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The St. Louis music scene needs a boost from local leaders, report finds

Fans listen to Thundercat perform in September, during the Music at the Intersection festival in Grand Center.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Fans listen to Thundercat perform on Sunday during the Music at the Intersection festival in Grand Center.

A do-it-yourself approach for artists, burdensome red tape and a whole bunch of rock musicians.

These observations and others from the St. Louis music economy are included in the executive summary of “Sound Diplomacy,” an ongoing study funded by the Regional Arts Commission and the Kranzberg Arts Foundation.

“It gives us a roadmap for how we can proceed in effective ways, and it aligns us with other cities that also have robust music ecosystems, so that we’re learning from them,” said MK Stallings, research and evaluation manager for RAC and founder of UrbArts Gallery in the Old North neighborhood.


A preview of the report released last week finds that the music industry in St. Louis pumps $2 billion into the economy annually and helps account for 28,135 jobs, nearly 18,000 of them directly — a higher percentage of all local workers than is typical among music scenes nationally. Each $1,000 spent directly within the music economy generates another $849 in indirect and induced spending, according to the report. Figures about the economic impact of the St. Louis music business come from 2019 data.

Sound Diplomacy, a research and strategy firm based in the U.K., wrote the report summary after conducting an economic impact assessment, online survey and interviews with 245 St. Louisans. Researchers also studied data about the local music business and compared the St. Louis music economy with those of New Orleans, Memphis, Indianapolis and Asheville, North Carolina.

The music business in St. Louis has advantages like a deep well of local talent and a boom in large music venues, but many musicians say it remains difficult to sustain a career in the field while staying in the region. The sector is also held back by competition from larger nearby markets like Nashville and Memphis, and a lack of coordination between local music-business leaders and local government officials, study authors said.

Yet, 30% of St. Louis musicians surveyed supplement their income with jobs outside the industry, and 65% say they don’t earn enough from music to hire professionals like agents and managers who could help them grow their careers. When they can afford publishing agents or entertainment lawyers, St. Louis musicians often hire professionals from outside the region.

“When people see an artist up on the stage, they don’t understand that there’s an army of people behind the scenes that makes that show happen,” said Reid Wick, a New Orleans musician and the Gulf Coast membership and industry relations manager for the Recording Academy, the organization that runs the Grammy awards. “The list is so long, it extends way beyond artist management, the booking agent and the venue people. It’s also the catering staff, the people who deal with parking and security. It’s the music that created these opportunities for all these jobs to happen.”

Among St. Louis music-business professionals who are not artists, live performances provide for 60% of jobs, including workers at venues, show producers and sound engineers. The other most-common jobs in the field are music educators, marketers and social media managers.

The study found that white, male workers earn more than all people of color and women of any race.

Festival goers react as Sandroniia Williams, 54, of downtown St. Louis, busts a move on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, during the Music at the Intersection festival in Grand Center.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Sandroniia Williams, 54, of downtown St. Louis, dances on Sunday at the Music at the Intersection festival in Grand Center.

The report includes 19 recommendations for strengthening the musical ecosystem of St. Louis, including many that would require cooperation with local officials. Proposed fixes include tax incentives for entertainment businesses, a more uniform policy toward closing streets for events and creating temporary loading zones near music venues.

While city government maintains an office dedicated to special events, producers must still navigate several municipal departments to secure all necessary permissions, and follow outmoded processes like mailing a physical check to City Hall, research participants said. Officials take a different approach in Kansas City, where event producers can secure permits online.

Musicians and event promoters would also like to see St. Louis municipal leaders take a fresh look at noise complaints.

“Whenever we’re facilitating a music event, it could get shut down by the police,” said Stallings. He said he’s received a police warning after neighbors complained about sound at UrbArts, and he’s also been forced to shut down an event. In neither case did responding officers have a device to measure the sound level, giving the impression that the decision to shut things down is a judgment call made by police on the scene, he said.

One way to balance the needs of event producers and neighbors is to charge a city employee with making sure not only that music venues have adequate soundproofing, but that units in newly constructed housing nearby do as well, Stallings said.


The St. Louis region has 777 music venues, 67 stores that sell recording equipment, 43 music festivals, 34 recording and rehearsal studios, 22 orchestras and choirs and 21 music radio stations, according to the report.

“Sound Diplomacy” also includes information about the audiences for live music. The majority of respondents were 50 years old or older.

Americana and folk music is their most popular genre to see live, picked by 19% of respondents. Rock was picked by 18% while 13% of respondents named jazz.

Alternative music, often considered a subgenre within rock, was named by an additional 9% of live music fans. Blues and classical were each named by 6% of survey respondents as their favorite styles.

Their preferences line up with the kinds of music available on St. Louis stages.

Rockers account for 21% of St. Louis musicians, followed by 17% who are Americana/folk artists and 15% who play jazz. Another 7% of responding musicians play alternative music.

RAC will present the findings of another report, taking an in-depth look at the overall arts economy of St. Louis, during a one-day conference in October.

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.