SXSW Outdoor Music Permits

There has been a lot of concern about temporary multi-day outdoor music venues that will be set up for the SXSW Music festival this year.  Of particular concern is that the notices that were sent out to anyone within a 600 ft radius of these locations seemed to indicate that the permits would be granted with a very high 85 decibel limit.  In the past, 75 decibels has been the norm for these permits and, while 85 may not seem much higher than 75, the decibel scale is logarithmic which means that 85 decibels is actually twice as loud as 75 decibels.

Concerned residents contacted SRCC as well as the City of Austin’s Music Office to complain about the increased volume limit and express concern over the precedent that this would set.  I was able to get some information from Don Pitts, Head of the Music Office, that sheds some light on the issue and seems to indicate that this year’s SXSW will actually be quieter than last year.

First of all, the notices are poorly worded.  They indicate the decibel limit that the applicant has applied for, not the limit that they have been granted.  Section 9-2-30 of City Code reads that, unless a more restrictive limit has been put in place, venues are allowed to go up to 85dB during “Spring Festival Season” up until 2AM.  Here is section 9-2-30:


(A) Unless a more restrictive decibel limit is required by a temporary event impact plan, a condition on an outdoor music venue permit, or by another provision of this code, sound equipment for which a permit has been issued under Subpart B (Live Music Permits) may be operated at the following decibel levels:

(1) Up to 85 decibels between 10:00 a.m. and:

    (a) 10:30 p.m. on Sunday through Wednesday;

    (b) 11:00 p.m. on Thursday; or

    (c) 12:00 midnight on Friday or Saturday.

(2) Up to 85 decibels at an outdoor music venue with an occupancy capacity of 600 or fewer people located in the Warehouse District or Sixth Street District, between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m.

(3) Up to 85 decibels during the spring festival season, between 10 a.m. and 2 a.m.

(B) In addition to the requirements of Subsection (A) of this section, use of sound equipment at an outdoor music venue is:

(1) limited to 70 decibels if the venue is associated with a restaurant (general) use, as prescribed under Section 25-2-808

(Restaurants and Cocktail Lounges), and the hours of operation prescribed under Subsection (A) of this section; and

(2) subject to the decibel limits prescribed under Section 25-2-583 (Commercial Recreation (CR) District Regulations), if located in a commercial recreation district.

(C) The decibel limits prescribed under this section must be measured with a decibel meter approved by the music office.

In reality, the Music Office rarely grants a permit at the 85 decibel level and, instead, looks at each venue to recommend cut-off levels as well as cut-off times.

Don informed me that almost all of the venues this year have lower decibel limits than last year except for Snack Bar and HomeSlice which are already mandated to not exceed 70 decibels by the code (section 9-2-30 B-1 above) because they are associated with a restaurant.  The following is a list of each of the venues for SXSW – there are a couple that are at 80 decibels but that is not new and the limit is based upon the Music Office’s analysis of the venue:




Cutoff Times

Decibel Limits

R. Ring at Hill Country Weavers

1701 South Congress




Freebirds Stage at St Vincent de Paul

1327 South Congress




Snack Bar Side Show

1224 South Congress


8pm – weds-thurs, 10pm fri-sat


Music by The Slice – Home Slice

1415 South Congress




8th Annual Front Gate Tickets Morning After Party

1711 South Congress




Yard Dog Parties

1510 South Congress




PW on Congress

1511 South Congress




Austin 360 Rock the Lot

305 South Congress




14th Annual SXSan Jose

1316 South Congress


8pm – weds-thurs, 10pm fri-sat


Arlyn Studios

200 Academy Drive





Finally, there was also some confusion about the 200 Academy Drive location. This is the commercial lot formerly known as the old Opera House and is located next to the St. Cecilia.  This is run by Arlyn Studios and the stage will be aimed to the east away from the residents in the single family homes that are adjacent just as it was last year.

Although the Music Office does not enforce these limits – APD must be called to do the enforcement – they can deny the permit next year.  Please report any music that you believe to be over the limit to APD and make sure a formal complaint is filed so that it will be included in the review of the permit next year.  If you can take the extra step of getting a decibel meter on your smart-phone and measuring the volume, that would even be better.

Here is a chart and a little video that gives an overview of how to understand decibel levels.  The decibel ratings are to be measured at the edge of the property line.  For example, if you are at the edge of the property line and the music sounds as loud as a lawn mower, there may be a compliance issue.

If you have questions, please contact me at or Don Pitts at


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