The Austin music industry isn't whole. The business underlying "The Live Music Capital of the World" stands bifurcated between its lucrative festivals (SXSW principally, but Austin City Limits, Fun Fun Fun Fest and others, too) and, as studies have found, a dwindling local music scene. Austin didn't become the self-styled "Capital" solely by hosting a handful of gargantuan events, which were first born from and since have capitalized handsomely on Austin's brand to increase their now-global footprints, which have drawn outsized attention to the city. These large events and a rapidly expanding population have put an unintended strain on the infrastructure of the local music scene which helped create them and on which they still rely — it's hard to throw innumerable shows, as during SXSW, in a city with fewer and fewer venues to put them in.
Austin musicians' "main source of income," says Don Pitts, is "through live performance. Anyone who's been keeping an eye on live performance on a local level sees that it's continuing to go down year after year." As the founding face of the city government's Music and Entertainment Office, Pitts has been in a centralized orbit around the problem of trying to balance these disparate sides of Austin's coin.
Since mid-January, Pitts, who began working for the city in 2010, has also been mired in a mini-controversy after being placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation by the Office of the City Auditor. Last week, as the Austin-American Statesman reported, he resigned. On Feb. 20, city auditors made public their findings — that Pitts had not properly reported to his superiors the existence of a circuitous and fraudulent scheme by an employee set on getting reimbursed for $2,500 in travel costs to a business conference.
The investigation, while precipitating Pitts' resignation, was hardly damning — he's already back on the job. (At least for the next two months.) "I was happy to see the relationship wasn't ending as abruptly as I thought when I read his letter of resignation," Austin Mayor Steve Adler tells NPR. "I'm convinced that Don remains committed to this city, to keeping it special, to growing the music industry vertically, so that you can play in your garage at 16, in a club at 22 and be in your early 40s and still support your family [while working in music]." (SXSW also sent a letter on his behalf — as did his counterpart in Seattle.)
During his seven years inside Austin's city government, Pitts was something of a trailblazer, tasked with diagnosing and treating the many problems facing the music economy, large and small, there. In no small part, Pitts' work culminated in the voluminous Austin Music Census he commissioned and released in 2015. It found that, as revenues continued to grow for the larger events, the city was bleeding jobs within the local music economy.