Playback: Austin Record Label Rendezvous
The Austin Record Label Flea Market bands together local imprints, while County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt tries to scatter mass gatherings such as Levitation
The recorded music industry's been dying for so long that we don't even bother to change its bedpan anymore. Despite promising pulses with vinyl's resurgence and subscription streaming, the futile exchange of cash-for-songs trends toward commercial decay. I went to the mall last week and found no music retailer, which tells me that Average Joe America and his Molly-snorting millennial daughter have transcended the "paying for product" music model.
And yet our city's stacked with micro record companies, enough to justify an Austin Record Label Flea Market, spinning Saturday, 5-9pm, at Mohawk. The inaugural event features 30 mostly local labels ranging from acclaimed brands like Brian Sampson's Western Vinyl to niche media sources including quality dub selecta Charlie's Records and Butcher Bear's DJ soul imprint (iN)Sect. These aren't the David Geffens of the world, but rather well-intentioned victims of a get-poor-slow-scheme that fundamentally assists underground bands.
"It's a labor of love and passion," confirms Chicken Ranch Records owner Mike Dickinson, who'll unearth a few copies of his out-of-print 7-inch from new grunge heroes Bully (see "Music Listings") for the event. "Instead of trying to make X amount of dollars, you think about what's culturally important and what gives people pleasure."
That selfless attitude extends beyond economics to enable the creative class.
"Since we do the administrative stuff, it helps artists concentrate on making music and gives them a platform for whatever they're doing," says Jonathan Slade, co-founder of internationally demanded experimental cassette/LP slingers Holodeck Records. "Then we can get word out about it because self-promotion can be a weird zone for musicians."
The local label doubles as a motivating vote of confidence to artists.
"I started Pau Wau as a stepping stone label to give bands something to represent them," says Nick Cornetti. "So whenever people look them up, they're not saying, 'Oh this band still isn't signed.' They're like, 'You're signed to a label? Well maybe I should help you out more because you're going places.'"
Cornetti's never obliged a second release, always advising bands to explore options and move up. That effort's worked. Pau Wau alums like Ghost Wolves, Roger Sellers, and Cornetti's own American Sharks have all graduated to larger labels.
When Transmission Events booker Marcus Lawyer proposed the flea market concept to a few labels, the effort snowballed until he was hosting more local record makers than he ever knew existed. Of course it's easier to attract sellers than buyers – especially the youngsters who barely showed face at the Austin Record Convention earlier this month. Lawyer isn't worried.
"We've already had an overwhelming response compared to what I was anticipating," he says. "I thought we were going to start small and grow, but there's so much community chatter about it that I feel confident."
If you attend, I recommend picking up Austin's essential 2015 releases: Monofonus Press' We Jam by Condos comp and Brutal Panda's issuance of stellar Cherubs comeback, 2 Ynfynyty. Select labels will also be excavating rarities, and Richard Lynn promises Super Secret Records T-shirt giveaways. For Chris Dock Davis, president of spirited art collective Raw Paw, the market is an opportunity to share inspiration with fellow musicmakers.
"Anyone dedicating their life to this industry is an ally. The better they can explore and broaden the gene pool of possibility, the more I can learn from what they're doing and make it work for us and repeat it," he explains. "And it pushes you. If you're running a race and someone's running next to you and really hustling, you're going to be hustling too."
Proposed Regulations Stress County Fests
Out in the countryside that surrounds Austin, the hills are alive with the sound of music. Recently proposed changes to the way Travis County issues mass gathering permits, however, could send music festival promoters running for the county line.
The policy changes, introduced by County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt, would streamline permitting by funneling all mass gathering applications through the Fire Marshal's Office. It also imposes earlier sound curfews that would shut down music at 10pm Sunday-Thursday and midnight Friday-Saturday. It's the latter that concerns event organizers who host shows outside Austin's city limits.
"I love the idea of simplifying the permit process to go through the Fire Marshal instead of talking to every agency where things get lost," admits Matt Bizer, whose promotions concern Robot Fondue co-hosts the Heartbreaker Banquet at Willie Nelson's ghost town, Luck, during South by Southwest. "However, some verbiage in this new application process puts restrictions on music times and it's unclear whether that's something they're doing on a case-by-case basis or setting a new policy."
Eckhardt's proposal came in response to formal complaints from Brenton Johnson, owner of Johnson's Backyard Garden, against neighboring Carson Creek Ranch, which hosts Levitation, Euphoria, and other springtime festivals (revisit "Fests Vs. Farms," June 5). Carson Creek property manager Joan Havard says the restricted music hours threatens her customer base.
"With Levitation, that's over eight hours of liquor sales and programming they can't do," she notes. "That's a lot of revenue lost."
Consequently, none of Carson Creek's existing or prospective clients have committed to hosting events there in 2016.
"They're all holding off to see what happens here," she says, referring to the July 7 public hearing that could authorize the restrictions. "They'll go somewhere else because Travis County is the only county in Texas that's trying to impose this."
Scott Davidson, a public safety/risk management expert who handles mass gathering applications for Carson Creek's events, notes another aspect of the proposal posing logistical concerns for organizers: The new rules require them to submit an unrealistic amount of information, documents, and contracts 45 days before the event, which would pressure promoters to hastily finalize details. Even with such advanced filing, permits are typically approved just 10 days before the event.
Davidson believes the County Commissioners are overreaching their authority by subjectively judging events, using their own criteria rather than following the established state law of the Texas Mass Gatherings Act.
"The insinuation that mass gathering permits will be ruled on subjectively adds further instability in the permitting process for promoters who wish to conduct business in Travis County," he says.
By overreacting to a complaint, the County Commissioners risk creating a scenario in which festival organizers might skip the hassle of holding events in greater Travis County. It also hobbles one of the area's greenest pastures – Carson Creek Ranch, a vibey venue with ample parking that's close to town. During the public hearing period, which runs until July 7, you can voice your support for Carson Creek Ranch by sending a letter to the commission – a process made easy at CCR's Facebook page.
Bill Callahan spent Sunday afternoon serenading the Austin Public Library, a fitting setting for the songwriter whose performances exude a literary quality. Fans lined the aisles, peeking through books to glimpse Callahan offering a spacious version of "Dress Sexy at My Funeral" with adapted lyrics: "Tell them about how I gave to charity and tried to love my fellow man, but most of all don't forget about the time I played at the library for free."
Larry Monroe receives a dedication and blessing on Saturday, 10-11am, via the Larry Monroe Forever Bridge, located at the 500 block of East Side Drive – five blocks east of South Congress and half a block north of Monroe Street. The late radio personality died last year after championing Texas roots music locally for more than three decades. A mosaic bearing his name will be unveiled at Little Stacy Neighborhood Park, 1500 Alameda.
Spider House Ballroom has undergone a change in leadership. Eva Mueller was dismissed as the venue's managing booker on June 4. "It was a shock to me," she says. "They hired me because they wanted eclectic booking and a diverse events calendar, which is what I brought." Taking the reigns is Fernando Moore, an audio specialist whose immediate focus is maximizing potential of the compound's five performance areas and tailoring production concepts to suit artists.
The 512 On Sixth, a nightclub and two-stage music venue utilized annually by SXSW, has been shut down by the state. Last Thursday, a notice appeared on their door: "Warning, this property has been seized for nonpayment of taxes owed the state of Texas."