Austin’s music industry has shed more than 1,200 jobs in just four years, according to a study released Monday.
The report, commissioned by the advocacy group Austin Music People and conducted by local economics research firm TXP Inc., found that “year-round economic activity by local artists, venues and businesses” has dipped 15 percent over the same four-year span — from $856 million in 2010 to $726 million in 2014, the most recent year for which data were available.
The music industry’s total economic impact has grown from $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion, though, due to the strength of Austin’s “festival economy” — primarily the addition of a second weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival and the debut of the Austin360 Amphitheater at Circuit of the Americas, TXP and Austin Music People said.
The findings verify a “disturbing trend” noted in the city’s 2015 music census, Austin Music People said.
“We’ve sounded this alarm before, and we keep coming back with more data that says Austin music needs attention if we are to continue to be an economic driver for this region,” said Bobby Garza, Austin Music People board chair and general manager of Transmission Events. “In any sector, this kind of rapid job loss would be troubling — particularly when struggling businesses point to a chaotic regulatory system and weak public policy as proximate causes, as we saw in the census. It’s clear that it’s time for city leadership to act.”
Austin Mayor Steve Adler has plans to address concerns being raised, his office said Monday. Some of those plans, a city staffer said, could be unveiled as soon as this week.
“We can’t call ourselves the Live Music Capital of the World for much longer if we keep losing musicians and music venues,” Adler told the American-Statesman.
Gavin Garcia, chair of the Austin Music Commission, said some of those changes should include having the city’s music office spend less time on permitting issues and more time on economic development and diversity initiatives.
More than 4,000 people responded to the city’s recent music census. Issues highlighted included a number of artists who said they could no longer afford to live in Austin.
Pay for many people in the Austin music industry has gone down in recent years, TXP President Jon Hockenyos said. That drop in pay has caused the music industry to create fewer secondary jobs.
The number of music industry jobs fell from 7,957 in 2010 to 6,752 in 2014, TXP found.
Meanwhile, the economic impact of music tourism is up 37 percent, growing from $806 million to $1.1 billion in four years. It’s “a dichotomy that logically can’t continue indefinitely,” the report says.
“Music tourism is up a bit, which certainly helps some folks,” Austin Music People Executive Director Jennifer Houlihan said. “But we’ve lost 1,200 music jobs, affecting real people with real families and real bills. We call ourselves a creative and innovative city; our city’s 30-year comprehensive plan declares our commitment to growing and enhancing our entire creative sector, from music to dance to visual arts to film. So let’s get to it. It’s long past time that our city’s policies and resources become aligned with our city’s stated values.”
In a recent American-Statesman guest editorial, singer-songwriter Tish Hinojosa, who recently returned to Austin after living overseas for years, discussed the increasing challenges the city’s musicians face.
“The changes I see reflect a city that loves what the title ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ has brought Austin, but also one that is turning a blind eye to problems facing musicians who need decent pay,” Hinojosa wrote.
For venues, recent events paint a mixed picture. A handful of closings and relocations last summer and fall raised concerns in the music community, but the arrival of new venues such as Geraldine’s at the Hotel Van Zandt, the newly reopened Antone’s and the just-announced 3TEN at ACL Live space indicate a still-growing market for live music downtown.
Counting on festivals alone to prop up the local music scene would be a mistake, Garza said. Local venues and local artists who are here year-round also need attention, he said.
“If we continue to fail in our support of the local music industry, then being the Live Music Capital means visitors can come here for the weekend, spend a few dollars, see a festival, enjoy a restaurant, maybe visit a gallery or buy some locally designed clothing — and leave,” he said. “But there will be no music left for those who still live here in Austin, no places to perform it, no artists to create it and no businesses to support them — and as they leave town, the tourists and the festivals will follow. Music is the canary in the coal mine of our growing city, alerting us to a larger crisis in our essential creative sector.”