Barracuda Music Tech Expo: Thank you, Austin!

Blunt Force - Barracuda Music Tech Expo

When I competed in a national student entrepreneurship competition in Miami, one of my judges asked me, “What gets you out of bed every morning?”

The answer: My friends and family. My staff. My mission.

Luckily for me, my staff is made up of my friends, and I consider the whole lot of them part of my family. Luckily for me, I’ve somehow managed to impart a seemingly impossible mission to them: Sustain Austin’s local music scene by doing our part in making a difference in how music consumers view the city’s entertainment space.

Luckily for me, yesterday proved that making a change is possible and not as far out of reach as we all had thought.

Capital Factory Discussion

It’s a heavy-handed task. From what I observed at yesterday’s Capital Factory’s discussion on Austin Music People’s music economic impact study, it is just short of being an impossible task. As Transmission Events GM Bobby Garza pointed out at the Capital Factory panel, door covers in Austin have not experienced the same level of inflation as other goods — in the past few decades, venues have consistently charged $5 at the door (if they choose to charge anything at all). As we have pointed out before, free shows aren’t paying starving artists. Cheap shows aren’t feeding them either.

Of the other topics discussed during Capital Factory’s discussion, a couple of other points struck me. First, it’s obvious that we need to have a community-wide AA meeting. Austin has a drinking problem. Liquor sales in Texas surged in 2015 while artists still saw the same $5 covers split among them. Also, drinks are much more price elastic than music — have you ever paid $4 for a cocktail in a hole-in-the-wall art bar and then barhopped to Rainey and paid $11 for the same drink? Music doesn’t work the same way. Whether it’s Rainey or Dirty Sixth, $5 is the usual door charge.

Second, the owners of The White Horse reminded everyone of the obnoxiously high liquor taxes that may impede venues from paying artists more for their services. Because venues may not always be able to subsidize the artist fees, they must have to rely on cover charges to pay their musicians. But if venues raise the cover charges, how will it affect liquor sales, or will it affect liquor sales at all?

Lastly, despite being Live Music Capital of the World, why are our “music lovers” refusing to pay a higher amount at the door to contribute to the artist hunger fund? As one woman pointed out during the panel, it’s not uncommon in other cities such as Boston, Houston or San Diego to pay upwards $20 for a show. However, some people may make an argument for accessibility–cheaper shows give more people more access to entertainment and therefore encourages more appreciation for the arts. But on the other side of things, if “appreciation” is measured in tips, artists often are left feeling nothing short of unappreciated.

How do you convince the massive consumer population of Austin that musicians deserve a larger cut of the pie? $5 may have been an acceptable price before, but with Austin’s cost of living rising and affordability becoming a larger issue for many musicians, how do you change the deeply embedded traditional mindset that anything more than $5 at the door is “too much” but a $15 bar tab is modest?

I was happy to see many of the same tech companies who were set to demo their businesses at our event (TipCow, Synethesia Live, Spot Caller) were present at the panel. It was obvious that a music tech clique was starting to form and join forces in order to do their part in answering these questions and make a meaningful impact on the music community.

On Vinyl’s Social Experiment

After boiling my bodyweight in crawfish with my own sweat and tears for On Vinyl’s last Volstead event, we were disappointed that we were not able to afford to pay the artists as much as what we thought they deserved and realize the profit we made was marginal. While we packed the venue with more or less 100 people on a Sunday, we could only dish out a few bucks per band even with the cover being $5/$8 in addition to our crawfish sales.

So after the Austin Music People study was released, we put down our foot on $5 shows. With the Barracuda event creeping over us after SXSW, we had to decide: What is an ethical dollar amount to collect at the door and distribute to the bands without sacrificing potential liquor sales? And how do we followup a week full of free shit with an event on a weeknight that asks for more than the traditional $5 cover at the door?

We decided we would charge $12–enough to pay our three bands, enough to break the status quo, but not nearly as unappealing to the public as $20. It would allow us to engage more people outside of our usual St. Edward’s college crowd (college kids are usually poor, FYI) and, in combination with a more mature opening band Krypteia Collective, we would be able to reach and attract a slightly older audience. Killing two birds with one hard-hitting stone–those were our goals.

Being strikingly lucky, I was able to half-convince the Barracuda partners that we could still bring out a decent amount of Wednesday bar-goers with a $12 cover. Though we didn’t make our goal of reaching 50 presale tickets, we were just short of that amount and still brought out many more people to the actual event than we had previously expected. Given that our event was on a Wednesday night, we brought close to 60-70 people, raised close to $500 even after a lowered door price ($7), and as for the bands, I’m happy to say that each group that performed is being paid $125 for their services.

We have a lot of work to do, but $125 per band is a good start. For our event, it’s far more than we expected for a weeknight. And more than anything else, I’m proud to be slowly making a larger impact in the community by providing artists with higher pay for their work.

Thank you, Austin.

Firstly, I want to thank the venue workers and bar owners of Barracuda, for having faith in our efforts.

I want to thank the bands for their enthusiasm and delivery: Krypteia Collective, especially Joel Garza for being our point of contact, the DA$ boys who killed it on stage, and of course, Euphoria artists Blunt Force for keeping the love alive even past our event closing time.

Thank you, Spot Caller, TipCow, Solstice Live + Heye Minds, and especially our visual artists Synethesia Live for supporting the musicians of Austin at Barracuda last night.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to the On Vinyl Media family, past and present, incuding all On Vinyl Music staffers and ATX On Record writers for their help in contributing to presale tickets and for event setup.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, artists of Austin, for having a whopping $1.8 billion economic impact on the city. And thank you, Barracuda attendees, for proving that a $12 door cover isn’t too far of a stretch, even on a dreary Wednesday night.