Sound permit changes seek to simplify SXSW party process and prevent musicshutdowns
Austin officials have made more lenient the sound permit process for venues hosting parties and other events during South By Southwest, looking to reduce headaches for event planners and prevent a repeat of problems that nearly closed down a series of high-profile parties on South Congress Avenue last year.
The changes went into effect Wednesday and require venues featuring amplified sound outdoors to submit a permit application 21 days prior for a 24-hour permit, and 30 days prior for a multi-day permit. That slightly longer lead time lets city officials review the specific needs and impact of each event and collaborate with police, fire and health departments to make sure all aspects of an event are reviewed and handled properly.
Don Pitts, City of Austin Music program manager, said the new process will keep applicants from having to check in multiple times with multiple departments in order to have their permit approved — a welcome change for city officials and promoters alike, given the growing SXSW party scene.
The new process will keep applicants from having to check in multiple times with multiple departments in order to have their permit approved — a welcome change given the growing SXSW party scene.
Last year, parties at Home Slice Pizza, Wahoo’s Fish Tacos, Hotel San Jose and others were either closed or forced to switch to acoustic sound because of a late change in the city’s sound permit process that wasn’t effectively publicized prior to the conference. In another example, Pitts said an expensive promotional event site launched by Pepsi sat idle for multiple days because the company didn’t have the right permits in place ahead of time.
“Lots of these folks invest a lot of money in these events and we want to let them be successful,” he said. “Before the permits were not all-inclusive, so you’d see someone waiting to speak to a certain department, then they’d have to go all the way to a different floor and wait again to talk about something else they were trying to do. Now we’ll have the fire, police and health departments all involved at the same time so they can all ask questions and get things taken care of. In most cases we can give an okay after a 20 minute talk about what they're planning on doing.”
Pitts also said the new approach lets city officials look at the 80 or so outdoor events at traditionally non-music venues held during SXSW in a macro manner, to identify potential bottlenecks and logistical problems that could arise. Early on, he said the concentration of parties typically held along South Congress Avenue and the growing area around East Sixth Street may lead to the use of shuttle services, centralized temporary food courts and street closures to manage the thousands of musicians, fans and marketers who flock to the city for 10 days in mid-March.
To help familiarize the community with the new requirements, the political action group Austin Music People will hold a free open house information session on Thursday, Jan. 19 at 7 p.m. at the old Austin City Limits studio located on the University of Texas campus. Pitts said the response to the enhanced permit process has already been positive, with several property owners along South Congress having checked in to discuss their event plans in an attempt to avoid another round of shutdowns.
In East Austin, business owner Emily Van Aken has also started working ahead on this year’s plans with Pitts, going over the dozen or so SXSW-related events scheduled at Shangri-La, The Grackle, Liberty and The Brixton, which she co-owns. Van Aken said that this new system has already proven to be simpler than previous years, when business owners never felt entirely sure that they were doing everything they needed to be in compliance.
“The last few years have been insane on the east side with the amount of people that are heading there, and we’ve all been trying to figure out what was happening, what we each needed to be doing and who we had to talk to,” she said.
“So far this seems a lot more straightforward, Don has even offered to come to me to talk about what we’ll be doing at our places. I definitely feel optimistic about how things are going to go down this year, versus the first year we were open, when I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing.”