While leading Austin’s music development efforts for seven years, I learned that there are fundamental aspects that often get overlooked when working on music policy. Turns out no matter how savvy you are, every meaningful policy initiative—regardless of its projected impact—requires partnerships to work. Having solid, trust-based community relationships is non-negotiable. And every voice matters in those conversations.

So my team did a lot of up-close and personal work with venues and neighborhoods over the last decade. We started with an approach like those who had come before us, but after a few years of meetings, a lot of focus groups, and many late nights on porches, patios, and sidewalks with frustrated neighbors, we went back to the drawing board.

This time, we talked to the venues, sound engineers, working artists, fans, elected officials, bartenders, law enforcement, and music nonprofits. What was the end result from such a simple change? A 70% reduction in sound complaints without any significant policy changes. 

Our approach wasn’t necessarily about turning down sound levels or spending millions on new sound systems, but rather connecting with everyone involved. We learned that although every stakeholder is different, they all have common traits; and once you identify the threads tying the community together, it’s much easier to find a resolution that works for everyone.

Big takeaways

Now, not all of the initiatives that we started in Austin were huge, game-changing victories right out of the gate. As with any major business undertaking, some initiatives that seemed to look good on paper just didn’t bring the return on investment that we needed.

But we did learn three very important things from all this:

  1. Don’t be afraid to try new things, even if they aren’t quite perfect
  2. Monitor and record the results, so we could learn how to improve
  3. Openly share our findings with our community to help them avoid our missteps

What strikes or home-runs have you encountered when implementing sound policy in your area? Did you learn things similar or different to our three big takeaways? Sound off in the comments below!

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