Music Audit: What’s Next

single-meta-cal September 16, 2019

When businesses – and their workforce – are considering moving to Huntsville, Alabama, quality of life can be the critical tipping point in that decision.

As the Manager of Urban and Long-Range Planning for the City of Huntsville, we frequently hear decision makers point to Huntsville’s natural beauty, low cost of living and eclectic entertainment offerings as a pivotal factor in choosing the Rocket City.

Most recently, we’ve heard mounting excitement about how our City is embracing music as its own important element of the economy.

It started in April 2018 when the City of Huntsville hired the international consulting group Sound Diplomacy to conduct a music audit – an analysis of our current music economy and tangible recommendations on how we can grow it through building infrastructure, updating zoning and creating better collaboration opportunities.

In August, Sound Diplomacy officially presented their recommendations to City Council on how we can transform the Rocket City into a Music City.

This doesn’t mean we’re trying to become the next Nashville. Quite the contrary, the report focuses on how Huntsville can embrace its own local music talent, leverage its proximity to music epicenters like Nashville and the Muscle Shoals, grow the local music ecosystem through Huntsville City Schools and recruit high caliber touring music acts by investing in and building out our music infrastructure.

The report was far-reaching with exciting implications for Huntsville’s future.

Read the full report here. For a quick synopsis, read on now.

The audit analyzed the traits that make Huntsville’s music scene unique, discussed the hurdles that could trip us up and examined the steps that might work for us as we seek to grow our industry.  It offered a toolbox of strategies that the City could take either on its own or through a partnership with another organization or company within the community to help realize the goal of a deeper, more diverse, more sustaining music industry.  It’s up to us – the City and the community – to take those tools and build toward action.

So, what’s next?

Per the recommendations of the Music Audit, one of the first big steps is to establish a Music Board.  This Board, consisting of local industry professionals from a variety of backgrounds, will function as a partner with the City.  The Board will help make connections to kick-start suggested programs, track the timelines for implementation and ensure that the Audit’s recommendations are being carried out.  The Board, especially early on, will be asked to do a lot of heavy lifting.  They’ll be tasked with holding the Audit to account and being accountable themselves.

Logistically, the City must take some critical first steps to establish the Board. Legally, any new Board of Directors with appointees from City government must be established by City ordinance. This ordinance would clarify the number of members, appointment authority, length of terms and overall duties.

Once the Board is officially created and appointed, one of its first tasks will be developing a process to establish a Music Office, starting with the hiring of a full-time, dedicated Music Officer.  The Officer would serve in a capacity similar to that of an Executive Director relative to a Board, and would be the person who, as Sound Diplomacy CEO Shain Shapiro put it, “when the industry calls Huntsville, there is someone to answer the phone.”  Having the Board, and subsequently, the first Music Officer will set the stage for almost every other initiative to follow.

Other early opportunities, to be implemented by the City, the Board and the Music Officer as time and opportunity allow include:

  • Assisting with the programming of music into various public spaces around the City
  • Investigating how and when to restart an old music or cultural event
  • Establishing a North Alabama-centric “Music Week”
  • Engaging the local public school systems to look for opportunities to expand music programming within the schools at an early age
  • Holding a minimum of two Open Forums each year as a “check-up/check-in” on progress
  • Creating a coordinated and music-specific events calendar
  • Building and maintaining a music database as a catalog of local resources that can be used by musicians and other industry professionals
  • Finding a partner or partners to develop an extensive musical instrument leasing system
  • Developing a music city “brand” that is unique to our region

The City takes seriously the directive that the Board be an active partner in implementing the Audit.  Board responsibilities will include frequent opportunities to liaise with City departments, assisting with an analysis of existing noise regulations, a review of permitting processes and neighborhood festival support and an examination of “Agent of Change” policies and how they might be put in place within Huntsville.  Likewise, the Board should anticipate continued support from Sound Diplomacy in an ongoing capacity, offering technical assistance to the Board as it works through the multiple tiers of recommendations.

Like many other efforts that Huntsville has engaged in over the years, the Music Audit is expected to serve multiple purposes.

It should help with workforce development, highlighting a music scene that will serve as a draw for relocating businesses and their workers.  It will further the goal of economic diversification, taking advantage of an otherwise underleveraged industry to create jobs and opportunities for the artists who live here and those who support them.  It’ll broaden our tourism footprint, as visitors who initially come to visit the U.S. Space & Rocket Center or Huntsville Botanical Garden or many of the other existing attractions find yet another reason to not only come to Huntsville but to stay in Huntsville.  Finally, and most importantly, it will contribute to the ongoing improvement of our quality of life.  A thriving music scene is a core part of a community’s local culture.

As Mayor Battle says, “Music is the great unifier.”  It connects neighbor to neighbor, and it contributes to the pride of a place, helping people feel connected to something bigger than themselves. I hope you’ll join us as we take another big leap – exploring the universe of music.