Small Town, Big Industry

My thanks go to Richard Florida, for posting a link on Twitter to this article Austin Is In A Creative Class Of Its Own. As many of you know, Austin, Texas, is host to the enourmous South by Southwest Music, Film and Interactive Conference. It’s a huge affair, one that I’ve kept promising myself, every year for the past seven years, that I would attend.

Of course, it’s not the only major conference or event in a city that is well known for having a great arts and live music scene. But, I was floored to realise just how big the creative economy is in Austin. These lines from Lynne Margolis piece on GRAMMY.com tell the story,

“As thousands of musicians and industry representatives descend on the city for the 26th annual installment of SXSW, they’re contributing to a creative community that had a $4.35 billion impact on Austin’s economy in 2010, according to a study commissioned by the city. And yet, unlike New York, Los Angeles or Nashville, Austin is not home to major record labels, big management agencies or music publishing companies. Despite this, people see something perhaps even more valuable in Austin — an appreciation for music as art rather than commodity, and an environment that nurtures its creative class. tweet

“Austin musicians value their art every bit as much as they value their commercial success, if not more,” says Brent Grulke, SXSW’s creative director. “Austin has traditionally been supportive of musicians. There are places to play. There are jobs. … Most of the time, musicians have to have another job on top of their music career. And it has traditionally been an affordable place to live. tweet

“In Austin,” he adds, “musicians are [in] a high-status profession. It may be a low-paying profession, but it is a high-status position. People love musicians in Austin.”” tweet

A $4.35 billion creative economy in a town with a population well under 1 million!

How did they do it?

“According to Asleep At The Wheel’s Ray Benson, the lack of an institutionalized infrastructure in Austin has forced musicians to be more resourceful, and that DIY entrepreneurial streak is what makes them well-situated to weather the industry’s metamorphosis from unit sales to alternative revenue streams.” tweet

So, instead of relying on the big end of the business and institutional infrastructure, the “Austin model” relies on resourcefulness, DIY entrepreneurship and adapting to the current market reality.

“Benson has built two recording studios, and started his own record label (Bismeaux Records) and management company. tweet

“We’re working on a niche label, and we’re doing it with our own money, our own bootstraps. That has always been the difference between Austin and Nashville, L.A., and New York,” says Benson, a nine-time GRAMMY winner and former Recording Academy Trustee. “We’ve never made a lot of money, or even any money, sometimes, on records, the way that the [major label] system was set up. Now we actually make a little bit of money — on a whole lot smaller number of sales.”” tweet