Study examines impact, growth of the Shoals music industry

Source: Florence-Lauderdale Tourism
Source: Florence-Lauderdale Tourism

The international firm, Sound Diplomacy, said in its 17-page executive summary that about $49 million is generated by the Shoals' music ecosystem.

Posted: Dec 1, 2019 11:56 PM
Updated: Dec 2, 2019 7:52 AM

The Shoals has been known for decades for its place in the music industry. Now, a new study is quantifying its value and looking at how that can grow.

The international firm, Sound Diplomacy, said in its 17-page executive summary that about $49 million is generated by the Shoals' music ecosystem, "which represented 1.01 percent of the output of the area and a GVA of $39 million to the local economy in 2016."

Sound Diplomacy began working with the region in June 2018 to create "an extensive music audit and strategic roadmap." The initiative was done in conjunction with the four cities as well as the Florence Convention and Visitors Bureau; the Muscle Shoals Heritage Area; and the private sector.

"This project, lasting just over a year, is tied with the now published and adopted, music audit in Huntsville. Together, both studies are the most extensive music ecosystem survey in the nation," said Dr. Shain Shapiro, the CEO of Sound Diplomacy.

In order to conduct the study, surveyors reached out to more than 200 professionals over the course of a year. There were four roundtables conducted in the area, including two on October 4, 2019, to talk with the local stakeholders.

The first draft of the Music Ecosystem Assessment and Strategy was presented in May 2019.

"The recommendations will be taken forward by the Muscle Shoals Music Association and a new implementation board, made up of key stakeholders across all genres," said Shapiro.

The study includes an economic breakdown of the value of the music economy.

The music industry "generates 1.61 percent of the area's employment, just 0.5 percentage points less than Huntsville," the study states. "This figure exceeds the contribution of music to the national employment level, which is 1.3 percent. Nevertheless, it is still far below places with greater tradition in the music industry, such as Austin or Nashville, whose shares were 2.55 percent and 2.74 percent respectively."

Sound Diplomacy states that things like the number of recording studios and the large student population are some of the strengths of the Shoals, but things like a lack of public transportation, minimal communication of local assets to potential audience members and a "lack of diversity in venues, events, genres and audiences" are notable weaknesses of thee area.

It suggests that there are opportunities for growth like its "proximity to industry hubs like Nashville, Memphis and Atlanta, coupled with more affordable quality of life" and the fact that the University of North Alabama (UNA) "student population is a continually refreshing pool of talent, audiences and industry professionals."

However, the study warns of threats to the growth of the Shoals music ecosystem that include the fact that "music heritage [is] celebrated more than [the] present industry, significantly overshadowing it;" that there's "not much live music or innovation in the local scene to keep tourists there after visiting sites;" and that "many residents [are] willing to attend shows outside the area, but won't pay for local shows."

"Our area really needs more venues that allow live music. [It would definitely] allow musicians more chances to perform and draw more people to the venues," said a survey respondent quoted in the study.

The executive summary concludes by listing 38 recommendations based on priority that can help expand and grow what it calls "The New Muscle Shoals Sound."

"The role of the Shoals region in the history of American music puts it in an enviable position when it comes to attracting a particular brand of music tourist," the study states.

"That storied music history is not something any other music city, town or place can replicate, but there is much work to be done to ensure that this legacy is only the foundation of a contemporary, thriving music region.

The study suggests eight main recommendation categories:

  1. Establish a Music Office
  2. Music Tourism
  3. Live Music
  4. Governance and Leadership
  5. Collaborative Opportunities
  6. Municipal Support
  7. Professional Development
  8. Audience Development

The full study will be presented during the launch of The Shoals Music strategy on Monday at 4:30 p.m. in Florence.

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