Music City’s Restrictions on Music

Music City’s Restrictions on Music

In Reason, Christian Britschgi writes about how a Nashville ordinance that makes it illegal to have a home business restricts the ability of independent musicians to commercialize their creative works in home recording studios:

In August 2015, [owner of a home music studio Elijah] Shaw received a letter from the Department of Codes and Building Inspection informing him that his studio was an unpermitted home business and was therefore illegal. Shaw was given two weeks to cease and desist his recording operations or else face daily fines of $50 and potentially be taken to court.

“My heart just dropped completely,” Shaw says. “For the next week I couldn’t even sleep, like what am I going to do? This is my entire life, this is my everything.” [Emphasis added]…

Shaw had violated an obscure provision in Nashville’s zoning code that bans home businesses from serving clients on site. The code effectively outlaws his studio and thousands of others like it in a city made famous for its music. As written, it may even prevent home studio owners from inviting fellow musicians into their homes.

For a city with a $5 billion music industry, it’s rather odd to restrict the ability of upstart musicians and music studios to practice their trade. Imagine if towns in the Bay Area had made it illegal to start a tech company in your garage. Beyond that, there are two important points to be made.

First, here’s one part of the regulation that’s rather odd: unless you’re playing death metal at 3am, it’s perfectly legal to have a band in your home that just plays music for fun. And while this contradiction doesn’t come into play for other home businesses, it’s reminiscent of George Carlin’s “why is it illegal to buy something it’s perfectly legal to give away?” joke.

Second, and this point must be stressed, Shaw was clearly scared for his well being due to the potential fine and jail time. Kudos to him and the Institute for Justice for fighting this regulation, but his fear of government sanctions for his harmless home business should give supporters of this regulation pause. Whether or not you think what Shaw is doing is bad, would society be made better off by enforcing this regulation? (No.)

Perhaps this regulation would make sense if every home studio turned it into Grand Central Station, but this doesn’t seem to be the case (in practice, the regulation has a “don’t ask, don’t tell” enforcement policy.)

While this may seem like a “Baptists and Bootleggers” scenario, where “concerned residents” are able to provide cover for those with the resources to afford professional music studios interested in restricting competition, Britschgi found that “there does not appear to be any record of why this prohibition on clients visiting home businesses even exists.” Instead, it just seems like one more way nosy NIMBYs can restrict the ability of others to earn a living.

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By |2019-04-19T06:56:17-07:00April 19th, 2019|Blog, Land Use Regulation|