Music as an economic pillar: Implications of Huntsville’s music audit

L-R: Dennis Madsen looks on as Shain Shapiro of sound diplomacy presents the findings of Huntsville’s music audit.

By Dennis Madsen, Manager of Urban and Long-Range Planning for the City of Huntsville

When businesses, and their employees, consider making a move to Huntsville, Alabama, quality of life can be the critical tipping point in their decision making process.

We frequently hear decision makers point to Huntsville’s natural beauty, low cost of living and eclectic entertainment offerings as a pivotal factor in choosing the Rocket City. More recently, we’re hearing industry – those already here and those considering a move – share mounting excitement about how the City is embracing music.

Our music odyssey began in April 2018 when the City of Huntsville hired the international consulting group Sound Diplomacy to conduct a music audit. The company was tasked with providing an analysis of Huntsville’s current music economy coupled with tangible recommendations on how we can grow it through new infrastructure, updated zoning regulations and creative collaboration opportunities.

This past August, Sound Diplomacy officially presented their recommendations to Mayor Tommy Battle and the City Council on how to transform the Rocket City into a Music City.

This doesn’t mean we’re trying to become the next Nashville. Quite the contrary, the report focuses on how Huntsville can embrace its own local music talent and culture, leverage its proximity to music epicenters like Nashville and the Muscle Shoals, grow the local music ecosystem through Huntsville City Schools and recruit high caliber touring music acts by investing in and building out our music infrastructure. The audit was far reaching with exciting implications for Huntsville’s future.

Courtesy: Arts Huntsville

To read the report in full, visit For a quick synopsis, read on now.

Per the recommendations of the Music Audit, one of the first big steps is to establish a Music Board of Directors.  This Board, consisting of local industry professionals from a variety of backgrounds, will function as a partner with the City. The Board will be essential in ensuring the Audit’s recommendations are carried out.

Once the Board is officially created and appointed, one of its first tasks will be developing a process to establish a Music Office, starting with hiring a full-time Music Officer.  The Officer would serve in a capacity similar to that of an Executive Director and would be the person who, as Sound Diplomacy CEO Shain Shapiro puts it, “when the industry calls Huntsville, there is someone to answer the phone.”  Having the Board, and subsequently the first Music Officer, will set the stage for almost every other initiative to follow.

Other early opportunities, to be implemented by the City, the Board, and the Music Officer, as time and opportunity allow, include:

  • Assisting with the programming of music into various public spaces around the City
  • Investigating how and when to restart an old music or cultural event
  • Establishing a North Alabama-centric “Music Week”
  • Engaging the local public school systems to look for opportunities to expand music programming within the schools at an early age
  • Holding a minimum of two Open Forums each year as a “check-up/check-in” on progress
  • Creating a coordinated and music-specific events calendar
  • Building and maintaining a music database as a catalog of local resources that can be used by musicians and other industry professionals

Huntsville doesn’t do anything in a vacuum. Everything we do, from the building of a world- class amphitheater to the recruitment of industry, is meant to work together in a synergy that uplifts all.

The same is true of the Music Audit. It will assist us with workforce development, highlighting a music scene that will serve as a draw for relocating businesses and their workers. It will further the goal of economic diversification, taking advantage of an otherwise underleveraged industry to create jobs and opportunities for the artists who live here and those who support them. It will broaden our tourism footprint. Finally, and most importantly, it will contribute to the ongoing improvement of our quality of life for our residents. A thriving music scene is a core part of a community’s local culture.

As Mayor Battle says, “Music is the great unifier.” It connects neighbor to neighbor, and it contributes to the pride of a place, helping people feel connected to something bigger than themselves. After all, when all is said and done, developing Huntsville’s music economy is another strong pillar in the foundational success and longevity of a prosperous Huntsville.

This article is published in the October 2019 issue of Initiatives magazine.