Despite overall growth in industry, Austin musicians struggle to find jobs

Hannah Daniel

Austin’s music industry lost 1,200 jobs in four years despite economic growth in the music industry as a whole, according to a recent study commissioned by Austin Music People, an advocacy group for the local music industry.

Along with the job loss, the study revealed a more than 15 percent decline from 2010–2014 in the impact of “primary music,” or year-round economic activity by local artists, venues and businesses. According to the report, although Austin’s music industry is growing as a whole because of the strength of the festival economy and music tourism in the city, local musicians are not achieving the same success.

Decreased support for local musicians and the rising cost of living in Austin has driven many artists out of town, said Austin singer-songwriter Erin Ivey.

“If [creative artists] choose to stay, it means lowering an already simple standard of living or getting more jobs that take away from developing their true work — the work that ultimately enriches our lives and our city — the work that led us to be the Live Music Capital of the World,” Ivey said in an email.

AMP executive director Jennifer Houlihan said the losses in the primary music sector can be attributed to a confusing permit system, weak public policy, an affordability crisis and people’s refusal to pay for music.

Economics freshman Sophie King said the struggles facing Austin’s artists have larger implications for the culture of the city.

“If local musicians lose momentum and aren’t making enough money, the city is going to lose some of its character that comes from their music,” King said.

The Austin music sector generates nearly $2 billion per year, so its weakening poses a significant risk to the city’s economy, Houlihan said. AMP and other stakeholders have been working with City Hall, especially Mayor Steve Adler, to create policies and regulation to alleviate the problems facing the industry. In addition to the efforts of officials, the actions of Austinites can also make a difference in this sector, Houlihan said.

“Just do the right thing: Pay the cover, tip the band, come for the opening act, take some merch home, add locals to your Pandora and Spotify playlists,” Houlihan said. “Every t-shirt you buy helps a local band put a little more gas in the tank for their next tour. Every bit matters.”