Council takes action after report shows city’s local music industry has seen economic downturn

Forrest Milburn

City Council members voted last week in favor of finding ways to help reverse a troubling trend after a recently report showed the city’s local music venues and industry have suffered an economic downturn over the past four years.

On March 3, the council approved a resolution that gives city manager Marc Ott 90 days to look at different proposals for restoring Austin’s status as the “Live Music Capital of the World.” After considering all options, Ott will come back to the council with suggestions sometime in June. 

“We need to create an ecosystem, an industry that is self-supporting so people that go into the music, arts or creative industries can survive or live in this community,” said Mayor Steve Adler, who proposed the resolution Feb. 26. “If you look at San Francisco [and] you look at other big cities, they’re losing diversity. They’re losing their artists and creatives in their community, [and] I think [we’re] in a place to solve that.”

Austin Music People, a city nonprofit, released the report in late February. Using data collected from 2010 to 2014, the report showed the total music industry economic impact had grown from $1.6 to $1.8 billion, thanks in part to the city’s many music festivals held throughout the year. 

The report also showed the city’s “primary music,” its local music industry, artists and venues, had declined by more than 15 percent and sustained a loss of more than 1,200 local music industry jobs over the four-year period. 

“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,” Bobby Garza, general manager of Transmission Events and AMP board chair, said in a press release.  

Adler’s resolution includes multiple possible routes to aid the local music industry. One of the possible ways is by combining similar permit-related city fees into one process and fee. Another is for music venues to add a space to customer bills for gratuity payments that would go toward local musicians performing.

“I used to work in a music venue, and then there was no more work there, so I ended up working here on campus in a bar,” said Nick Roseman, a manager at The Local who used to work at The North Door. 

Although he said he supported the resolution’s merits, council member Don Zimmerman ultimately opposed the resolution based on concerns with how much the resolution may cost taxpayers.

“Nobody is opposed to growing and enhancing Austin’s music sector,” Zimmerman said. “What our constituents are opposed to is an unaffordable city. This is how we make the city unaffordable.”

The council’s action last week was not the final step in the process. 

For now, the Austin Music Commission will hold town hall meetings to inform the public throughout April. A proposed plan from Ott will head to the Economic Opportunity Commission for a vote May 9. 

The council would then have final say on any proposed actions in June.