts and cultureaustin

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