Alan C. Turley

"Music and the City : Musician as Laborer and Artist in the Urban Environment of Austin, Texas."

The International Journal of Urban Labour and Leisure, 3(1) <http://www.ijull.co.uk/vol3/1/000021.htm>



ISSN: 1465-1270

 

Introduction.

In the contemporary discourse of the sociology of culture and culture production there is very little agreement on the unit of analysis for such study. This article uses the urban environment as the unit of analysis for analyzing music production within the diverse music scene of Austin, Texas. Like many cities, music was first produced within Austin's ethnic communities, which are still viable music producers today, but as Austin's university population bridged the gap between its ethnic communities in the 1960's, a "music scene" began to grow. A music scene is not just the music or culture produced in an ethnic neighborhood of by a bar that features a specific music style; a music scene is a more integrated and comprehensive phenomenon that spans ethnic boundaries, encourages diverse styles, and develops culture businesses to support itself. After a critical mass of a city's population and a critical mass of musicians has been reached in the city, a music scene is present when a variety of musical styles are produced on a regular basis by musicians that cross ethnic community lines. In addition, a music scene fosters ancillary business, ancillary labor, and related cultural production like poster artists, music magazines and newspapers, music bars/clubs, music festivals, record labels/businesses, compact disc manufacturing plants and recording studios.

Music is influenced by the urban environment in which it is produced. This is the fundamental thesis of this article, in which cities reward or deny reward to certain cultural products based in large part on the city's history, demography, and cultural character. Music also affects the city, and can become an important part of the city's image and character, if a significant amount of music is being produced in the city. Austin "The Live Music Capital of the World" (now used as the city's official slogan) is certainly an example of music influencing the city's image, character, and tourist trade. While initially dismissive of musical production as a significant source of revenue, the city of Austin was forced to acknowledge its important music community when trying to attract business and convention dollars away from other cities in the region. The city's only unique allure was its music community, for instance, it doesn't have San Antonio's Sea World Theme Park or Dallas's major international airport, so it became the live music capital by political decree to cash in on Austin's urban music laborers.

A combination of cultural, music, and neo-classical urban sociology forms the theoretical basis of this study. Qualitative methods (participant observation and interviews) and quantitative methods (descriptive statistics from the US Census) are combined to present the most complete illustration of the urban environment and music scene. Fortunately, three varied histories of Austin, Orum's (1987) economic and political history, Reid's (1974) country music history from 1960-1975, and Shank's (1991) rock/punk music history, as well as, local journalistic efforts preceded my work on this topic. While some of the specific contexts of their work do not address the urban labor of musicians and the urban culture of music making, their previous efforts allowed this study to concentrate on the urban production of Austin's music scene.

Theory and Previous Research.

Influenced by Becker's (1963; 1971) work on deviant communities and city character, Gilmore's (1990) analysis of New York's classical music communities provides evidence that separate music communities of musician's and patrons exist in the classical music world of New York City. Using his terminology they constitute separate "Social Worlds," and these social worlds are affected by the larger urban communities of politics and economics in which they exist. Specifically, that the Downtown area of SoHo1 was more creatively free in its production of classical music, but less financially rewarding than the more traditional Mid-town classical music community of the Met and ballet or the university influenced classical music community of Uptown and Columbia University(Gilmore 1990). The social worlds of these classical musicians and patrons existed and operated independently within the sphere of the urban communities of New York City. Absent from the analysis, but clear from the evidence, is the influence of the urban environment and its resources on the social worlds of the musicians and patrons. The labor of the musicians in these three different classical music social worlds is guided by the urban environment's economic dictates (rent, food, transportation costs are all more expensive in Manhattan than in any other place in the U.S.) and the tastes of the urban population. The more financially rewarding Met audience has the resources to demand a more traditional approach to classical music, while the less demanding SoHo audience is also less lucrative.

Frith's Art Into Pop (1989) was also influenced by the interactionist perspective, but is more pointedly influenced by the Birmingham School of cultural research. Frith discovers the link between the art school education system in England, as an alternative to university or vocational training, and the innovative rock bands of the 1960-1980's from England. Art schools provided a community for artists and musicians to come and experiment with identity, art, music, fashion, and performance in a safe and accepting associational environment (Frith 1989). Musicians will form a community and influence each other at a point of critical mass, which can vary according to the group, community, or city. As an example, a smaller point of critical mass of musicians is needed for a tight knit community of individuals with a regular meeting schedule, i.e. 50-100 musicians at an art school, rather than a diffuse urban community of 1,000 or more musicians with different interest and no set opportunity to meet. Also influenced by the Birmingham School is the work of Finnegan (1989) whose detailed ethnography and analysis of music making in the city of Milton Keynes, England uncovered the "hidden musicians" of everyday life. Marching bands, choirs, and bands of various musical styles were making the majority of music in this town, and in fact all cities, making the distinction between "professional" and "amateur" musician a mute point. From a musician as laborer perspective, Finnegan's discovery points to a persistent problem in the field of culture production; the public is reluctant to pay for live music culture in bars or clubs, when they can get it for free in other venues. As in Austin, most of the musicians making originally-written rock music2 or cover music were young, male, and working to middle class, though Finnegan's (1989) musicians had a higher incidence of working class musicians than in my study. Almost any mid-sized city in the Western World has some venues where live music can be heard; musicians that either play hits by radio stars that they have learned from recordings or they perform original music that they have written. The urban environment defined the parameters of music making in Milton Keynes: the choice of musicians, available venues, rehearsal space, access to media, audiences, popular music tastes, music consumption, and production.

Urban ecology theories that informed this analysis were E.W. Burgess' (1925) concentric zone theory, which illustrates that certain occupations and activities, like musicians and music making, occupy certain areas of the city. Burgess wasn't saying that government minions or zoning commissions forced urban residents who are musicians or factory workers to live in specific areas. The ecological effect is more subtle that that. A city grants permits for factories only in specific areas or zones of the city, because of the noise/air pollution and the drain on the city's water, power, transportation and other infrastructure. This concentration of industry makes the surrounding zone less attractive for housing, because of the pollution and various infrastructure drains of the factories; but this zone does become attractive for the low-income housing needed by the workers. Not a forced urban design, but one of subtle growth in expanding concentric rings. How does music fit into this model? Bars, night clubs, and saloons are most often the venues for popular music, and these establishments are unwanted by most urban planners and municipal officials, These establishments are not welcome in residential areas, but city planners allowed these types of entertainment businesses in the decaying downtown rind of older factories and businesses. Called the "Zone of Transition," these areas in a city are less restrictive about business types and this is the zone in Austin (as well as most other cities) where nightclubs that featured popular music grew.

Firey's (1945) work on the sentiments and symbolism in the urban environment illustrated that these sentiments and symbols often defy the predicted economic land use patterns in a city. His examination of Boston demonstrated that certain areas like historic landmarks or neighborhoods have been imbued with a certain character, neighborhood sentiment, or symbolic meaning. The public resisted and defied businesses and municipal leaders that challenged or attempted to remove these symbolic landmarks. Firey found that land can have a "social meaning" to its urban residents . The significance of this for music is that as an area becomes a music or entertainment district, then the public will patronize that area and defend it because of its social meaning.

Hawley's (1971) urban theories concerning density effecting creativity and innovation in an urban environment, are important to show that as density increases creativity and innovation increases. For musicians, that would mean that as more people from a diverse background came into contact with each other in a city, this would increase their musical creativity. Other urban factors limit a strict application of Hawley's theory, because many mid-sized cities like Austin, Texas have produced more popular music than some larger and more dense cities. For instance, in the case of music, the size of the potential target audience, generally 18-30 year olds, size of the musician community, how integrated the different musical communities are, and the number of music industry facilities are all contributing factors that can be independent of the city's size. However, as an urban generalization, more people in a urban environment produces more innovation and creativity; sometimes this innovation is law creaking activity, and other times this is cultural production like music or inventions and patents.3

Austin's music scene exhibits characteristics of each of these urban theories. Music and entertainment are made in specific areas of Austin, and these areas have symbolic value, sentimental attachment, and have influenced the character of the city of Austin. An example of this would be Austin's Sixth Street entertainment district, where in the past 35 years live music venues and bars have sprang up to deliver music and entertainment in a central location. Sixth Street has developed a certain atmosphere and character of music and entertainment associated with this area of the city, and where other businesses and residents are displaced by the Sixth Street music businesses. Hawley (1971) predicted that as density increased in the urban environment, so would innovation and creativity pushed by increasing competition; the evidence for his theory was the increasing number of patents awarded to dense urban areas. Hawley used the patent certification as a measurement for creativity, rather than production oriented development; in other words, it wasn't the number of widgets made that is important to understanding his theory, but rather a new way to make widgets was his example of density-spurring creativity. This theory also is related to the concept of a critical mass, where creativity would increase when a level of population size/density was reached. As Austin's population increased, so did the number of musicians, but the appropriate audience to listen to the music that they made had to be cultivated for Austin's music to cross ethnic boundaries. This audience had to reach a critical mass of population at the University of Texas to break long established patterns of racial separation in culture consumption (Turley 2000).

Blau's (1989) study of the United States' top 125 cities is a bridge of urban and cultural sociology. Her study found that music and many other types of culture were being produced in a way that was very much influenced by the urban environment. Specifically, touring music productions from Willie Nelson to Ozzy Ozborne depended on the local services and auditorium concert venues to hold their shows; many cities did not possess adequate facilities and were denied the musical production of these touring groups. This is a function of the urban environment and has a great deal to do with the specific tastes and cultural opinions of the city's elite population. For example, the decision to construct an arena for rock and roll shows or a symphony hall for operas and orchestras is dependent on urban elites that sit on the decision making boards and pressure the city government to build venues for their tastes. Classical music is wholly dependant upon the civic facilities and municipal budgets of their city to hold concerts, fund symphonies, operas, and ballets; most often these venues are organized and devoted to the musical tastes of the upper class. A sore fact among jazz, country, rap, blues, and rock musicians that cannot depend on the city to supply venues or budgets for their style of music. So, the infrastructure for popular music had to depend on existing venues and the system of capitalist exchange rather than municipal budgets manipulated by elite opera fans.

City and Music Histories of Austin, TX.

Austin, TX is a city that was constructed from virtual obscurity to become the capital of the Republic of Texas in the 1840's, and later the capital of the State of Texas. With few industries, Austin's economy and population became first legislatively driven, then university driven. With the addition of the University of Texas to Austin's landscape in 1883, the city boosted its prestige and employment. The city also integrated the university into the "urban entrepreneur" led structure of Austin politics and economic development (Orum 1987); this urban entrepreneur structure allowed business and university leaders to partner together to influence the political and economic future of the city. Their goal was to keep Austin small, white, educated and populated with the state's elites.

The New Deal in the 1930-1940's and the leadership of Austin's congressional representative Lyndon Baines Johnson brought dams, power, water, and jobs to Central Texas making this region more desirable and inhabitable (along with the invention of air conditioning in 1960). As a new generation of urban entrepreneurs experienced the New Deal's programs and growth in Austin, the head of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, urged Austin to pursue Hi-Tech industries, rather than heavy industries for its future development. This successful urban labor/business strategy led to Austin's innumerable Hi-Tech industries and partnerships between city government, business interests, and the University of Texas. Examples of these partnerships are the Microchip Consortium (MCC), a multiple business and university led research effort, SemaTech, another cooperative business research effort (both of these complete with generous tax abatements from the city), the Jake Pickle Research Campus of the University of Texas, which does research for government defense contracts and whose findings are shared with business, and many other Hi-Tech companies that receive tax abatements and preferential treatment by the city. These Hi-Tech businesses lead to a labor culture of white-collar computer/government/university professionals that are predominantly young, white, educated, affluent, and demanding of leisure activities. The elite urban entrepreneurs were at first slow to respond to this demand for urban leisure activities, but between the university's innovative community of club and bar entrepreneurs and a young middle class' demands, the institutions of urban leisure were allowed to flourish.

The ethnic communities of Austin in 1960 had been kept separated from each other by the racial laws and prejudices that have plagued many Southern cities in the United States. Not only through the Jim Crow laws and social barriers of the typical city of the South, Austin's black community was forcibly relocated to the Eastside of the city in the 1920's by a city plan of state sanctioned tax increases on black owned land in areas that had been recently zoned to be white areas (Turley 2000). So, although a reasonably open Southern city, Austin still possessed many of the prejudicial attitudes of the South.

Culturally, the white, black, and Hispanic communities produced and consumed music/culture separately due to this segregationist attitude by the city's elites, i.e. whites listened to country music at honky tonks and classical music at recital halls, blacks listened to R&B music in nightclubs and traditional blues in juke joints, and Hispanics listened to Tejano music at dancehalls and neighborhood parties. Whites segregated themselves in the Central and Western part of the city in the affluent neighborhoods (later to spread North along a suburban highway). Hispanics (along with some poorer whites) were kept in the Southern part of the city by the informal means of segregation, i.e. homeowners associations, restrictive covenants, steering, and redlining.4 Blacks were relegated to the Eastside of the city and kept there by the harsh mechanisms of legal segregation. The labor of Austin's musicians was also segregated by the social codes of the time, which didn't permit mixing of the races in work or leisure activity, and by the city's segregationist municipal zoning codes that identified an area just for white music/culture/leisure venues and prescribed other areas for the other races.

The community that bridged the ethnic communities, and their requisite communities of musicians, was the student community at the University of Texas. Mainly white, middle class, young people make up the student body, which doesn't readily evoke images of breaking color-barriers, but some of these students were experimenting with counter-cultures in the late 1950's and 1960's. These students, musicians, and music lovers would form the cultural bridge across the ethnic community of musicians. Music has always been a part of student life, but when some members of the University of Texas Folksinging Club started to organize and perform at Kenneth Threadgill's famous "Threadgill's Restaurant and Bar," previous barriers of social interaction were broken down. The distinction between audience and performers has always been somewhat convoluted at the informal Wednesday night bluegrass and country jam sessions at Threadgill's, but the addition of students to the regulars that attended and performed on Wednesday nights was a new element to the musical dynamic (Shank 1991). The students were learning these musical forms from people that had been listening and performing bluegrass and country songs for decades. Students were also teachers, as some of the members of the Folksinging Club had musical training and musical literacy.

Limits existed for the interchange at Threadgill's, however, and a black member of the Folksinging Club, Ed Guinn, was never encouraged to go to the rural and rustic Threadgill's Wednesday night performances (Shank 1991). The reason was a very real fear that the "rural and rustic" patrons would not share the students' integrationist beliefs, and would react violently to the black student's presence. A color-barrier of segregated public facilities would not be officially changed for several years in Texas. The color-barrier was, however, the next social and musical barrier to be broken by this small group of student musicians that would later form many of the progenitors of the rock and progressive country music that followed, like Janis Joplin, Steven Alexander, and Steve Fromholtz all U.T. Folksinging Club veterans (Shank 1991).

For rock music the crossing of ethnic social boundaries was a necessity, because there were no venues to perform rock music in Austin at this time in the early 1960's. No clubs had been built or were willing to host this new loud college music. Hispanic clubs were first approached by the rock and folk musicians at the university, and to attract college dollars to their clubs, the clubowners allowed this type of music in their clubs on specific nights. The Green Spot on Pecan Street, later to be renamed Sixth Street (the famous entertainment district in Austin), was the first to try this arrangement and other clubs followed their lead (Cherninkowski 1993). Next, black clubs on the Eastside of the city were approached, and again a specific night was established for this new music, so as not to offend their regulars. So, the color-barrier was crossed by whites going to minority group venues and performing white oriented rock music for student crowds on specific nights. Yet, the guts and determination of these musician/laborers cannot be underestimated; in their drive to make music they were challenging the racial hegemony of the white power structure. Innovations of booking policies, mixed-music styles in the clubs, and musician-started clubs, like the Vulcan Gas Company, the Chequered Flag, the Split Rail and Armadillo World Headquarters, were a product of the university's musician and fan community interacting within the urban and racial parameters of the urban environment (Shank 1991). A racially segregated group of venues, musicians, and a racially segregated entertainment district in the downtown ring of the city was the infrastructure that the group of university musicians had to manipulate and defeat to achieve their goal of musical innovation.

The first "Austin Sound" that benefited from all of this color-barrier crossing by the university's musicians was a new kind of country music in the late 1960's to 1970's called progressive country, or "Cosmic Cowboy" music; it was country music blended with elements of rock, folk, and blues into a new country format. Why wasn't rock music the first to benefit from all of the color-barrier crossing? The rock music community had suffered some set backs, after the loss of key musicians to the more established and dominant rock music scene of San Francisco, during this time period (Shank 1991). Country music in Austin was more established into the fabric of venues and local society, and when some defections from the music industry cities of Los Angeles and Nashville occurred, Austin's country music scene blossomed.

The flagship club of the progressive country period was the Armadillo World Headquarters, a converted Texas National Guard Armory. This club perpetuated the booking policies that had become a part of the Austin music environment from the early color-barrier breaking period of the Folksinging Club (Reid 1974). Country acts would share the stage with rock, blues, jazz, and even East Indian touring acts. This innovative booking strategy came form the musician/laborers themselves, rather than a bar policy or audience demand. In a way, the urban laborer was helping to shape the audience's taste for multiple music styles. Musicians themselves started the Armadillo World Headquarter with the help of some people that were participating in many of the growing ancillary businesses that the Austin music scene had generated, like promoter/manager Eddie Wilson (who would eventually take over the running of Threadgill's, when Kenneth Threadgill passed away, and would restart the Armadillo World Headquarters as a Threadgill's restaurant in 1996) and poster-artist Jim Franklin were the most influential ancillary businessmen involved with the Armadillo (Reid 1974; Turley 2000).

The Armadillo World Headquarters, the growing interest in progressive country by local fans, the cohesion of the country artists, and the arrival of Willie Nelson, who was escaping the commercialism of the Nashville music industry, together combined to make the Austin Sound of progressive country music. Long the music of the disaffected rural American, the new musical elements in progressive country hit a chord with listeners of all classes. Only the character of the city of Austin could have allowed all of these different influences to combine in the urban environment without disturbing them; certainly the more racially narrow Texas cities of Houston or Dallas would not have been so receptive to a group of racially diverse musicians trying to change a white dominated culture like country music. The toleration of long hair and deviant attitudes drew musicians and young people to Austin, the low cost of living enabled both students and musicians to stay in Austin to pursue their various interests, and the relatively cheap price of land allowed the purchase of the Armory building for the Armadillo World Headquarters. Returning to urban theory, the Armory was located in a zone of dispossessed properties, as Burgess predicted. The only way the city fathers would approve a large country and rock venue was in a dilapidated section of the city.

The Armadillo, along with other venues like the Split Rail and Soap Creek Saloon, were all started by musician entrepreneurs, rather than bar or restaurant entrepreneurs. Labor, in this case musicians, taking over the exact means of production by starting cultural venues is exactly why music is still so big today in Austin. The music and the musician are still part of the equation, rather than becoming just expendable ornamentation to a bar owner or resources to be used up for a record label. The growth of the musician population in Austin, drawn by the city's venues and crowds, has stimulated innovation, creativity and networking among musicians. Despite the large number of musicians looking for gigs and the limited number of venues, the absence of a major music industry has prevented an urban climate of cutthroat competition that afflicts many other urban music communities. Musicians, in a spirit of musical cooperation, often help each other get gigs, rather than engaging in zero-sum capitalistic tactics. Labor controlling the venues and establishing norms that were inclusive of musicians has fostered a spirit of cooperation, rather than of competition.

In fact, one of the most surprising things about Austin's music scene is the level of cooperation between musicians in finding gigs and record opportunities (almost unheard of in music industry cities); this would be counter to the expectations of an urban environment with limited resources and opportunities breeding a zero-sum mentality among musicians. The reason may be the lack of major music industry presence, which takes much of the capitalistic pressure off of musicians. This allows them to exist in an urban environment that, while client-oriented (that is ultimately bar owner and venue owner oriented), is still marked by a high degree of social cooperation. Musician cohesion and cooperation, coupled with the artistic and personal freedom afforded by the tolerant character of the city, made Austin the destination for disaffected musicians that had become unhappy with the music industry in the 1970's. The character of the city has fostered cooperation among musicians, though this toleration is balanced against the concerns of venue operators who control the rewards pf live music making.

Not only Willie Nelson, but B.W. Stevenson and Michael Murphey were part of the group of influential musicians fleeing Los Angeles and Nashville (Reid 1974). The arrival of Michael Murphey, who coined the term Cosmic Cowboy, and Willie Nelson, whose golf course and studio in Pedernales, Texas was purchased after his Nashville home burnt down, legitimized the Austin music scene and progressive country in the eyes of country music establishment (Reid 1974). An entire group of musicians drawn to Austin from Lubbock. As urban theory's key function would predict, were the Flatlanders band (fronted by Joe Ely and Butch Hancock). Nicknamed the Lubbock Mafia, for the number of venues and times a week they played in Austin, these musicians were drawn to Austin from Lubbock, because of the dominant role Austin played in the region's method of music production. Just as Janis Joplin was drawn to San Francisco's dominant music scene in the 1960's. Austin was dominant for new country and western music in the Southwest. Other musical styles were also drawn to Austin, in particular, Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan's blues guitar playing caused a stir in the blues and blues/rock music community of Austin. Centered around the black blues clubs of the Eastside of Austin, white guitar players like the Vaughan brothers learned at the feet and from the recordings of great blues masters like T-bone Walker, T-D Bell, and Muddy Waters.

More venues, more musicians, more recording studios, and an emphasis on, live music performance, rather than music designed for recording sales or dance clubs, became a part of the Austin music scene and character. While the "Austin Sound" of the 1970's was progressive country, the city's emphasis on live music and diversity allowed the dissident voices, of other musical persuasions, a stage as well. Rock, blues, Tejano, jazz had a stage to play on in the 1970's, albeit on the fringe of Austin's affection for progressive country music, and even shared the stage with progressive country acts. Most venues in Texas still had one type of music for one target audience, so the maintenance of the sixties tradition of multiple music styles at one club, night after night was a distinctive social trait of the Austin music scene. The ability for these styles to access a venue cannot be underestimated in the importance for the diversity and range of the Austin music scene. It was responsible for the creative combinations of musical styles represented in Austin music (an essential element to the establishment of a music scene) because different musicians from different musical styles were constantly sharing the same stage. This exposure to a diversity of styles stimulates creativity and musical growth, but does not aid in the uni-dimensional marketing scheme of most major record labels, who want music to be easily identified and packaged for radio stations and listeners. Creativity is a value for the culture producer, but as a laborer in the urban environment, creativity only matters if it "sells." For local urban musicians it sold tickets to local shows for audiences that valued new creative music, but equaled few national record label deals. Thus, urban culture producers (musicians) could sustain their local music scene, but not make big hits for the music industry. That may have been a blessing in disguise, as the urban music scene in Austin has avoided being swallowed by the major music industry and turned into a temporary "hit making" town (like Seattle).

Principal among the new businesses that came form the 1970's music scene was the start of the Austin Chronicle alternative lifestyle weekly magazine. The staff of the magazine came from the audiences and bands of the 1970's punk music period, giving the Austin Chronicle a cutting edge perspective on the "do-it-yourself" music-making ethic of Austin (Shank 1991). The popularity of punk music was over by late 1982-83, but by that time Austin music had been exposed to English punk, New York punk, ska, reggae, and other international music. These different musical styles came to Austin due to its reputation and image of being a city that appreciated music. The Clash, the most famous punk band from this period, even filmed their most successful video "Rock the Casbah" in Austin, because of Austin's peculiar blend of urban settings, devoted fans, and oil field paraphernalia needed for the video concept.

Texas blues musicians were crafting a sound of blues music in the 1970's that would replace progressive country as the "Austin Sound." Both musical styles had musicians that came from other cities to Austin for the music scene, drawn to it because of the key or dominant function Austin performed in Texas' region for live, popular music performance. To illustrate this function, Dallas is a much larger urban area with a thriving advertising jingle market and San Antonio is a large urban area just 75 miles South of Austin with an extensive Tejano scene, but both of these cities have lost musicians and bands in the rock and popular music genres to Austin, where live music performance is valued and accessible. Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan were both drawn to Austin from Dallas in the early 1970's, and the Hippie funk band the Gingbredmen were drawn from San Antonio in the early 1990's. Key members of Zeitgeist and Timbuk 3, two of the most successful Austin bands from the 1980's rock bands labeled "New Sincerity" bands, were drawn to the Austin from as far away as California, because of the music scene. The New Sincerity period ended quickly with only Timbuk 3 managing any sustained success beyond the mid-1980's, but the Texas blues sound has continued success and interest. Jimmie Vaughan's band The Fabulous Thunderbirds gained some radio and video success from their hit "Tuff Enuff," which has been on many movie soundtracks since its release.

But it was the burning guitar sound of brother Stevie Ray Vaughan that put the Austin blues sound on the map, and drew attention to the city's music scene in the mid-1970's. After selling records and making a name for himself playing guitar on David Bowie's most successful album Let's Dance, Stevie Ray Vaughan released a total of five albums before his death on August 27, 1989 (Patowski and Crawford 1993). The shock of his death was felt throughout the city and the music scene, culminating in a spontaneous gathering of grieving fans in a downtown Austin park on the night of his death. Austin music, and Stevie Ray Vaughan as the persona of that music, had become part of the lives of these fans to the point of feeling grief for the loss of this musician. Since that time other musicians have died, but none has had the effect on Austin's residents as the death of Stevie Ray Vaughan. This is clear evidence that the music scene has had an impact on the city and its residents; one of the few statues in Austin stands to remember Stevie Ray Vaughan and his music.

In the 1990's, alternative "grunge" bands and Hippie-funk bands have battled most recently in Austin's Sixth Street entertainment district for musical dominance. It is clear, though, that Austin music in 2001 is becoming more diverse and less concentrated in the traditional music district. This is a natural occurrence when one area reaches the limits of spatial growth for the production of any urban commodity, there will be natural migration to a less concentrated area for production resources. In this case, a move to the Fourth Street area by fans and businesses, where a number of clubs have grown to compete with Sixth Street's lack of parking and smaller sized clubs. Jazz has become the sound of the Fourth Street area, billed as the Sixth Street for grown-ups. The urban leisure needs of the yuppie Hi-Tech worker finally diverged from the university's community of students, and pressured the cultural institutions and laborers to meet their new demands (jazz bars and cigar lounges).
Live music has become more popular and diverse, yet it still must compete with national touring road shows and large sports bars and brew pubs. The effect the national music industry has on the Austin music scene is evident in the nationally influenced radio formats that Austin bands must fit into to reach the next level of success in the industry ,beyond regional fame. The Hippie-funk band Soul Hat changed its entire sound to a more alternative or grunge sound when its major label record debut was released; the apparent desire was to make their sound more palatable to alternative rock radio stations. A change like this occurring to one of Austin's most popular bands does not go unnoticed, particularly when the impetus for the change is considered to be the record company, not the band. While somewhat removed from the "hit factory" mentality of Los Angeles, Nashville, or New York' music scenes, once the urban laborer reaches for that next level of success they will be finally in the grip of the national music industry.

Austin's music scene, however, does affect the national music industry; it is not just a uni-directional diagram with the music industry dictating to Austin music. The growth of the South By Southwest (SXSW) Music, Media, and Film Conference is evidence of Austin drawing the music industry to the city. The third largest such conference in the country, hundreds of unsigned bands make the pilgrimage to Austin each March in hopes of securing a record deal. The local music scene also effects the economic and political environment; the city of Austin's current slogan is "The Live Music Capital of the World." Seen as Austin's biggest potential tourist draw, the growth of music businesses was seen by the city council as one of the areas deserving attention for development. Today, the city has an Arts Commission, a Committee for Art in Public Places, and the Office of the Austin Music Liaison, the only such office in the country to facilitate music business development in the city.

Data.

The data available for musicians/composers in the United States' largest 125 cities was obtained from the Public Use Micro Sample of the 1990 U.S. Census (Housing and Population, Bureau of the Census 1990). From the 1% sample of Housing, Austin stands out with 1800 musicians/composers in the urban area and a total population of 846,227 persons. This is a large number of musicians, and the second largest percentage of musicians to population (.213%) in the country. Only Nashville, a decidedly music industry town, had a larger ratio of musicians, and Austin's ratio was actually larger then Los Angeles or New York. Of course, Los Angeles and New York have a larger absolute number of musicians, but we can learn more about a music scene by using ratios. Clearly, the major music industry is the reason for the large number of musicians in Los Angeles, Nashville, and New York, but without a major music presence in Austin, why does it have so many musicians? A logical solution is that its urban music scene (described in the preceding paragraphs) is so important that it draws musicians to the city, despite not having a major industry presence.

To delve deeper into the issue of Austin's urban music scene another list of musicians was constructed from the Austin Chronicle's annual listing of bands and musicians. The goal was to obtain a more accurate picture of Austin's original music producers, who were not represented by the census' survey (those musicians were older and had more education than the young musicians I observed playing in Austin's rock, pop, jazz, and country bars). As a voluntary registry of musicians, rather than a survey question of employment/occupation/income like the census, the Austin Chronicle's list has the benefit of reaching a wider group of musicians that perhaps have a day job to pay rent, but play music as their true vocation. The Austin Chronicle's list also represents the musician from a more diverse musical background, i.e. reggae musicians or grunge musicians that probably read the census occupation question as "what do you do for money." In this registry, there were 1409 musicians from the different bands and solo acts in Austin, who were predominantly young, males performing popular music; this number is almost equivalent to the entire number posted for Austin in the census (Turley 2000). The Austin Chronicle is an important part of the Austin music scene; it has the most complete listing of clubs, what band is playing where, and many bands advertise for players in the musicians referral section. The reason for including this registry is that younger musicians that play the majority of music in Austin's music scene are being overlooked in the census. As with Finnegan's (1989) work, musicians are being "hidden" from the social analysis by the normal methods of inquiry, under the desire for information on occupational structure leading to income and the false dichotomy between professional and amateur musicians. Some 1409 musicians can be added to the 1800 older professional musicians/composers from the census to form a composite estimate of Austin's musicians.

In Chart 1, the 10 largest cities in the U.S. are listed with the number of musicians/composers responding to the survey, as well as six other cities for comparison. New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville have larger musician/composer communities, due to the music industries located there. Austin stands out in its section of cities with 1800 musicians adjusted from the 1% sample, a large number for a city its size. Washington, D.C. has far fewer musicians than expected for a city their size, as does Detroit and Houston. The census provides a good rough sketch of musician activity in a city, but on closer inspection problems arise when using these numbers. The average age of musicians in the 1990 Census was between 31-60, much older than the musicians I have participated with in Austin's music scene. Musicians in the census also reported a higher average income, $17,121.95, and education, with 57.7% reporting some college to a Bachelor's Degree.

 

 

Chart 1

1990 U.S. Census Population Estimates

 

Total Urban Population*

Number of Musicians^

Percentage

 

1

New York City, NY cmsa

19,566,968

16,600

0.085%

 

2

Los Angeles, CA

14,531,529

13,400

0.092%

 

3

Chicago, IL

8,239,820

4,000

0.049%

 

4

San Francisco, CA

6,277,523

6,600

0.105%

 

5

Philadelphia, PA

5,893,019

3,000

0.051%

 

6

Boston, MA

5,455,535

3,100

0.057%

 

7

Detroit, MI

5,187,171

1,600

0.031%

 

8

Washington, D.C.

4,222,830

200

0.005%

 

9

Dallas/Ft. Worth TX

4,037,282

3,300

0.082%

 

10

Houston, TX

3,731,014

1,500

0.040%

 

 

18

Seattle, WA msa

2,970,300

3,000

0.101%

 

27

San Antonio, TX

1,324,749

1,500

0.113%

 

33

New Orleans, LA

1,285,262

500

0.039%

 

38

Rochester, NY

1,062,470

700

0.066%

 

44

Nashville, TN

985,026

2,200

0.223%

 

56

Austin, TX

846,227

1,800

0.213%

 

 

 

 

* From the population estimates 4/1/1990

 

 

^ From the 1990 Public Use Micro Sample

 

 

Discussion.

The Austin music scene is truly an urban phenomenon. The musicians, venues, and ancillary businesses work within the urban environment, reacting, responding, and often reconstructing the elements of the urban environment that relate to music production. Musicians advertise in the Austin Chronicle for fellow urban laborers/musicians that live in the Austin area, they have to find rehearsal space, recording studios, and negotiate with venues according to the urban dynamics of Austin. For example, the best way to get a "gig" (a performance opportunity) in Austin is to know someone in a band that is already performing at that club and ask to "warm-up" (play the first, and least desirable, spot on the playbill for that night) for them. It is common in Austin for the headlining band (playing last, the most desirable position) to bring the warm-up band with them for that night's performance. This practice is not common in all cities, many clubowners or booking agents decide on all bands that will play on a given night. But given the large number of venues in Austin, 106 venues that feature live music 3-7 nights a week with 21 clubs featuring live music every single night of the week, and the large number of bands and solo artists in Austin, many clubs pick the headlining band and let that band decide the rest of the line-up (Turley 2000).

This saves the clubowner from having to deal with all these details, and makes the night's music the headlining band's responsibility. This also empowers musicians to help themselves and each other, thus capitalizing on the spirit of cooperation between musicians that is so pronounced in Austin. A demanding set of social skills is required of the musicians to master this urban environment, as well as an extensive social network to attract the notice of headlining bands, clubowners, and in delivering the right warm-up band for the appropriate night. These urban labor skills, along with the other social skills of rehearsing a band and performing music, are defined and constructed by the urban environment within which one participates. A different urban setting would have different rules, norms, social webs, and obstacles.

Musicians across the spectrum of success and age in Austin are very aware of their urban/musical environment and the economic and political factors that affected this environment (Turley 2000). Specifically, many musicians perceived that the supply of bands in Austin was too great for the music scene to offer any significant financial rewards (Turley 2000). Yet, certain bands did very well in the Austin music scene, even though the bands did not have major record deals; so, despite the large number of bands, some musicians have done very well economically in Austin. Industry and venue owners also referred to the oversupply of bands in the Austin area as the cause for such low payments to bands for performing originally written music (as low as $25-50 for an opening band, $50-100 for the middle slot, and $150-200 for the headlining band) (Turley 2000).

This primitive conception of the economic factors involved in the music scene helps to maintain the client-oriented relationship between bands and clubs. Music brings patrons into a bar or club and the patrons pay a cover charge (a portion of which the clubowner often keeps); the patrons will purchase drinks or food (a percentage of which is rarely returned to the bands) once in the club or bar. Referring to this as client-oriented is purposive, as Stone (1980) puts it "elite classes develop ties of mutual obligation with the poor and powerless by acting as patrons, who facilitate access to scarce material and social resources." The "elite" clubowner is mutually dependent on the relatively powerless bands for the music that brings in the patrons, and the scarce resource for the band is the established venue, which they need to pursue their potential audience. Clubowners claimed that they cared about the bands and the music scene, often becoming personally involved with the bands and band members. However, they also exploit the bands by engaging in degrading practices, like having bands play just for tips or for returned tickets the band distributes before the show (Turley 2000). This contradiction within their own perspective is reminiscent of a feudal lord envisioning themselves as helping their serfs by watching over them.

Again, this client-oriented relationship is generated by the urban environment as it relates to music production in Austin. Not just the shear number of bands and clubs in the city, but the growth of the idea that music is something special about Austin, to the point that obvious or gratuitous exploitation of musicians would not be an acceptable stance by music businesses. This is not to say that exploitation doesn't happen, but that the music industry personnel often shield themselves from this view by claiming to help the musicians or music. Consequently, there is stratification among clubs that feature originally written music based not only on how well the club pays, but on how well the musicians are treated. Many musicians have chosen to cultivate audiences at clubs with good reputations for treating musicians with some respect, rather than pursuing strictly monetary gains. Thus, music production cannot be reduced to economics. The social and urban factors related to music production must also be included.

Stratification not only exists between clubs, but also between musicians/laborers. The most obvious stratification in Austin's music scene is between those bands that choose to perform popular songs written by other artists, called cover bands, and those bands that perform and write their own songs. The difference is much like that found between dance band musicians and jazz musicians by Becker (1963). Cover bands play popular contemporary music for parties, weddings, and clubs that specialize in this type of music. They are usually well paid, and are judged by how closely they render the song to the original artist's version, rather than on their creativity. Original bands play their own music, and are most often underpaid for their efforts; however, they have the opportunity to "make it big" by selling their song or act to record company. While there is some overlap between the categories of cover and original musicians, it is small due to the huge investment of time to make either endeavor successful.

Within the category of original musicians there is further stratification by the success the band or artist has in the music industry, e.g. a record contract or management deal or how much touring they do. A difference in perspective, music scene participation, and social networking was discovered with the musicians at the different levels of stratification. Those at the bottom of the musical stratification scale, having never played a gig, had a limited view of how to get a gig, a restricted social network of musicians, and often a distorted view of the local music industry (Turley 2000). These musicians had not yet learned that knowing other local bands was extremely important to getting a gig, rather than just sending in a tape to a clubowner that rarely listens to it, unless they have heard of the band. At this level, musicians, often confused the complex layers of music businesses in Austin. For example, a common mistake is linking successful clubs or studios with record companies, as if a clubowner or studio owner would get one a record deal. Most often, a clubowner or studio owner does not have any vested interest in trying to secure a record deal for a band. This is not their function in the music scene, that function is performed by an artist manager/promoter or an Artist and Repertoire representative of a record company.

At the top of the musicians' stratification scale, successful musicians were very well versed in the intricacy of their economic, social, and industrial environment, but they also seemed to have over-identified with the music industry. These musicians often accepted the industry imperatives that keep musicians underpaid, oversupplied in the market, and alienated from the music they write (their music is bought and appropriated from them as a commodity, and then used to sell sneakers or dish soap, despite what the songwriter intended). A stratification of perspectives concerning music production would be predicted, because of the musicians' differing relations to the music industry. The amount and intensity of this variation in perspective should be dependent on the urban and music environment that the musicians interact in. The more interaction and control the music industry has on the music environment and urban economy, the more closely aligned all musicians' views on music production will be to the music industry's views.

Austin music also has an interesting relationship with the state. First, there is the unique position of the Texas Music Office, held by Casey Monahan, whose job it is to, "promote Texas music." This is the only such state office in the country. The city of Austin also has a unique position, the Austin Music Liaison, whose job it is to, "promote Austin music." Both of these positions show the realization by conservative local leaders that music is a lucrative business, and that when a Texas artist goes to Los Angeles or Nashville to make a record that is money lost at the local level. Mr. Monahan's office received universal praise from musicians and industry personnel in Austin, claiming that he rendered a valuable service to Texas music (Turley 2000). Yet, some musicians felt that the Austin Music Liaison office's mission was too focused on music business, rather than incorporating the needs of the musicians in the city. Most musicians in Austin felt that its establishment was a step in the right direction, but that business would use the state's resources against the goals of labor. Their perception has been accurate, as the music liaison's office has tried to secure preferential arrangements for music businesses, but no preferential actions regarding the labor conditions of musicians has come from this office (Turley 2000). Not that music businesses always get what they desire from the state; some local music businesses have demanded lucrative tax abatements, like those granted to Austin's Hi-Tech industries. Music businesses have a reasonable case for demanding tax abatements, because of the visibility and income the music industry brings to Austin, but no abatements for music have been given (Turley 2000). The tension between musicians and industry personnel is endemic of any battle for state resources, as one side claims favoritism by the state over the other. The lack of organization by musicians and the peculiarly fatalistic "I have to pay my dues" mentality of some musicians helps to maintain the client-oriented relationship with local clubs and the music businesses, but it also prevents any change for the musicians to demand more action from the entities of the state (municipal, county, state, or federal).

Musicians that play originally written rock music in Austin are not paid well, so they have to have a day job, usually in the service industry. Low paying service industry jobs often have flexible work hours and days off, necessary for a musician that has to tour to cities many hours from Austin. Even musicians with a record deal would often have to resort to odd jobs to pay bills in between tours or advances from the record company (Turley 2000). This is truly "paying your dues" for the opportunity at the brass ring of major record label success. Oddly, to reach that success the musician/laborer/artist will have to leave the insulated urban environment that he/she has mastered to attempt success at the national level within the major label music industry. Many musicians that have tried this success have come back to Austin, and forged a local/regional music career, rather than constantly be at the whimsy of the public's or record label's changing musical taste. More stability in exchange for more security, seems to be the goal of many of the artists that stay in the music business from Austin. Joe Ely and Jimmie Vaughan, both tour regionally and nationally, but the core of their following are in the Austin area. They choose to live and work in this urban environment, because of the city's acknowledgement, if not full appreciation of the musician/artist/laborer in their midst.

Conclusion and Application.

What does this tell us about making modern music? First, that it is an intensely social activity for the musicians that produce their own music. Musicians must tap into the social resources of the urban environment for fellow musicians to play with, they must negotiate with band members concerning what music to play, they must learn the music together, initiate and maintain social networks with fellow musicians, and develop social contacts with venue operators and other music industry personnel. A broad social network with its own particular social norms and rules must exist for a music scene to thrive, including music businesses, ancillary businesses, and musicians themselves. The music industry actors have their own goals, which are often in direct conflict with the musicians' goals, e.g. paying as little as possible for live music performance. Musicians also have goals that can be at odds with venue operators, recording personnel, and other musicians, e.g. wanting to play music that is not in style at the moment.

A complex social system exists between venues, music critics, recording personnel, the Austin Chronicle, record labels, and musicians. Musicians need the services provided by many of these businesses; a venue is necessary to attract an audience, a magazine is necessary to reach the audience, a critic is useful for informing the audience, and record labels and recording engineers are necessary for the delivery of a sustainable product. The obligation felt by musicians to these businesses has led some into a system of exploitation, where the musicians will perform under any circumstance just to reach an audience. This is not simply market force at work, since the venue owner controls the only legal access (playing on the street has been actively discouraged by local police) to these special audiences of music listeners. It represents the client-oriented system in the way it is defended by venue owners and musicians under the normative structure of "paying your dues" and "that is just the way it is." The local musicians' union is un-interested in organizing musicians that do not fit their criteria of a professional.

The further application of this analysis to other urban environments: Number one, establish a music and arts counsel or liaison office. Initially, this will benefit the culture industry (nightclubs, art galleries, symphony halls) more than laborers, but cutting through municipal red tape for culture industries is essential. All art needs a venue and by reducing the municipal impediments, these businesses will grow, often started by the artist/laborers themselves. These businesses will become the venues for the culture that every city is producing right now, but goes unnoticed. Number two, push for the zoning of an arts or music district. Austin has benefited tremendously from the establishment of Sixth Street's nightclubs and venues; so much so, that another district called Fourth Street has grown with the help of municipal awareness of an entertainment district's tax dollars to the city. Third, for the artist as laborer, have the Arts Council establish minimum standards to be observed by the culture industries (a minimum hourly wage for musicians, minimum fee for art displayed and purchased, a standard percentage for literary contracts for authors, etc. ). Austin has been slow to act on this and many musicians have suffered countless indignities of playing for tips only and other abusive practices. The musicians themselves have organized, with the help of social workers and medical professionals, some health access for uninsured musicians in Austin. Though their efforts are still far from comprehensive, they illustrate the plight of the urban musician as a laborer denied health care from employers or the government. Hopefully, pay and benefits would be addressed by a minimum standards implementation.

The urban environment coordinates and influences the labor of musicians in Austin due to its unique history and unique community of musicians. Music businesses develop from the music scene created by the musicians themselves. For culture production to exist on the scale of Austin's music scene, a mid-sized city if necessary for the requisite number of musicians and patrons, and each city makes its imprint on the culture produced in its borders. Thus, we talk of the "Chicago Sound" or "Memphis Sound" in blues, because of the impact the urban environment has on the culture producers and the culture itself to make each sound distinct. In the case of Austin, Texas, the cross-pollenization of African-American, Hispanic, and White music styles developed two periods of an "Austin Sound," one in progressive country music and the other in blues rock; and this cross-pollenization of musical styles continues to produce innovative music to this day.

Footnotes.

1 SoHo is a historically tenement and light industrial district below Greenwich Village in New York City that serves today as an art gallery and studio area.
2 Since it is impossible to adequately study everyone that makes music of every type in a city, a choice must be made to focus on identifiable groups to study. Those people making music for money in an attempt to produce culture for a paying audience can be most easily divided into those that write and perform their own music, or those that perform music written by others.
3 Patents are U.S. government recognized claims of intellectual ownership.
4 Restrictive covenants are agreements by landowners to not sell to certain groups of people. Redlining is a practice of banks and insurance companies to deny or charge preventative prices to certain racial groups attempting to buy property in an area that is predominantly white. Steering is a practice by real estate agents in which certain racial groups are not shown homes in predominantly white areas that these citizens would normally qualify for, in an effort to stop racially diverse neighborhoods form growing.

 

Bibliography.

Becker, Howard. (1963) Outsiders. Free Press: New York

Becker, Howard. (1971) Culture and Civility in San Francisco. Transaction Press: San Francisco.

Blau, Judith. (1989) The Shape of Culture: A Study of Contemporary Culture Patterns in the United States. A Rose Monograph Book from the American Sociological Association.

Burgess, E.W. (1925) "The Growth of the City: An Introduction to a Research Project," in The City. R.E. Park, E.W. Burgess, and R.D. McKenzie eds. University of Chicago Press : Chicago, Illinois.

Census of Population and Housing. (1990) Public Use Microdata Sample U.S. [machine readable data files] / prepared by the Bureau of the Census. Washington: The Bureau [producer and distributor], 1992

Chernikowski, Stephanie. (1993) "Greetings from the Underground," Austin Chronicle: Vol XII, No. 27, March 12.

Finnegan, Ruth. 91989) The Hidden Musicians. Cambridge University Press : Cambridge, England.

Firey, Walter. (1945) "Sentiment and Symbolism as Ecological Variables" American Sociological Review, 20 April: pp. 140-148

Frith, Simon. (1989) Art Into Pop. Routledge : London.

Gilmore, Samuel. (1990) Art Worlds: Developing the Interactionist Approach to Social Organization. University of Chicago: Chicago, Illinois.

Hawley, Amos. (1971) Urban Society: An Ecological Approach. Ronald Press: New York

Orum, Anthony. (1987) Power, Money and the People: The Making of Austin. University of Texas: Austin, Texas.

Patoski, Joe., Bill Crawford. (1993) Stevie Ray Vaughan: Caught in the Crossfire. Little, Brown, and Company: Boston, Massachusetts.

Reid, Jan. (1974) The Unlikely Rise of Redneck Rock. University of Texas: Austin, Texas.

Shank, Barry. (1991) Identity, Community, and Postmodernism in the Rock and Roll Scene in Austin, Texas. University of Pennsylvania: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Stone, Charles. (1980) Democracy and Clientalism in Jamaica. Transaction Books: New Brunswick.

Turley, Alan. (2000) Music in the City: A History of Austin Music. Duckling Publishing: Austin, Texas



Chart 1

1990 U.S. Census Population Estimates

Total Urban Population*

Number of Musicians^

Percentage

1

New York City, NY cmsa

19,566,968

16,600

0.085%

2

Los Angeles, CA

14,531,529

13,400

0.092%

3

Chicago, IL

8,239,820

4,000

0.049%

4

San Francisco, CA

6,277,523

6,600

0.105%

5

Philadelphia, PA

5,893,019

3,000

0.051%

6

Boston, MA

5,455,535

3,100

0.057%

7

Detroit, MI

5,187,171

1,600

0.031%

8

Washington, D.C.

4,222,830

200

0.005%

9

Dallas/Ft. Worth TX

4,037,282

3,300

0.082%

10

Houston, TX

3,731,014

1,500

0.040%

18

Seattle, WA msa

2,970,300

3,000

0.101%

27

San Antonio, TX

1,324,749

1,500

0.113%

33

New Orleans, LA

1,285,262

500

0.039%

38

Rochester, NY

1,062,470

700

0.066%

44

Nashville, TN

985,026

2,200

0.223%

56

Austin, TX

846,227

1,800

0.213%

* From the population estimates 4/1/1990

^ From the 1990 Public Use Micro Sample

 

Alan C. Turley, SUNY College at Brockport, Department of Sociology, 350 New Campus Drive, Brockport, NY 14420, 716-395-5659.

Email: aturley@brockport.edu

fwd.gif (593 bytes)

rollerline.gif (636 bytes)

IJULL Last Updated: 1999-2007 International Journal of Urban Labour and Leisure