Student musicians struggle in Austin
By Walton-Gray Martin
Austin is known as the “Live Music Capital of the World.” The city hosts a variety of musicians playing genres ranging from Rock, Jazz and Folk as laid out in 2015 by the Austin Music Census. Yet, Austin musicians face a wide variety of problems from legal aid for musicians to venue management, according to the same census. But student musicians like Connor McCampbell, the front man for local band Tc Superstar, say that in Austin they face a great struggle balancing school with their music.
“The hardest thing about playing music while being a student was definitely getting other students to work seriously on your projects,” McCampbell said. “It’s a time in a lot of people’s lives where they are trying out different things, so another student may be just trying out being in a band when you want to take it more seriously.”
According to the music census, 68.4 percent of Austin Musicians in 2013 earned less than $10,000. It is already difficult for any musician to survive on an income lower than the poverty line, which is set at $12,060 for one adult by the Department of Health and Human Services. For students trying to make it big in the music industry, they must juggle more than surviving on a low income. Student musicians have to balance the price of being an artist with cost of their education, all while making sure they have food to eat. On top of that, student musicians have to balance their studies with the time commitment of being an artist.
Lead singer of the band Ben Root and the Community and University of Texas sophomore Ben Root is far too familiar with the struggles of making music in Austin.
“I have been playing around here since I was 12 and I do it because I love it,” Root said. “I think the hardest part is the [do it yourself] aspect of it. You are getting the posters for the show, getting the recordings done and doing all the creative work.”
For Root, music is not just about making it big but rather “spreading positivity” around Austin. However, Root, like many Austin bands, has faced the challenge of affording to play music in the city. He has struggled with finding the money to fix or replace broken equipment, but for Root that doesn’t matter much.
“When you love something it kind of just finds its way in your budget,” Root said. “Luckily I have had parents who supported me and I can’t say that it was all me. My parents have supported me since I was younger.”
But Ally Brown, a UT sophomore and founder of her own record label Porch Fire Records, stressed music cannot be your main source of income as a student.
“I think my last gig I got $3 from it,” said Brown. “It can’t be your main job especially when you are starting up. You have to have a backup plan or a second job.”
Brown currently works for the company Favor as well as a local sound company in order make ends meet. But money is not the biggest problem in her opinion.
“When we throw shows in West Campus everyone around can come because you can just walk to it,” Brown said. “But when you want to start booking shows downtown or in East Austin, you have to figure out how to get an incentive for people to come out to those shows.”
Getting people to come see big name artists is easy. But getting people to pay and watch a band they have never heard of is much harder, according to Brown. Yet, she took this as an opportunity to create her own record label.
“I want to help artist in Austin get more of a voice,” Brown said. “Like a stage something to perform on that is not just parties.”
So Brown created her own label with a simple goal of helping Austin musicians. So far, Porch Fire Records has signed Tc Superstar, lead by McCampbell who graduated from UT in May. In addition, Brown also created Back Porch ATX which showcases local bands in a back yard setting.
“This semester I’ve been booking shows at Eden Co-op and been meeting a lot of cool local bands,” Brown said. “That’s kind of how Back Porch ATX started.”
Brown hopes to increase the following of local bands by providing them with a new medium to showcase their work. Back Porch ATX invites local bands to play a few songs while they film to help share the artist’s work. Back Porch then posts the videos across their media platforms to give the artists more exposure.
However, Brown is not the only one trying to help musicians. Stephanie Bergara, who heads Austin’s Audience Development and Music Tourism Program, says the city offers many programs to help student musicians.
“There are a number of things we do to help student musicians,” Bergara said. “You can’t throw a stick in Austin without hitting a musician.”
According to Bergara, the city has created over 21 programs with the aim to help Austin musicians. The programs range from revenue oversight to video services. Some programs are even dedicated to helping promote local artists. However, Bergara pointed out that in the fall of 2018 a new program will be released with the intent to help groups like student musicians. The program is named the “Equality and Diversity Initiative” which is designed to support “niche” groups of musicians like students.
Even with new programs Austin musicians could still struggle. But for Ben Root that doesn’t matter because he loves music so much “it just falls into place.”