Published February 8, 2023 at 5:01 AM CST
The cost of living is pushing people in Austin’s music scene out of the city, a new census shows.
The Greater Austin Music Census found 84% of respondents who identified as performers, songwriters or producers plan on continuing in music over the next three years. But when asked if they plan on staying in Austin, that percentage dropped to 64%.
“Clearly there’s a pretty large percentage of music people who are really questioning right now – how do I make this work economically?” said Peter Schwarz, a consultant who helped create the census.
The first-ever comprehensive survey of the Austin music scene was released in 2015. For years, folks had talked about the issues they were facing and that census confirmed everything they thought was true: Musician wages were way below average – and stagnant. The music ecosystem was scattered and siloed. Venues were facing pressure from rising property taxes and cumbersome city regulations.
That data was from 2014. But a lot has happened between then and now.
The city has grown. In 2014, the population of the Austin metro area was around 1.6 million people. In 2022, it was around 2.2 million.
The city has also gotten more expensive. In 2014, the median home price in the Austin area was around $240,000. Now it’s around $450,000. In the actual City of Austin it was around $525,000 in December.
“There’s such a vibrant music scene here in Austin. This is a deal killer — if people can’t even, like, afford to live month-to-month somewhere.”-Peter Schwarz, a consultant who helped create the 2022 census
We’ve also been through a global pandemic – or rather, we have been going through a global pandemic for three years.
So last year, a group called Sound Music Cities conducted an updated census of the music ecosystem.
Around 2,200 people responded to the survey, about 1,700 fewer than in 2015. Schwarz said that drop could be because of census fatigue: People are often excited about the first music census in an area, but less enthusiastic about a second. Sound Music Cities also had no marketing budget for the census, depending instead on over 50 community partner organizations to get the word out.
There were, however, some Black-led organizations and community members who didn’t feel included in the process and chose not to participate. That could also have been factor in the lower response rate.
The census consisted of around 80 questions directed at three groups. The first group was music creatives, including performers, songwriters and producers. The second was people in the music industry, and the third was venue owners/live music presenters.
The biggest issue facing most respondents was, unsurprisingly, the price of housing.
“I mean, the most desperate, stressed-out kind of comments were always about housing and how quickly it has gone up,” Schwarz said. ”You know, comments like, ‘I can’t even afford to move. My rent has gone up this much, but I don’t even know how I’m going to afford to move.’ There’s such a vibrant music scene here in Austin. This is a deal killer — if people can’t even, like, afford to live month-to-month somewhere.”
The data show a 10% drop in the number of musicians living in Austin’s 10 most central ZIP codes over the past eight years. Meanwhile, the number of respondents in places like San Marcos and Bastrop has gone up.
Sound Music Cities didn’t ask respondents how much money they made because the pandemic has disrupted the industry.
However, the census did ask how people in the music scene are making money. And it found that, relative to the 2015 census, people had diversified.
“It’s clearly here in the numbers,” Schwarz said. “They’re making money from a greater range of categories, and they’re doing it more consistently than they did in 2014.”
As for what kind of support people in the music scene want, 84% of respondents expressed a desire for grants. But the census also revealed how few music creatives had ever received help from the government: Only 26% percent got COVID relief through their music job.
And when asked, was this the first time you’d ever received any government support? “80% said yes,” Schwartz said.
You can find more results from the Greater Austin Music Census here.