Austin received his education at North Texas State University and taught at University of California-Davis, and later at University of South Florida and at the Center of the Creative and Performing Arts of SUNY in Buffalo, NY. He was a principal founder and editor of Source, a journal of avant-garde music. He achieved his first success with his composition Improvisations for Orchestra and Jazz Soloists in 1961, performed by the New York Philharmonic and commercially recorded. He experimented with an open style in which sections of the composition are designated for free improvisation by the performers and the work's overall form is controlled by analogue notation. He also uses electronic and theatrical devices in his composition.