AUSTIN — In the “Live Music Capital of the World,” government officials have recently forced at least 132,000 citizens out of work and are now on the brink of killing off a whole local industry—live music.
“I think there’s a real risk of losing 90 percent of independent music venues in the next few months,” said one respondent to a recent survey of Austin businesses. The survey, commissioned by the Austin Chamber of Commerce and conducted by the University of Houston, asked more than 1,000 business owners in all industries about their experiences from the recent government shutdowns.
The results revealed how the music industry is in a dire fight for survival in Texas’ capital city.
Just 19 percent of local live music venues were able to pay their full June rent, while 83 percent laid off their full-time employees—the most layoffs among all business industries surveyed.
Even more, 62 percent of local live music venues said under current government shutdowns, they would not survive past October—at the latest.
In fact, some local venue owners say nearly all of them could die off.
“Of the 50-something venues in the city, there’s going to be five or 10 left after this,” said Steve Sternschein, co-owner of Empire Control Room and co-founder of the National Independent Venue Association. He said even venues owned by large corporations are facing termination.
“Those folks are also saying that they only have a few months left to live. So … that should be a good indicator of how serious this problem is,” he said. “It’s not maybe a couple of little places are going to go away. It’s like all of the music venues in Austin are going to be gone. That’s what’s going to happen really soon.”
“Live music venues are far and away skyrocketing to the top of every category in terms of hardest hit, imminent closure, layoffs, trickle-down effects to the rest of the economy in the form of taxes and vendor contracts,” said Rebecca Reynolds, head of the Music Venue Alliance in Austin.
So far, a handful of iconic music venues—Barracuda, Shady Grove, Threadgill’s, Plush, and Scratchouse—have already closed permanently because of officials’ shutdowns. Live music venues in the city have been ordered to shut their doors since mid-March and have not been allowed to reopen despite Gov. Greg Abbott allowing bars, restaurants, and other businesses to resume at limited capacity.
And as months drag on with padlocks still clamped on their doors, local live music venues have to somehow figure out how to pay a growing mountain of bills—many face an average overhead of $40,000 per month. Sternschein added the limited federal aid has not been nearly enough to cover such a long span of time shut down.
“The problem just got much worse for everybody, because the fixed and deferred expenses have not changed, but the amount of time we have to hang in there has doubled, maybe tripled,” he said.
“If the federal government doesn’t provide relief, then we’re going to see a tipping point economically that there’s no coming back from as a society,” said Cody Cowan, executive director of the Red River Cultural District.
Government officials including Austin Mayor Steve Adler have issued several shutdown orders over the past few months that have crippled Austinites, forcing them into a new crisis of struggling to afford food and a place to live for their families.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus has currently been related to 4,160 deaths across the state’s 29 million citizens, while 6,737 Texans died from influenza and pneumonia this flu season.