Six industry talents sound off on Austin's changing music scene

Is Austin’s music scene still a force to be reckoned with? Or has the live-music capital lost its edge?
Photograph: Andrew Bennett Mobley
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With scores of live music venues and thousands of music fans moving here every year, Austin seems to live up to its reputation as the Live Music Capital of the World. But the times they are a-changin’. As living costs rise and album sales continue to wither, being an artist in Austin requires a little more strategizing than it did a decade ago. To get a sense of what it’s like working in our city’s ever-changing music scene, we chatted with musicians, bookers, and label and venue owners about where the industry is headed.

Meet the movers and shakers within Austin's music industry

Chip and Erin Adams
Photograph: Bryan C. Parker

The Label Owners: Chip and Erin Adams, Modern Outsider Records

One record at a time. That’s how this Texas couple decided to approach their dream of starting a record label when they moved to Austin in 2007, leaving their music-marketing jobs in the Big Apple, so they could start a family.

And for seven years and 23 releases, that’s exactly what Chip and Erin Adams have done, putting out internationally distributed albums by Austin bands like Walker Lukens, Moving Panoramas and Dana Falconberry. Earning a living selling albums is definitely not the easiest task, and Chip says passion and enthusiasm are essential to making it work.

“We chase the artists that grab us by the heart,” he says. “We don’t just go for records with radio appeal and a large fan base, because the point is releasing records that we feel passionate about.”

Austin may lack the music-industry infrastructure in publishing, distribution and promotion to propel smaller labels to the next level, but Chip says the cooperation and camaraderie among music supporters set the city apart. That collaborative spirit is key in building business and stemming the decrease in the number of active independent labels as seen by the couple and others. “I’ve lived all over the country, and I’ve never lived in a city with this volume of talented people who have a crazy desire to want to work together,” he says. “Here we’re all about figuring out how to help each other.”

Learn more about acts signed to Modern Outsider Records here.

Photograph: Bryan C. Parker

Residual Kid
Photograph: Chad Wadsworth

The Young'un: Max Redman, Residual Kid

Most teenagers would be thankful to merely catch a gig at a club, but 17-year-old Max Redman isn’t like the rest of his peers. The bassist for Austin alternative-rock trio Residual Kid, Redman has been playing in local bands since he was 10 and is more acquainted with venues around town than many a beer-swilling music fan.

Redman says he’s recently made a point of getting out to more shows in Austin after he and his bandmates—his brother, Ben, on drums and Deven Ivy on guitar and vocals—spent much of the past year on the road supporting their 2016 EP, Salsa, on the major label Sire Records (Ramones, Lou Reed, Madonna).

While Residual Kid has stayed true to a sound that was crafted before its members were born—noisy, occasionally shaggy indie rock that recalls Nirvana, Pixies and Dinosaur Jr.—the band’s success came about almost specifically because of its Austin roots; the group members met their current manager at SXSW in 2014, and his connections led to the Sire deal. Redman's family wants to keep Austin music thriving too: In 2016, his father, Dan, opened Mosaic Sound Collective, a nonprofit industry incubator and venue offering studio, rehearsal and office space to musicians and music start-ups in need.

“There are venues we love that have shut down due to high rents, or DIY places wind up evicted,” says Redman. “Things are in a weird state, and my dad is trying to help so that musicians can continue to make it.”

Check out Residual Kid’s sound here.

Photograph: Chad Wadsworth

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Graham Williams

The Booker: Graham Williams, co-owner, Margin Walker Presents

Graham Williams could have given up on the concert-booking and promotion world last year when he left Transmission Events, the nearly decade-old company he grew into the local powerhouse it is today and which in its past has run the now-extinct Fun Fun Fun Fest and booked exclusives like Run DMC’s first reunion show. But to hear him tell it, there was no alternative to getting back in the game following a rift with investors in the company, which is why the next day he regrouped and launched Margin Walker Presents with a handful of Transmission employees.

“I don’t know anything else, and I do this very well,” says the Austin native, whose company books touring acts at Mohawk, the Sidewinder, Barracuda and a selection of other venues around Austin, and holds its second three-day Sound on Sound Fest in November. “Even if I changed what I did, I’d still work in music.”

The fact that Williams was able to quickly plug back into the frequently hardscrabble live-music industry speaks to the appetite Austinites have for attending shows. That support for musicians sets Austin apart from most major metropolitan areas, says Williams.

“We still have a more vital artist community and have more people who support art and music. It’s a cool city where, if you throw a rock, it lands on a musician, and there are lots of people doing creative stuff everywhere.”

Buy tickets to Margin Walker Presents’ Austin shows here

Photograph: Chad Wadsworth

Mobley
Photograph: Andrew Bennett

The Rising Star: Mobley

It wasn't as sudden as flipping a switch, but Anthony Watkins, 31, recalls that his career started falling into place in 2015, when he challenged himself to earn a living as a musician. That meant leaving behind safe and steady gigs at a local audio-repair shop and doing coding and design work, which he did in between writing, recording and playing shows as R&B/electropop virtuoso Mobley.

“That decision to just do music—it was like I made a psychic turn that made it possible,” explains Watkins.

The turn has paid off: Watkins has a spot playing Austin City Limits Music Festival in October on top of a nomination to receive a five-figure grant from music nonprofit Black Fret. He’s also a member of Project ATX6, a group of artists that travels to Canada and Japan this fall to perform and represent Austin music. In recent years, he’s honed his sound into a refreshing take on modern R&B that embraces audio samples and new-millennium tension while still feeling organic—a vibe that is bound to appeal to fans of the Weeknd and Childish Gambino.

Watkins, who moved to Austin in 2008 from North Carolina, attributes his successes to the constant hustle and hard work he says Austin respects—and demands—in its talented resident musicians.

“People here are fans of other creative people, and if you’re willing to get out and do the work, it’s possible to make stuff happen,” he says. “The music industry here is not yet on par with other music cities, but it compares very favorably in terms of opportunities that are out there for you.”

Listen to Mobley’s latest music and follow his touring schedule here.

Photograph: Andrew Bennett

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Spoon
Photograph: Zackery Michael

The Vet: Britt Daniel, Spoon

When Britt Daniel, 46, walked onto the stage at the former nightclub Emo’s on Sixth Street during the first night of SXSW in March, it was hard for him to not feel overwhelmed by the familiarity of the famously sparse and inhospitable surroundings.

“It’s not the most glamorous place, but I spent so many nights there and have seen so many of my heroes on that stage,” the Spoon frontman, who cofounded the band with drummer Jim Eno in 1993, says of the iconic venue that closed in 2011 and briefly operates for the festival. Daniel and his bandmates took over the space for three nights in March to mark the release of their new album, Hot Thoughts. They loaded each show with newer Austin bands like A Giant Dog, giving them a chance to play the stage that served as a crucible for Spoon and so many Austin bands.

While acknowledging that Austin’s growth has made it tougher for artists to scrape by, Daniel said the city still has an abundance of bands, venues and creatives that beats most cities in the U.S.

“People love the town because there’s still so much music and so many great people,” he says. “In terms of getting ahead, you’ve got to be about your own scene and finding the community that will support you. Thankfully, all the little stuff is fun, like playing a show at Beerland, where even a small crowd can make it feel like it’s packed.

Follow the latest Spoon news and touring scheduling here.

Photograph: Zackery Michael

Will Bridges
Photograph: Arnold Wells

The Club Owner: Will Bridges, co-owner, Antone's

It took some faith for Will Bridges to join his high school pal and burgeoning blues hero Gary Clark Jr. in reviving the beloved nightclub Antone’s. Bridges was already successful as a partner in restaurant and music venue Lamberts; pitching in to relaunch Antone's meant a whole lot of risk.

“The big question was: Austin is changing so much, ...so are there people who are going to care about this old brand from Austin’s past?” says Bridges. “What we’ve seen is there’s a learning curve for the people new to Austin. People are so elated when they get here and have their first breakfast taco and margarita, but then they want to discover more.”

The new Antone’s sits in a former industrial building downtown that was remodeled to feel classy but not glamorous, which makes for an environment in which all blues fans will feel at home. The brand marked its 42nd anniversary in July with three weeks of shows honoring its blues, funk and country roots while also pointing the way forward with younger artists like Tameca Jones and Hard Proof.

“I still feel that those styles of music are central to our identity as a music city,” says Bridges. “People feel a special connection to the blues.

Find out who’s playing upcoming shows at Antone’s.

Photograph: Arnold Wells

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