Huntsville leaders share early findings in citywide music audit

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Huntsville is in the middle of a music audit. The city is working to find out what the music landscape is like within its borders, and how to make the Rocket City a place where musicians and artists can be successful.

Huntsville leaders have enlisted Sound Diplomacy of London for the job.

Leaders said Wednesday that 1,030 people responded to a survey that assessed Huntsville’s music ecology, evaluated the economic and social impact of the local music scene, and determined strengths and weaknesses.

"We got quite a few more responses than we were anticipating, which is fantastic," said Shain Shapiro, Sound Diplomacy CEO.

Shapiro shared more about what they learned from the survey during an open forum on Wednesday. They invited Huntsville`s musicians, music industry, and music lovers to come and questions on the audit.

"The vast majority of artist respondents reported that they feel more excited about 2019 than 2018, living and working in Huntsville," he said. "Overwhelmingly, people are hungry for doing more. More live events, more music related facilities, and also doing more with what you already have. We are discovering that there is a lot more here than is taken advantage of."

During Wednesday's open forum, Shapiro was complimentary of what Huntsville has going on. He applauded those who are creating and directly supporting the music industry, and he said there are lots of good things happening.

Shapiro said 86% of survey respondents had collaborated with other Huntsville artists, which he saw as a good sign for music's growth in Huntsville. But other statistics, like the 78% of Huntsville musicians who rely on jobs outside the music industry to sustain themselves, show him there is more work to do to break down barriers to music's success in the area.

But he was quick to say that his firm is gathering the information, not trying to invent Huntsville's identity.

"Huntsville needs to speak for Huntsville," he said. "It's not our job to create that brand. We are not Huntsvillians. Our job is just to ensure that everyone recognizes that this is a potential thing that can be looked at."

City leaders say they recognize the value of a thriving music scene.

"This has one foot in quality of life, and one foot in economic development," said Dennis Madsen, Manager of Urban and Long Range Planning. "Music industry growth is as much about really being able to go out and catch a great act at a cool club one night, and go to a great music festival, but it's also about having those amenities so that when you are recruiting industry here and they want to bring employees here, they see there is lots of great stuff to do."

Now the survey results are in, the team will continue mapping city music assets, from music teachers, to bands, to venues. Sound Diplomacy has also conducted a series of roundtables and interviews with local stakeholders and visited some of Huntsville's main music spaces.

Next to go will be the Economic Impact Analysis and the presentation of the first draft of the strategic plan sometime after October, the firm's website said.

"I think that once we get the job numbers and we get the economic data, then we are able to look at what the city can do within its purview. We are not advocates that money is the solution. It's a willingness to work together," Shapiro said.

"We are really getting a sense of what are all the different pieces that we can build on to create a variety of venues and enough places that any sort of artist can come in and find a place to perform, and that people can come and see them perform, in a unique locale," Madsen said.

But listening to Huntsville's people is the key.

"We really want to do as much listening as we can before we put pen to paper."