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Most Charlotte Musicians Struggle, But Study Finds Hope In Expanding Scene

Charlotte Music Ecosystem Study and Action Plan

Updated 4:04 p.m.

Most musicians in Charlotte aren't getting rich following their passion. A new study of the city's music scene found the median income from music for local musicians is below $10,000 a year. But the study published Monday also found that Charlotte's music scene is relatively healthy: 81 percent of local music venues and presenters plan to book more local music in the future. 

The report also outlines other successes and challenges for local musicians and venues and offers recommendations. 

"The Charlotte Music Ecosystem Study and Action Plan" was based on an online survey of more than 1,800 people and interviews with more than 70 people involved in music. It was commissioned for Charlotte Center City Partners and the Music Everywhere initiative, which is aimed at growing the music business in Charlotte. The study was done by consultants Sound Music Cities, of Austin, Texas.

Most musicians here consider themselves freelancers. Only 15 percent have full-time jobs in music, according to the study. Only 22 percent have no other income besides their music jobs. Fifty-nine percent said they earn less than $10,000 a year from music.

Major issues cited by musicians include rising housing costs, a lack of health insurance, and a need for affordable rehearsal space.  

Among other things, the report recommends grants for local artists and formation of a Charlotte Musicians' League, to advocate for musicians. It also calls for more support for music journalism and campaigns to build awareness of local music. And it suggests creating an alliance of local music venues.

The study found that 27 percent of Charlotte's is "very interested" in discovering new music. It adds to evidence that there is support for local music in Charlotte. As the report notes, WFAE got more than 400 submissions last year for its local music podcast "Amplifier."

Joe Kuhlmann, owner of The Evening Muse on North Davidson Street, said he's glad the city is taking steps to strengthen what can be a fragile industry.

"It's giving us insight as to where are needs are, things that we are maybe doing a good job at and things that we maybe not be doing as good a job at," Kuhlmann said.

He said he hopes the report will help build the music community here in ways that recognize its diversity. 

"I think one of the biggest tells that's going on with it is this idea of Charlotte as a melting pot. I think we need to learn to embrace that," Kuhlmann said. 

The plan includes dozens of suggestions in a sort of five-year plan to shore up and expand the music scene — from holding an annual "Give to Charlotte Music Day" to raise money for grants to local musicians, to creating an annual "high profile" music festival or other kinds of Charlotte "signature" events.

"I look forward to working with city leaders and my colleagues in the industry to put it into action,” Kuhlman said.  

For city council members Larken Egleston and Tariq Bokhari, the study points the way.

“I’m excited to now have data that demonstrates the demand for an even stronger music scene in Charlotte. We have the talent, we have the fanbase, and now we have a roadmap to expand, promote, and support a more robust music ecosystem in Charlotte," Egleston said in a press release.

Added Bokhari: “With this action plan, we have made a great first step in becoming a well-known destination for music.”

The full report and recommendations are available at MusicEverywhereCLT.com.


The report will be among the topics at a free panel discussion titled “Charlotte: Making of a Music City” on Thursday, May 9, 2019, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at Discovery Place uptown. It's part of the Charlotte SHOUT festival.  Music Everywhere also will host a series of roundtables Thursday at 4 p.m. in the Discovery Place Education Studio.

David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.