According to a recent study, both are struggling.

austin music census cover

The narrative in the New Orleans music community that has the most traction is that the city government doesn’t sufficiently value musicians and culture bearers. This week, stories in Texas Weekly and the Austin Chronicle bolster my suspicion that the situation is not that simple. A study of the economic reality for Austin’s music community sounds very similar to the situation in New Orleans.

Musicians make far less than other Austinites (70 percent of those who participated in the study made less that $10,000 from music). Musicians aren’t sure that they can afford to live in Austin anymore. The musicians are committed to the city. Downtown development is making the music business more difficult. The number of gigs musicians play in a week has plateaued below where it used to be, and permit and sound ordinance-related issues are having a negative impact on live music. 

There are also scene-specific findings such as the guitar being Austin musicians’ instrument of choice, but the findings suggest that either city governments in two of America’s music capitols are simultaneously out to lunch where music is concerned, or something else is happening. 

Or, more likely, both, though not in ways that mark these administrations as worse and less responsive than the ones before them. The impacts of culture and music are ephemeral, and quantifying them still doesn’t explain why the specific circumstances are meaningful that proponents of the music community believe should exist. It has always been a challenge to get city councils and mayoral administrations to grasp the delicate alchemy that spontaneously creates musical magic when you least expect it. Add to the trend away from suburban living and back into America’s cities and housing stock is suddenly expensive and in demand. People are living closer to music venues and entertainment centers than they once did, which creates new noise and zoning-related conflicts.

So the good news, if there is any, is that we’re not alone and that our government probably doesn’t have it in for musicians and culture bearers. Or no more than usual. The bad news is that there’s no reason to think that the professional lives of musicians and culture bearers will get better any time soon.