Lawrence Music Census results highlight local music ecosystem needs and opportunities

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The Lawrence Music Census has shown that a rising cost of living is a key concern for musicians, and local musicians are some of the lowest paid across 25 cities studied. 

The census — the first comprehensive study of the local music ecosystem — surveyed 826 music creatives, venues/presenters and industry professionals who live or work in the Lawrence or Douglas County area. 

It surveyed the music community directly rather than relying on existing research. Anyone who identified as contributing to the Lawrence music ecosystem was invited to participate.

Nick Carswell, director of Lawrence Music Alliance, and Don Pitts, president of Sound Music Cities, presented the findings to Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday. 

Music creatives — including performers, songwriters, composers, teachers and more — made up 74% of the respondents; 16% identified as part of the industry sector, and 11% represented venues or were music presenters.

The industry sector includes “anyone who is not directly creating music or presenting music,” Carswell said, “but it could be in the music industry in terms of record labels, publishing, management, or it could be adjacent industries like photography or web design.”

Nick Carswell, director of Lawrence Music Alliance, answers questions during his presentation on the results of the Lawrence Music Census at the June 18, 2024 Lawrence City Commission meeting. (Screenshot)

Data showed that 31% of all respondents work in music only. Two-thirds of creatives expressed concerns about the rising cost of living, and 63% said that stagnant pay rates were one of the highest concerns for their music careers. Across all respondents, music activities contribute 22% of their total annual income. 

“One of the things that came from the data in Lawrence is that there’s just really hardworking creatives for very little pay,” Pitts said. 

“It’s probably one of the lowest in this cohort, probably not by much, but” the $101 average pay from touring and local gigs was “one of the lowest (pay rates) we’ve seen,” he said. 

Lawrence is one of 25 local music ecosystems that Sound Music Cities is studying. 

A quote from a respondent included in the presentation read, “The cost of living has gone up so much and lease terms are so unreasonable that musicians can no longer work full time in music.”

Additionally, only 1 in 4 respondents had ever received any financial assistance, and 61% of respondents were unaware of any opportunities for financial support. These figures and the comments gathered demonstrated that the creative community in Lawrence needs support to sustain its members and the overall music ecosystem, according to the presentation.

The census also provided data on live events and venues in Lawrence. Venue/presenter respondents averaged 129 events annually, totaling 6,582 events per year. 57% of these venues or music presenters feature local headliners, and 61% book local acts as headliner support all or most of the time.

Carswell said 41% of venues rank staffing challenges as a high concern.

Industry respondents reported that they serve primarily local clients. 25% of local music industry representatives deal exclusively with local clients, and the majority of the overall client base is local.

“Of course, we know that people can choose to live in Lawrence and get work anywhere, depending on their industry,” Carswell said, “so it’s an important factor, especially for industry, as we’d like to see it grow.”

The census showed that respondents generated a total of $13 million in income annually across all music sectors. Music creative respondents alone “spend an average of $4,435 on music-related expenses, contributing significantly to the local economy,” with 47% of these dollars spent locally.

Drawing on this data, the presentation asserted, “The Lawrence Music Ecosystem is an economic engine, creating employment, supporting local businesses, attracting visitors and (creating) a vibrant arts & culture ecosystem.”

Carswell also shared an overview of the music community’s needs, including audience development tools, accessibility of music industry services, training and professional development and funding opportunities. The presentation also marked exploring music-friendly city policies and regulations, fostering culture and belonging, addressing livability and more to be discussed in the future. 

“There is enough data that various sectors of the economy and the community should be interested in this, from economic development to tourism, nonprofit and private sectors,” Carswell said. 

Being part of the cohort of 25 music communities places Lawrence’s findings within greater context, allowing for regional research in the future. For now, the data collected will guide the development of new initiatives from the Lawrence Music Alliance.

Lawrence City Commissioner Amber Sellers, right, asks questions during the presentation on the results of the Lawrence Music Census, June 18, 2024. (Screenshot)

“I can see where there’s a need to invest on a local level,” Commissioner Amber Sellers said. “But I would also be curious to know, is there advocacy being done (on the state level)?”

Carswell said the census is an initiative of the Kansas Arts Commission, and it is intended to serve as a pilot for similar studies in other Kansas communities. KAC is committed to deploying programs to support local music ecosystems, although the census is merely the first step in that process.

“Right now, we’re looking at what we can learn,” Carswell said. “We’re going to share that, through the Kansas Arts Commission, across the state.”

Sellers said she loved that Lawrence can be innovative and pilot something that can hopefully spread. 

“I think there’s also a wonderful opportunity within the music community to see their voice and recognize the power dynamic that comes with being someone in this industry in a state utilizing their talents to build other infrastructure and fund other infrastructure, and it would be nice to see a portion of that go back to the musicians,” she said. 

For those interested in learning more about the census and its findings, there will be two events on Friday, June 28, in partnership with the Free State Festival.

From 1 to 2:30 p.m. in “Understanding our Music Ecosystem,” Pitts will present and discuss the results of the census. From 3 to 4:30 p.m., the panel “Music in the Midwest: A Regional Ecosystem” will situate the Lawrence music community in the context of the wider Midwest music ecosystem. 

Both events are free and open to the public at 10th & Mass Studios, 1000 Massachusetts St. 

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— Abby Bayani-Heitzman is a staff writer for the Potawatomi News of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. In her free time, she enjoys writing about local art and music.

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