Musical Family Tree

Spreading Indiana Music

Undisputed King of SXSW: Austin, TX

We can argue until we're blue in the face over which artists had the biggest impact during their stint at SXSW. We can write think-pieces, measure social media interaction, and rummage through mounds of press coverage. The only indisputable fact is that year-after-year the biggest winner at SXSW is the city of Austin, TX. According to a 2012 study, Austin's creative sector, accounts for more than $71 million in annual tax revenue for the city. Granted, the impact stretches well beyond SXSW, but the bulk of that sum is derived from tourism. In 2010, the creative sector provided nearly 50,000 jobs in Austin. From the early estimates on SXSW '13 these numbers only appear to be growing. The study went further, saying:

"To put these results in context, the creative sector (as measured by employment) has risen by about twenty‐five percent over the past five years, a pace more rapid than the ten percent growth for the local economy as a whole."

These are numbers that civic leaders around the country cannot afford to ignore. *cough* Mayor Ballard *cough*. Now, that isn't to say that just any city can open up shop and say, "Hey we're hosting South By redux next week, come join us!" But what Austin is proving is that a significant commitment to the creative sector can have a stimulating impact across all sectors of the community.

"Austin is a place that appreciates creativity and culture in a variety of evolving forms, which serves to both attract and retain talented people," the study concluded. "This in turn has a significant impact on business recruitment, retention, and expansion, as well as local entrepreneurship. As has long been the case, the sum is greater than the parts; and the parts have become so interconnected as to make traditional distinctions between them almost meaningless."

These numbers echo the sentiments that MFT founder, Jeb Banner, expressed in a disgruntled blog post following the most recent Broad Ripple Music Fest. Indianapolis is in a prime position geographically and from a cost-of-living standpoint to serve as the home base for a variety of touring musicians. Organizations like MOKB Presents and Musical Family Tree are working daily to attract national attention to Indy's music scene. Unfortunately, these efforts and those of other like-minded indivduals remain disjointed, lacking a clear long-term path toward a thriving and economically stable creative sector.

Several decades ago, Mayor Hudnut partnered with local business leaders to form Indiana Sports Corporation in an effort to transform Indianapolis as a premier destination for professional and amateur athletics. Years later, as Indy plays home to the NCAA headquarters and relishes in the success of its recent Super Bowl, it's hard to argue that those early efforts have paid off. However, why should Indy rest on its laurels, content with a one-dimensional approach to civic engagement? In a sense, we've conquered the sports landscape and it's long past time to make Indy's cultural experience a more dynamic one.

Indianapolis is located in the center of a fiscally conservative state, where funding for the arts is largely an afterthought. My hope is that as Austin continues to report annual employment growth that outpaces the rest of the country, local leaders will begin to take note of the potential that the arts offer in attracting talented young professionals to staff our burgeoning tech and start-up scenes. This objective moves beyond fun weekend activities, affecting jobs, development, and untapped sources of tax revenue - topics that should motivate any politician. 

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Comment by Rob Peoni on March 29, 2013 at 2:28pm

David, thanks for reading and commenting! It's nice to hear an Austin insider's perspective. I address some of what you're talking about in my other SXSW Music Recap in response to Diiv's comments during the festival. It's tough for me to address these issues as this was my first time at SXSW. I would agree that the heart of the festival (around 6th St. / Austin Convention Center) is dominated by the corporate, big sponsor scene. It's definitely a lot tougher for an unknown band to make a big splash at SXSW these days, and I wouldn't advise any band to head to Austin with that intent (especially if they're traveling on their own dime.) However, I was interested to see how the "unofficial" parts of the festival are expanding to the East and North. It seemed like those areas are where the music discovery and DIY aspect of the festival are still alive and well. As I said, I'm a newbie, but that was the impression that I left with.

Comment by David Bradford on March 29, 2013 at 11:24am

I hope you don't mind my butting in to this convo.  I live in Austin and have attended numerous music festivals and have some thoughts.


I first visited SxSW in 1995, and since before that time there have been discussions about when SxSW lost its street cred and sold out.  And uncounted pundits across decades have written about when it stopped being fun to come to SxSW.  The bottom line is, SxSW (and other events like it) is about the bottom line.  Always has been.  Its purpose is to put money in the pockets of the organizers.  This purpose is built on the cachet of Austin, on the egos and dreams of aspiring and established bands, on the competition between venues, and so on.  It feeds on itself in a continuing (so far) upward spiral.


Imagine a four-story-tall inflatable bag of chips behind a stage at the end of a blocked-off street.  This happened at SxSW this year, and it's the perfect symbol.  If you are a promoter, you have to be able to swallow the last shred of your idealism and set up that tacky stage.  If you are a participating band, you have to follow your dream on to that tacky stage.  Not everybody can do that (or witness it) and still feel the same about SxSW or music in general.

Comment by Jon Rogers on March 21, 2013 at 3:27pm

I know the question was for Rob, but I tried to see Iggy and I was just too late to be at a decent spot in line. Would have been cool, but there was plenty of other stuff going on that didn't require me to stand in a line for 3 hours and still maybe not get in...

My only guess as to why promoters don't book acts like The Stooges is that they must not think it's worth the cost to bring them here. And the band's booking agent may not see Indy as important enough to warrant a show here. I, however, would totally want to see them play here if it ever happens!

Comment by Rob Peoni on March 21, 2013 at 3:27pm

We chose to forego the Stooges due to long lines (unfortunately). I can't speak to the promoter question, but I know I'd be first in line to snag some tickets!

Comment by Marvin P. Goldstein on March 21, 2013 at 3:19pm

So did you get to see Iggy and the Stooges, and why won't any promoters in Indy book acts of that caliber?

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