Faster Than Sound: Austin Music Industry Adjusts to Life Without Gigs
Creative pivots, City Council relief resolution, and meet Quinn Ryan Curtin!
Here's one thing you couldn't do pre-quarantine: Get toilet paper delivered to your house from Hotel Vegas. The Eastside live music venue road-tested no-contact drop-offs of Lone Star, Frito pie kits, and other essentials last week – with all proceeds going to employees.
"We're trying to figure out creative and clever ways to incentivize people so we can support our staff," offers Marketing Director Courtney Goforth.
She's taken down ticket sales for shows through the end of April, and says the venue continues to assess the damage on a weekly basis. During a panel hosted last week by the Austin Music Foundation, a group of local artist managers attracted thousands of views on the topic of "pivoting" during months without gigs. Louie Carr lauded the "unique opportunity" for his client Jackie Venson, a longtime proponent of livestreaming.
While the local guitarist/vocalist upped offerings to daily airings of archival footage and nightly performances, the medium's also built viewership for Carr artist Gina Chavez, who didn't stream solo previously.
"With livestreaming, don't compare yourself [to other people]," says Carr. "If you're getting 30 people, that's a great house concert. You're seeing a lot of artists make that direct connection with fans where they didn't before, which is really empowering,"
Like the Chronicle's shift to livestream listings, local music fixture Beth Chrisman went digital in curating upcoming folk and country viewing opportunities on her site, Cabin Fever Tunes. The full-time bandleader and side player says the concert calendar attracts hundreds of views daily, as well as steady donations. As for her own performance, streaming to the large viewership of the Birmingham-based Revelator Coffee Company's Instagram covered her rent for the month.
"To just connect with people – get out of my head and do my regular job for an hour or 30 minutes – made me feel a lot better," she adds. "All any of us want to do is play music, and it's so weird to suddenly be without that."
Austin Music Foundation's roundtable also advised artists to upkeep online merch. In response to COVID-19, local printers like Under Pressure Screen Printing, Raw Paw, and Fine Southern Gentlemen developed programs to make T-shirts for no cost. The shops host presales, print the tees, and then ship directly to customers – leaving clients only the profits.
Goforth says Fine Southern Gentlemen helped open web stores for all of the Hotel Vegas ownership group's venues, including Barracuda and Kinda Tropical. Alongside apparel, the former offers a $250 "Barry's Royalty Key," which guarantees free entry to all shows for the remainder of the year. Read up on all venue fundraisers and presales on our Daily Music Blog.
"With merch, we can keep our designers employed and try to keep our staff fed," she explains. "It's also really important to keep communicating cool stuff through our social channels. Because, more than anything, we want people to feel like it's not over for us. We will be opening our doors again."
With venues shuttered, Adrienne Lake focuses on 20 years of music industry equity. After joining South by Southwest full time as a Music Festival Programmer last fall, the booking vet lost her job in major staff layoffs last month. She recently published "A Pandemic Survival Guide for the Music Community" on the local Chicken Ranch Records site.
"We're all in shock," she pointed out. "But, believe it or not, there are a lot of silver linings here. We just need to put it in perspective and think outside the box."
Music Advocates Rally for COVID-19 Relief via City Council & Fundraising
After weeks of behind-the-scenes chatter with city leaders following SXSW's catastrophic cancellation, Austin music groups made their first big move last week. Over a dozen local music nonprofits rallied behind a broad COVID-19 relief resolution written by Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, which passed unanimously last Thursday. A letter sent to Council members read like a glossary of Austin music advocacy, including Austin Texas Musicians, Black Fret, the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM), Red River Cultural District, and SIMS Foundation.
The letter pushed for speedy assistance to both workers ("musicians, production staff, and venue employees") and music venues, arguing that currently available Small Business Administration loans won't meet the needs of homegrown music hubs.
The request added that advocacy organizations "are on standby" with economic data on the crisis. Earlier this month, HAAM distributed a survey to more than 2,600 members before announcing expanded services beyond affordable health care for local musicians. Almost 80% of recipients said they had been affected by SXSW's cancellation and/or COVID-19, and that income losses would "drastically affect their ability to meet basic needs" in coming months, including food, rent, and prescriptions, which the organization now pivots to assist with.
Both HAAM and the Red River Cultural District plan to distribute H-E-B gift cards as the first wave of assistance. The latter group already received over 650 applications for relief from the Banding Together ATX fund, and plans to notify recipients soon.
"While we recognize this is a temporary aid to a much bigger, long-term issue, we feel it is imperative that we find a balance between immediate support for those struggling now and long-term efforts that we are hopeful will protect our musicians and music community from more dire situations down the road," wrote HAAM CEO Reenie Collins in an email to members.
Music Industry Gig Workers will benefit from the new federal stimulus bill, which opens eligibility for new grants and loans to independent contractors and self-employed workers. In a press release, the Austin Creative Alliance encouraged "musicians, artists, and other gig employees whose work has been affected by the coronavirus outbreak" to apply through the Texas Workforce Commission, adding, "They should collect previous 1099 forms, contracts for canceled gigs, and other documents that can help officials establish eligibility."
Quinn Ryan Curtin, newest member of the Chronicle music crew, showed up three weeks early on Wednesday, March 18. According to new dad/staff writer Kevin Curtin and partner Molly Ryan, he's so-named for the Bob Dylan tune "Quinn the Eskimo (the Mighty Quinn)," complete with appropriate wordsmithing, "Ev'rybody's in despair .../ But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here/ Ev'rybody's gonna jump for joy"! At 6 pounds, 15 ounces, he'll surely make the perfect prop for his father's unhinged comedic videos. Curtin further updates: "He's spent the first two weeks of his life being serenaded by his dad – ancient folk songs and limericks I make up about breastfeeding – and visiting friends through the window, which will prepare him for if he's ever in prison. We're excited to get an extra $500 in federal relief for him. Quinn says he wants me to spend it on records."