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One-Fifth of Austin's Musicians Live Below Federal Poverty Level, Census Says

Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT News
A musician busks on South Congress in Austin.

The City of Austin today released results from its first comprehensive census of the local music industry. The data backs up what many local musicians have been saying lately: It’s tough, and seems to be getting tougher, for musicians to support themselves in the Live Music Capital of the World.

“I think it’s common knowledge that it’s really hard to make money as a musician,” says Don Pitts, who manages the city’s music and entertainment division. “But I think when you see it in this data-only context, at first, it takes the emotion out of it. But then you see the actual numbers, and it brings the emotions back in.”

The census found that many of Austin’s local musicians don’t support themselves just by playing music: More than half need to work other part- or full-time jobs. And, as the city becomes less affordable, it’s getting harder for musicians (like many other people) to pay rent here.

Austin musicians by the numbers

Below are some of the findings from the census, which surveyed more than 2,300 local musicians:

  • One-fifth of Austin musicians live below the poverty level.
  • Almost half of them reported that they make “little or no money” from live music performances.
  • About 23 percent of musicians report that their income has decreased over the past three years.
  • About 18 percent of venue owners and operators report that their income has decreased over the past three years, too.
  • Venues are hosting more private events — renting out spaces for events like corporate gatherings and wedding parties — than they used to, and that ends up pushing the local music shows to less popular nights of the week: Tuesday nights, instead of Fridays or Saturdays.
  • Audiences are increasingly reluctant to pay cover charges to see local music.

Pitts says that with the new census, which covers the entire industry, the city will work over the next year toward creating a strategic plan for preserving Austin’s music scene.

Credit City of Austin
Income data from Austin's Music Census.