The Live Music Capital with a loud music problem
Austin's Issue with Noise
Let's hear it

Austin's relationship with its own music scene: "it's complicated."

The Growth

Austin, Texas, has long since built its quirky, and increasingly successful, reputation on the back of its live music scene.

The self-described "Live Music Capital of the World" has seen unprecedented growth over the last five years, topping Forbes list of fastest-growing cities in 2014, and hanging onto second place for the 2015 list.

As the city expands, an influx of uber-talented young people looking to cash in on the growing tech sector in the Texas capital are bringing with them more than just a robust Craiglist trade in second-hand Ikea furniture - they're bringing a new culture of complaints.

For a city already over-burdened with a lack of space, the increase in population brings new housing demands and problems. With little space to build, apartment complexes and high rises are being forced into the only place that can accommodate them: downtown.

The number of people living downtown in Austin has grown sharply over the past ten years, increasing by several thousand between 2010 and 2014 alone. Developers are left with little choice but to place new, in-demand real estate near existing venues and historic music-scene hot-spots.

The Struggle

The new proximity of residents, many new to the city, and live music venues, struggling to make their bottom lines in a tough economy, has contributed to an unheard of spike in complaints about loud music.

In five years, noise complaints in Austin have increased by close to 500%, and the growth of downtown housing appears, at least in part, to be the reason.

The problem, former music promoter Traci Hughes Sigmon says, is that there's a disconnect between people wanting to move to Austin because of its reputation and not understanding what it means to be a city with a robust live music scene.

"The struggle is that people move in knowing they are near a venue and then complain about noise. Yet they want Austin to stay 'the live music capital of the world.' [The two are] at odds."

Ultimately, it's the venues, and not the residents, who struggle with the new relationship. Between citations, fines and bad blood with their residential neighbors, business owners are facing increasing financial difficulty.

The Festivals

Additionally, the disconnect continues into the festival scene Austin is equally known for. Annual music events that bring millions to the city's economy are associated with enormous increases in noise complaints for the month they're held: SXSW in March; ACL in October; and Fun Fun Fun Fest in November.

Complaints for the month a festival is held are sometimes almost double that of non-festival months, even though the events rarely last longer than a week.

The Project

The project at hand hopes to explain and illustrate a year's worth of loud music complaints. The data, non-emergency 3-1-1 calls about "loud music," has been obtained through Austin's city portal:

For a city so steeped in music culture, finding a resolution between frustrated residents and the industry they both admire and deplore becomes essential. Clarity is the first step.


Complaints about "loud music" over the course of a year

  • January

    454 Complaints

    First complaint: 1/3/14 12:04 AM
    Last complaint: 1/31/14 11:51 PM

  • February

    478 Complaints

    First complaint: 2/2/14 12:16 AM
    Last complaint: 2/28/14 11:58 PM

  • March

    774 Complaints

    First complaint: 3/1/14 12:07 AM
    Last complaint: 3/31/14 10:22 PM

    In Austin, March is heavily associated with the three-part, internationally-acclaimed SXSW conference and music festival. It is also associated with a huge spike in loud music complaints and violations. These complaints are concentrated particularly in the downtown ZIP code, 78705.

  • April

    584 Complaints

    First complaint: 4/1/14 3:41 AM
    Last complaint: 4/30/14 10:50 PM

    Immediately following SXSW, complaints drop off sharply.

  • May

    535 Complaints

    First complaint: 5/1/14 4:51 PM
    Last complaint: 5/31/14 11:56 PM

    As temperatures rise, complaints continue to decrease.

  • June

    423 Complaints

    First complaint: 6/1/14 12:16 AM
    Last complaint: 6/30/14 5:24 PM

  • July

    375 Complaints

    First complaint: 7/1/14 12:26 AM
    Last complaint: 7/31/14 10:32 PM

    Complaints hit an all-time low in the second of the summer months. While crime is often associated with hot weather, noise complaints dip as residents and visitors alike stay inside, or stay away, to avoid the heat.

  • August

    406 Complaints

    First complaint: 8/1/14 12:22 AM
    Last complaint: 8/31/14 11:46 PM

  • September

    475 Complaints

    First complaint: 9/1/14 12:00 AM
    Last complaint: 9/30/14 11:28 PM

    Complaints begin to rise to pre-summer levels.

  • October

    740 Complaints

    First complaint: 10/1/14 12:19 AM
    Last complaint: 10/31/14 11:57 PM

    Complaints rise close to SXSW levels with October's music festival, ACL, or Austin City Limits. The heatmap shows, however, that calls are spread much more evenly over the city with only a few concentrated areas.

  • November

    703 Complaints

    First complaint: 11/1/14 12:02 AM
    Last complaint: 11/30/14 11:34 PM

    November brings the third member of Austin's music festival trifecta - Fun Fun Fun Fest, which still brings a spike in complaints despite its self-described reputation as one of the most relaxed festivals on the scene.

  • December

    730 Complaints

    First complaint: 12/1/14 2:03 AM
    Last complaint: 12/31/14 11:25 PM

    Explanations for December's record number of complaints are few and far between. Holiday events like Austin's Trail of Lights may be to blame...or perhaps visiting relatives contribute to the stress of the season.

The Top Four

These four ZIP codes complained more than any other, though different times of year bring different stressors for each.

As you can see, while March holds the record for highest number of loud music complaints, due to the raucous SXSW, not every ZIP code sees a large increase during that time.

The summer months bring record lows for noise complaints.

In October and November, the months during which ACL and Fun Fun Fun are held, some areas complain at a level almost equal to SXSW numbers while others actually decrease.

See how your neighborhood stacks up

Enter your Austin-area ZIP code (or any in the city you're curious about) to see how many complaints about "loud music" were lodged in 2014.

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About the project

Rebecca Larson is a graduate student studying digital media, coding and development at Texas State University. Her passion for computer languages and programming is fueled by a background in foreign language and linguistic study. The focus of her graduate studies has been the use of digital media as a tool to explore and unpack complex news events and stories in ways that involve and interact with the audience.

This project was developed in the Coding and Data Skills for Communicators graduate course taught by Dr. Cindy Royal in Texas State's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The course was supported by the Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education funded by Online News Association in partnership with the Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund and the Rita Allen Fund.