Discover more from Herizon Music: The Newsletter
"Is Austin Still Weird?"
A former resident music fan returns to the scene
Join me on Monday, Nov. 6th in person or via live stream for the Women’s Music Industry Meetup at Girl Guitar in Austin, TX.
The question crosses my mind every time I fly into Austin Bergstrom International airport. “Is Austin Still Weird?” Yesterday was no exception, as I walked out the airplane gate and heard the tuning of guitars as a local band prepared to play to travelers in the main concourse.
The thing is, I never considered Austin weird. “Incomparable” seems an accurate descriptor, though much less catchy for marketing purposes. The city was unlike anything I’d experienced as a state capital, college town, and artsy hippy haven all rolled into one when I first visited in 1994. It felt like a large Ann Arbor, but less pretentious, more friendly, technically innovative, and musically superior. Moving there at age 28, it was the first place that ever felt like “home,” and I planned to die here.
Twenty two years later, my family made the decision in 2020 to leave the Live Music Capital of the World for the Motor City. When people ask why, we had a number of reasons that piled up due to the changing landscape:
unrelenting congestion (traffic, pedestrians, scooters, paddle boarders, people camping on sidewalks)
skyrocketing cost of living
closure of beloved locally-owned businesses
higher and higher high rises (can’t see the State Capitol building anymore)
family and friends relocating
Texas’ political climate (statewide, but affecting ATX just the same)
One thing I do know that hasn’t changed in Austin: the vibrant local live music scene. You forget how amazing it is until you live elsewhere for a while.
It’s almost miraculous that local musicians stay in Austin when you consider the changes mentioned above. High cost of living is an artist killer. TexasStandard.org reports rents rose 50% from 2001 to 2015, with 20% of musicians living below the federal poverty line. Austin’s average cost of living is ~$32K for a single person. Based on ZipRecruiter, assume 20% of artists live under the poverty line and 20% earn less than Austin’s average cost of living.
For female acts, it’s especially challenging with women booking ~20% of local venue shows at lower wages than their male counterparts. But like I said, Austinites are innovative.
“You can’t be a lazy artist in this town anymore. We have to be more creative… in everything,” says recording artist and Crescendo Creative Solutions coach Wendy Colonna. Finding new ways to reach larger audiences is key. “There are a lot more people, but they don’t know about us.”
Visit Austin pitches local musicians for visiting corporate events, but there is a disconnect between that and people who come here for ACL and SXSW where national or non-local acts are in the spotlight. “That’s how they identify Austin as a music town. Most of them don’t know that this [local] scene exists,” Wendy explains.
So, what does a music lover do when she hits ATX? Support the local musicians and the venues that book them! There’s so much to choose from, that I’m overwhelmed and overcommitted. Will the experience feel the same as when I lived here?
Here’s what “old school” Austin Thea is up to in the next few days:
Penny Jo Pullus of Texchromosome and I communed tonight with creatives in the Austin music scene, including teacher/activist/musician Jamie Bahr, singer/songwriter Lurleen Ladd of Wavemakers, and singer/musician/voice teacher Silvie Rider-Young. Penny Jo has transitioned her abode into the ultimate house concert and musician sanctuary aptly dubbed Peace House Farm.
We listened to new music and talked shop: upcoming projects, Austin’s need for a national record label and rehearsal space, exploring new revenue streams, the spiritual magic of making music, and how fortunate we are to have strong, innovative women in the Live Music Capital of The World. Now you know why this issue is dated so late at night!
On Monday, we head down to Mandy Rowden’s Girl Guitar for Herizon Music’s quarterly meetup. These gatherings have become a bonding activity for women who bust their asses in an industry that is tough on everyone, male or female.
Circling back around to artists needing to be creative to survive the current industry climate… Some of my favorite local artists are doing just that. Examples of what’s on my calendar this weekend:
Before the Friday happy hour, Wendy Colonna called. She’s definitely walking the walk in the creative business solutions department. On Sunday, she’s playing two spiritual gigs. Note: Wendy isn’t a “christian” artist; her work is branded as "“soul powered music,” which opens the door to an audience that doesn’t hit the bar at 11pm on a Saturday night. The first gig is 9am at a graveyard (definitely keeping it weird) in San Marcos and the second is at the Center of Spiritual Living 11am.
Chanteuse, musician, photographer, and painter (she’s a multi-creative) Jeska Forsyth is playing with her band at Lucky Rabbit in Jonestown tonight and with her husband Guy Forsyth at the Vortex on Saturday. She has six different professional projects listed on her website — heaven knows when this woman sleeps. Jeska is a force to be reckoned with, and I’m excited to see her perform for the first time since pre-COVID. Jeska is also hosting the Austin Artist Market on November 12th just in time for the holidays. Pick up some gifts and be the “cool” aunt or uncle this season.
Then there is Kris Schultz. This solo singer/songwriter/musician floors me every time with elegant simplicity. Her next show isn’t until November 18th, so The Universe stepped in yesterday. Kris emailed me a link to an episode of Songs… In Places, a series of music videos shot in the wild, if you will. These alluring videos are only available to her Patreon fans, but she released her favorite episode “Small Big Hearts” for the public because it’s that damn good. All the more reason to follow her on Patreon. Oh, and if you love dogs, y’all will be BFFs.
Stay tuned for next week’s article with photos from the weekend and a spotlight on Taff Optical Pickups CEO Connie Reeves.
Texas Chapter of the Recording Academy is hosting a “New Member Celebration” in Houston on November 6th. RSVP Here.
Sheryl Crow says the song “If It Makes You Happy” was written about having to defend herself and her work as a woman in a room full of men. Read it.
Amplify Her Voice chose six aspiring photographers for the “Equal Exposure” tour. There wee over 450 applicants! Here’s what happened…
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