Austin The Musicians
Let me premise this by stating that I am NOT denying the 2015 Census that delved into the Austin music scene in such detailed depth and what their data resulted in with regards to the entire range of topics.
All I can say here is what I garnered from the working musicians I talked to in the venues that week this past August when I was there. Granted I didn’t get into every single venue to see every single band, but the 6the District is a pretty good indicator of things due to the high volume of venues and musicians playing.
A certainty when you go into any venue is the ever present “Tip Jar” planted firmly at the front of the stage in order to help increase revenue for the band/artist. More times than not I saw that these jars were full, and people were throwing in different denominations – so it seems that patrons recognize the importance of this to musicians and act accordingly.
During the week I talked to solo artists, bands, different ages and genres and when I introduced myself and explained my common bond to them – they were very gracious and open which I give them the benefit of the doubt that they also were being straight with me about issues down there.
First off is that very few I spoke to were Austin born and bred, most like the citizens I chatted with were transplants from different parts of the U.S. From Chicago to California, from Seattle to Miami musicians all flocked to the focal point of live music in their opinion.
When I asked why not L.A (too dirty, too violent, too big) or Nashville (next on their career path, too many musicians) the common theme was that Austin for multiple reasons was #1 on their list to further their career. Some found living in Austin was expensive but many live in one of the satellite towns around Austin where rent or buying a condo was far more reasonable. They loved the “community” of the musicians in Austin and the vast amount of talent that allowed them to follow several options musically. They loved the climate year-round and the overall excitement of locals and tourists who flock to Austin to support the music scene. As I mentioned in a previous blog, the venues are packed from Sunday to Saturday with ALL demographics and except for Thursday nights being more about DJ music in some venues – its all about “live music”.
I talked to the musicians about the venue owners and how they are treated, everyone I spoke to said that venue owners down there treat them well and give the bands perks such as a bar & food tab that is separate from their pay. Some bands are paid a guarantee with bonus’s depending on the nights sales which they are transparent about with the bands – and as one lead singer told me, even with a guarantee that might be less than what they get someplace else – the Tip Jar always is full most nights to make it all worthwhile. Some bands/artists make $400-600.00 per show PLUS their Tip Jar and one guitarist told me he plays 3 different venues on Saturdays and Sundays with other acts, so he is doing quite well.
Hours of performance are interesting as bands/artist hit the stage anywhere from 8pm to 9pm and usually play to 1am and on weekends 2am – so it is diverse depending on the venue. In discussions with a few rock cover bands about so many musicians in town and finding work, well that seems not to be a problem at all. There is so many venues in Austin and so many satellite communities within a 30-minute drive that pretty much all of them can pick and choose how much they want to play – the better the band at a specific genre the more gigs and higher pay.
All in all based on those that I spoke to from the perspective of the musician and the venue owner – there seems to be a coordinated bond between the two and a general respect as each knows the other is part of the same formula that makes both of them successful. Of course this was just a microcosm of the Austin music scene that I only had 7 days to engage in and I’m sure there is bad bar owners and musicians unhappy with something about Austin’s music scene – but I was very fortunate to be “accepted” as an outsider by both, and both sides took time to give me an insight into the world they live in.
I know for myself if I was in my early thirties and had no roots here I would be gone in a heartbeat – lets face it, no one has come out of London in the last 20 years to REALLY have made a dent in the music world – The Trews make a good living but even they still just bounce across Canada over and over.
Going to Austin isn’t going to make you a star or get you a national spotlight, but there is more music industry people in Austin then there is in Toronto and with the pool of talented musicians there, someone of equal talent could put together a kick-ass band or make a comfortable living as a solo artist with well over 260 venues in Austin alone. There was more than one example mentioned by a musician or a bar owner of someone who came to the city 15-20 years ago and works 6 nights a week, owns a home and is quite respected and in demand by both venues and musicians alike. All things being equal I am sure there is lots of stories telling the opposite as well.
The one thing I do know as a musician – I loved the “community” and level of musicianship as well as the over all support of the industry in the city – and you don’t have to shovel heat ????
Austin 2015 Music Census
Jim McCormick - Allstage