Austin, Texas never used to be the first place that sprung to mind when you thought about live music. But the city’s music industry is now worth an estimated $1.6 billion, so how did it become such a thriving hub for live performance?
While Nashville has outshone Austin in terms of musical history, it’s Austin that holds the title of the live music capital of the world, with hundreds of live music venues – more per capita than anywhere else in the USA, in fact.
But how has Austin, a city traditionally not known for its music gained this title and what does the future of music in Austin look like?
Perhaps the reason that Austin historically has not been well-known for its music lies in the fact that, unlike Nashville, it has never been known for one particular type of music – instead welcoming a wide variety of acts to perform in the city.
Austin gained a reputation during the 1970s as a place where struggling musicians could launch a career in front of receptive audiences. A major influence during this time was Clifford Antoneand the namesake blues club he founded in 1975. Antone’s, located on Austin’s famous 6th Street, fostered the careers of a number of musicians, including Stevie Ray Vaughan. Another venue in Austin at this time was Liberty Lunch, which during its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s featured all kinds of music including reggae and ska, punk, indie, country and rock. Although these venues are now long gone, they’ve been replaced by countless others along 6th Street, which keep the spirit of music alive in Austin.
A major lifeline for Austin’s music scene came in 1987 when the first South by Southwest (SXSW) festival took place. The festival was created with the aim of foster new ideas and bringing musical and creative types together. At the first event more than 700 people turned up, but that’s grown phenomenally in the last 28 years and 2015’s festival attracted more than 84,000 people to the city. The festival is also the highest revenue-producing event for the Austin economy, with 2013’s event having an estimated economic impact of $218 million.
But is Austin just an annual invasion of musicians and music fans? Well, no – even SXSW has grown from focusing solely on music and now runs three streams looking at music, film and all thing interactive. There’s also a healthy start-up community in the city, which of course is home to a number of music businesses.
One such start-up is Everfest, an app and website that aims to create the world’s largest festival community. While the desktop experience focuses on exploration, discovery and connection before and after the festival, the mobile app fills in the experience during the festival, and according to its founders it "will be the last festival app you will ever need".
Another music start-up that calls Austin home is JamFeed, which provides artist and festival news for music fans. The start-up hosted an event during this year’s SXSW festival, with local bands playing, to encourage more users to sign up to the platform and hoped to encourage more artists to share their news via JamFeed.
Although the live music scene in Austin is much more than an annual influx of musicians and fans, SXSW still plays a crucial part in the industry. Not only does it provide a huge event that thousands of people travel to the city for, bringing a huge boost to the local economy, but the festival also gives local start-ups – as well as artists – a place to showcase their offerings.
As for the future, it’s hard to predict exactly what will happen next to Austin’s musical scene, but there’s one thing that’s certain: SXSW will play a big part.