On Dec 10th, I was honored to be among 10 Austin-based artists awarded a $17,000 grant from Black Fret, an amazing Austin-based, patron-funded, music supporting nonprofit community. 10 more artists who were nominees in 2016 were also awarded $5000 and are eligible for a second nomination in 2017. 2016 Nominees included Bee Caves, Carson McHone, Dan Dyer, Nakia, Ray Prim, Suzanna Choffel, Swimming With Bears, The Peterson Brothers, Walker Lukens, Brownout, Calliope Musicals, Dana Falconberry, Daniel Eyes & The Vibes, Golden Dawn Arkestra, Harvest Thieves, Leopold and His Fiction, Magna Carda, Sweet Spirit and The Name Sayers.
After 20 years in this business, 17 in Austin and many peaks and valleys in my career, I’m blown away. First off, when I was signed at 19, the business was built around record sales as its financial foundation. That is gone the way of the dodo. Music is free but still costly to make and even more costly to market.
Since recorded music has dropped its monetary value, artists like myself spend a lot of time touring, selling other merchandise and experiences (like the campaign on my PledgeMusic page right set up to fund my new album’s April 2017 release). We also end up reinvesting about 65-70% of our income yearly back into our businesses to keep the ball rolling. We cut corners like I did being home-free for two years or living out of a van or with half a dozen roommates. We make it work.
While I’ve been touring 20 years and have had many amazing and meaningful opportunities to grow and sustain myself as an artist, I’ve also not exactly seen one of those fancy “breaks” that folks talk about. I’ve received countless messages and heard from thousands of fans over the years who share from the heart the music enriches their lives. This has kept me going through the hardest of times. While we got great press for my last record, Nectar and that Coca-Cola ad I wrote exposed my music to many new folks, the next year I wasn’t significantly more wealthy. Maybe these sorts of fancy, mythical”breaks” are also a thing of the past. Many of my friends who have had major-label deals, been discovered on singing reality shows and even HUGE Grammy winning festival playing acts like Def Leppard and Macy Gray and Melissa Etheridge all have PledgeMusic crowdfunding campaigns like little old me.
The math of music being free to consumers is the same for all of us.
Despite the numbers, we all have to make ourselves look fancy to the public in order to feel like we’re doing fancy. But most of us, including the greats listed above are looking at similar numbers and wondering how we’re gonna afford make our next song touch listeners’ hearts or get to the next town and cover hotel rooms and production and marketing.
And we’re still all in it for the music.
Black Fret is proposing something different. Members nominate musicians who cover all genres — folks who play everything from hard rock to hip hop to soul and blues to singer-songwriters to wildly orchestrated, psychedelic, anthem rock. They love music. They attend shows curated by the community throughout the year and vote for their favorites to receive a grant for their hard work and musical excellence. They are proud of their bands who go on to do amazing things with their grant money.
The grant-winning bands buy safer touring vans, they make music videos, they hire publicists, they tour new places with lower risk, they can breathe easier and sleep in a hotel every once in a while on the road (instead of their van or a fan’s couch of floor). Their careers are measurably elevated by the grant money in large and small ways.
The grants are not handed to the selected artists in a lump-sum. Black Fret believes that the artists they have selected will enrich their careers by “unlocking” their grants in installments. I will spend the next year of my career unlocking the grant incrementally by performing, recording, writing and doing service work performing to help other nonprofits. Each of these tasks unlocks a certain dollar amount.
On top of that, nominees and grant-recipients have access to a community of music business professionals who will sit with them and help them develop strategies to be smart with their time, money and talent. These professionals range from producers, world class engineers, publicists, licensing professionals, booking agents, attorneys and more. This advisory board is AMAZING. In the last six months, I’ve met with about 16 of the 38 advisors and loved every minute of the time I spent learning from them.
Black Fret is ready to expand to other cities. They are looking to Denver and Nashville next. Yeah!
Personally, I’m excited as all hell.
Curious about learning more about this amazing organization? Want to Join? Want to bring Black Fret to your music city? Check out their cool new website www.blackfret.org to learn more!
Here’s a piece in Forbes about Black Fret.
Here’s a wonderful article in the Austin Chronicle about many of Austin’s fine music-related nonprofits!
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