Thriving music industry plays local economy’s favorite song

Evergreen, St. Martin’s studies show millions generated by related businesses

ahobbs@theolympian.comJune 9, 2014 

Olympia’s music industry has a multimillion-dollar impact on the local economy, and some residents say the city needs to tap the potential of this cultural asset.

Studies from two colleges confirm the value of the music industry here. Both reports suggest that Olympia should conduct its own surveys and focus groups in order to paint a more accurate picture.

Students at The Evergreen State College released a report in 2010 titled “Impacts of the Music Industry in Greater Olympia: Estimating the Economic and Non-Dollar Values Music Brings to Our Community.” The report revealed that in 2008, the Olympia area’s music-related businesses were directly responsible for 508 jobs and $27.6 million in sales.

“The report opened my eyes,” said Michael Olson, a longtime musician and member of the Olympia Arts Commission. “If this is just music, you can imagine the impact of the entire arts community.”

Olson and the commission requested the study after reading about the music industry’s impact on Seattle. According to the Seattle Office of Film and Music, Seattle’s music industry directly created 11,155 jobs with annual sales of $1.2 billion in 2008. Research by the University of Washington also found that in King County, the industry had an overall impact of 20,193 jobs with $2.2 billion in sales in 2008, the city reports.

The Evergreen study was conducted by William Bennett, Becca Kenna-Schenk, Abbey LaBarre and Rose Sampson, who were enrolled in the college’s Masters of Public Administration Program. According to their report, the music industry includes artists, instrument sales, radio stations, record production, record stores, publishing, drinking establishments and more. The students collected state data on revenue, employment and labor income.

Riley Moore, Ph.D., an economics professor at Saint Martin’s University, released a companion report this year titled “Recent Trends and Economic Impacts of the Greater Olympia Area Music Industry.” According to Moore’s report, the local music industry created 692 jobs and a total economic output of $88.3 million in 2010.

Compared with the Evergreen report, Moore said he used a newer software program and more current data to calculate the music industry’s direct and indirect impact.

“The numbers are somewhat conservative because we’re not including consumer expenditures, which can be huge,” Moore told The Olympian, referring to concertgoers who also spend money at restaurants and hotels. “That requires survey work to identify those people.”

At the city’s General Government Committee meeting recently, Olson and fellow arts commission members Trent Hart and Danielle Westbrook urged the city to further study and market Olympia’s music industry.

“Regardless of its accuracy,” Westbrook said of the Evergreen study, “there are still millions of dollars coming from music.”

Committee member and Councilman Jim Cooper said that the findings were significant enough to warrant a study.

“This is something that’s valuable to promote,” Cooper said.

Arts commission members also recommended a proposal called Music Out Loud. The concept would involve the creation of four sidewalk performance spaces in downtown Olympia. Each site would honor residents with a significant connection to the community’s music scene. Commission members said they’d like to launch Music Out Loud in 2015, and said the program could draw families to nearby businesses while raising the visibility of local musicians.

Olympia’s music scene has nurtured an eclectic blend of artists and movements for decades.

Founded in 1982, K Records is one of Olympia’s most influential players in the independent music scene. Rock icon Kurt Cobain tattooed a K Records shield on his forearm before rising to international fame with Nirvana.

Aside from cultivating indie bands with a do-it-yourself aesthetic, the label has worked with notable artists such as Beck, Modest Mouse and Kimya Dawson.

Now housed in an old synagogue in downtown Olympia, K Records also rents its Dub Narcotic Studio. The label is still focused on releasing new music, with three records slated for this fall, said general manager Mariella Luz.

In 2009, Luz and the Olympia All-Ages Project founded the venue Northern to make the local music scene more accessible to youths. Located at 414 Legion Way, the all-ages venue hosts about a dozen shows per month, Luz said.

“Olympia is just one of those incredible cities,” said Luz, who estimates there are at least 100 shows a month across the city. “So much is going on.”

K Records founder Calvin Johnson continues to tour across the nation and Europe, but calls Olympia home. The music scene thrives because of a large number of performance spaces along with open-minded venue managers who help young artists hone their skills, he said. Johnson also credits the Olympia scene’s fierce enthusiasm for local musicians, who often feed off one another’s creativity.

“They’re inspired by it or prodded by it,” Johnson said. “They just grow up on it and push it along a little further.”

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 ahobbs@theolympian.com

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