The cost of music: Austin’s growing music festivals may actually hurt the music scene

Published on: April 3, 2017

Filled Under: Beyond Our Walls, News

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Local Austin band, Sweet Spirit March 15, 2017 performing during SXSW. Photo courtesy of Matt Winkelmeyer, Getty Images North America.

Every year Austin hosts an array of festivals and conferences that attract visitors from across the country and the world. From music and art to race car driving, much of Austin’s development has coincided with the growing number of events held in the city. Although festivals contribute to the Austin economy, they have been found to actually hurt the local music industry and run into conflicts with Austin residents.

SXSW, one of Austin’s most popular festivals,  lasts for ten days with a variety of events such as holding conferences for education and technology, to large festivals for film, music, and comedy. According to the official SXSW website, in 2016 the festival brought in $325.3 million and highly contributed to the construction of Hotel Van Zandt and Holiday Inn Express in Austin’s downtown area to accommodate the fourteen thousand hotel reservations made through SXSW.

The growth of Austin City Limits Music Festival and the construction of the Austin 360 Amphitheater have also contributed greatly to growing revenue for the Austin music industry. However, this revenue benefits the tourism music branch of the industry far more than the local music industry. A study done by the economic research firm, TXP Inc. showed that from 2010 to 2014, the tourist music sector increased its revenue by a $100 million, while the local music sector decreased in revenue by $33 million. Although the city of Austin profits from both sectors, more so today from the tourist music sector, local venues and artists are finding it harder to survive in the “Live Music Capital of the World”.

As jobs in the music tourism sector rose by 37% from 2010 to 2014, jobs in the local industry declined by 15%. A 2015 report released by the City of Austin surveyed local venue owners and managers and found that around 35% are earning less than the average Austin yearly income, and 19% are eligible government assisted housing. Out of nineteen thousand local musicians

surveyed, 69% were earning less than $10,000 annually. The city has recognized the struggle the local music industry is facing and made some efforts to increase profits for local venues and musicians through better interconnectivity and communication. The local music scene is what attracted music festivals in the first place, without it the entire music industry can’t survive.

Economically, festivals hold both opportunity and risk, but festivals have also brought new social issues to Austin. Although hard to collect hard statistics on, human trafficking has increased alongside the growth of big events held in Austin, as thousands of people flood the city, crime can be harder to detect.

There was also the tragic drunk driving accident of 2014 during SXSW that killed four people. During SXSW, there is a great deal of free alcohol combined with massive, poorly controlled crowds that can lead to dangerous situations such as said accident. The City of Austin has since made efforts to enforce public alcohol consumption laws, and ensure businesses have the proper liquor licences to provide a safer experience for festival attendees and locals.  

Before the festivals, Austin made its name as music town, with a strong local community. Although the festivals have brought in revenue, the changes they inflict on the city could harm the economy, safety, and sense of creative closeness that Austin has fostered for sixty years.

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