Live Music Capital needs more local music

David Dam

The City of Austin champions itself as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” touting popular national events such as the two weekends of Austin City Limits or next week’s annual South By Southwest festival. These festivals bring popular musicians and national figures — even President and First Lady Obama are using SXSW as a springboard for discussions on national issues. But behind these national stages, Austin’s musicians are struggling on the local level. 

According to a recent report from Austin Music People, an organization that advocates for musicians, the Austin music industry contributes $1.8 billion annually to the local economy, but the growth comes at a huge cost, over the last four years the music industry has lost 1,200 jobs and the annual economic activity of local artists, venues and businesses has declined by 15 percent. A pillar of Austin’s core identity is suffering, and the city must spearhead proposals to help these struggling local artists.

The recent report’s findings of the struggle local artists face isn’t new, but they serve as an important reminder of how Austin’s artists have long been ignored. The Austin Music Census’ comprehensive report from last year details many of the known struggles in this year’s study. 

According to last year’s report, around 75 percent of Austin musicians have earnings far below the mean annual wage of the city. Paired with increased costs in living, Austin may no longer be a realistic place for local artists to reside. The fact that music culture may not be sustainable is an unfortunate blow to the city’s reputation as a hub for the arts. Business freshman Jesse Huang believes that local artists and musicians are integral to the city’s identity. 

“The charm of Austin’s music scene comes from the abundance of smaller music venues that frequently showcase local bands,” Huang said. “Local artists allow us to experience a unique variety of music that you wouldn’t get anywhere else.”

A few days ago, Austin Mayor Steve Adler submitted a resolution urging the city manager to review a list of proposals to keep musicians in Austin, a vital step that has come way too late to save our musicians. Some initiatives under the resolution include encouraging music venues to add gratuities for musicians to the bills, protecting venues to prevent their displacement, and creating affordable housing for local artists. In a public statement, Adler said he believes local artists are just as important to the city as the larger, more popular music festivals.

“The work they are producing is as vibrant as ever, but this city has never been more unaffordable for them,” Adler said. “And what do we ultimately gain if we get another weekend of the ACL Festival but we lose another Liberty Lunch?”

It’s about time city leaders tune into this problem. The resolution and its initiatives should be reviewed and, if feasible, implemented as soon as possible. Austin has no right to tout its status as the “Live Music Capital of the World” when it ignores the people that give it claim to this reputation. Until the day we hear that the conditions of local artists are improving, there won’t be any real music to our ears.

Dam is a linguistics and Spanish freshman from Austin. Follow him on Twitter at @daviddamwrite.