Austin’s music scene survived the pandemic. Can he survive the growth of the city?


People lined up while waiting to enter Zilker Park for the Austin City Limits Festival on Saturday. They took selfies as soon as they entered, wherever they could find open space. Despite improved COVID protocols, it looked like ACL two years ago.

This past weekend marked the return of Austin’s first major in-person music festival since events closed in March 2020. And whether you’re excited or skeptical about its return, we’ve all found out during the pandemic at what how hard it is to live without live music – and how fragile Austin’s music ecosystem is.

A 2014 study conducted by research firm TXP found that the live music industry brings in the city $ 1.8 billion annually. Reenie Collins, CEO of the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, puts it this way: “Our whole economy is powered by live music and festivals and musicians and tourism to come and see this live music destination.

Austin is consistently cited as one of the fastest growing cities in the country, and music is one of the top attractions. But the city’s inability to adapt to this growth threatened the creative class; this has led to soaring real estate costs which, in turn, has created an affordability crisis for many people. Especially the musicians.

“What some people don’t realize is that musicians really don’t earn the kind of income they think they earn,” Collins says. “Most musicians earn the [same wages] they won 10 years ago. The bar covers remain the same. People are always expected to take what is given at the door or tip jars. “

It can even be difficult for musicians to make rent. According to data from RealPage Analytics, the average monthly rent in Austin has nearly doubled since 2010, from $ 811 to $ 1,511.

“[One established guideline is] you should pay 30% or less of your income in rent, ”says Cody Cowan, executive director of the Red River Cultural District. “If the rent for an apartment is between $ 1,500 and $ 2,500 a month, you calculate that and that means people would have to earn around $ 90,000 to be able to afford the current rent level.”

Affordability is also an issue for sites. Rents in Austin were high even before the pandemic, and most sites’ profit margins are pretty slim.

“Sites are like 98% cost models, which means if you’re great at your job, your profits are less than 5% of what you got,” says Cowan.

During the pandemic, Austin lost more than 20 sites, including Barracuda, Scratchhouse and the North Gate. Local and federal relief has arrived, but for some sites, it was too late.

Many people will be looking to see if ACL increases Austin’s COVID numbers, but for all intents and purposes, live music is back. He may have barely survived the pandemic; now the question is: can he survive the Austin affordability crisis?

KUT’s Audrey McGlinchy contributed to this report.

Click the listen button above to hear clips from Pause / Play Season 1, “The Pause”. Hosts Miles Bloxson and Elizabeth McQueen will take you back to the cancellation of SXSW. They follow with a preview of what the shows looked like when the stage started reopening last fall.

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