Live Music Capital

The Cactus Cafe is a 35-year-old venue on campus that has hosted many local bands over the years. 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

A mob of people stumble from bar to bar, their faces illuminated by neon lights. DJs blare their newest playlist, testing it on the crowds. Bands turn up their amps, drawing from the crowd’s energy and hoping to someday make it big.

This is a surface level view of the “Live Music Capital of the World,” but few know the history behind the phrase. 

Now, with the slogan prompting more music tourism and concerts than ever before, and with the next season of music festivals about to start, a new era of music in Austin is beginning.

Festivals, including South By Southwest and Austin City Limits, feature mostly national and corporate acts — not local musicians. This means the money from the festivals go to local business but not local musicians.

“The title Live Music Capital of the World is a catalyst to tourism and a hindrance to music and musicians,” said Freddie Krc, president of the Austin branch of the American Federation of Musicians.

This pattern is seen in other aspects of the Austin music scene as well. Matt Munoz, booking agent at the Cactus Cafe, said larger venues, such as Stubbs and the Frank Erwin
Center, tend to host nationally known artists, leaving local bands to perform in smaller spaces that often pay less. 

John Kunz, owner of Waterloo Records, feared the title Live Music Capital of the World would increase commercialism in the city when the decision was first made, but he has seen the slogan attract people who embrace music. 

“Having a slogan like that is really a linchpin for someone to take that first step,” Kunz said. “Someone hearing the hype about Austin might say, ‘Oh, maybe we should go check out this live music or buy this new record.’” 

The slogan was proposed by The Austin Music Commission, a branch of the governor’s office established in 1988 to give a voice to Austin musicians, but there is speculation as to who used the phrase first. Donald McLeese, a music writer for the Austin American-Statesman, said he facetiously used the phrase several times in his articles in the early ’90s before it was adopted by the city. But others claim to have coined the slogan before him. 

Nancy Coplin, the first chair of the Austin Music Commission, said the commission was in favor of the slogan and conducted research that proved Austin had more live music per capita than anywhere else in the nation. They presented the slogan to the then-Mayor Pro Tem Max Nofziger, who then pushed for its acceptance by Austin City Council. 

“[Nofziger] was sitting beside me,” former city councilman Ronney Reynolds said. “I was in place one. He was in place two. When he heard them say they wanted to use ‘The Live Music Capital of Texas,’ he said, ‘No, we’re the Live Music Capital of the World.’” 

Music by the numbers: 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there were 720 working musicians in the greater Austin area in 2013, but the report did not include musicians who are self-employed. The city predicts the number of working musicians to actually be 7,957.

The number of musicians in the market makes getting gigs — especially well-paying ones — difficult. 

“The excessive supply of talent drives the demand down and makes it harder and more competitive to actually make a name for yourself,” said Jimmy Stewart, founder of do512 — a site dedicated to advertising different entertainment events around the city.

Krc, local president of the American Federation of Musicians, said a lack of proper compensation is an issue nationwide but especially in Austin. He said bands often perform without payment, an increasing trend as more musicians compete for limited stage time. Others pay to play, a controversial policy where bands pay a fee to be considered for a festival slot for which they may not be compensated. 

The U.S. Department of Labor found that Austin musicians make on average $20.94 per hour, a sum lower than most other musically driven cities, such as Los Angeles, New York City and Seattle. This value does not include venues where bands pay for tips or for free. 

Jennifer Houlihan, executive director of Austin Music People, said musician’s wages have changed very little in the past few decades. 

The music industry annually brings in about $1.6 billion to Austin’s economy.  ACL and SXSW alone produce about $190 million and $300 million, respectively. AngelouEconomics reports that this impact is growing at a rate of 5-10 percent per year. 

How new bands broke out:

New bands usually start out in the bar and club scene where owners often hire musicians who play upbeat music.

“For the first few years that we were here, we were writing songs that were geared towards getting people to dance,” said James Mason, member of local band The Roosevelts. “Bluesy rock kind of stuff that made people want to raise a beer rather than sit and listen to some poignant lyrics.”

There are a few big record companies based in Austin. This keeps the music scene more local than those of other similar cities, such as Los Angeles or Nashville. This lack of national labels requires Austin musicians to travel and tour to find success nationally. These tours are often on the band’s own dime.

Most musicians agree Austin is one of the best places to be for performers. The number of musicians working in Austin increases competition for gigs, but it also pushes musicians to improve and encourages collaboration. 

“I think the thing that appealed to me about Austin, even before I moved there, was that it had this reputation of cultivating artists,” local musician Emily Bell said. “In different areas, it’s not really like that. Austin seemed like so much of a community.”

Throwback Thursday

Pvt. E. Gartly Jaco, pictured third from the left, served as a sociology professor at the University in 1955. Before that, he made a name for himself as a columnist for The Daily Texan, advocating jazz as a legitimate form of music.

Photo Credit: Cactus Yearbook | Daily Texan Staff

For many people, especially residents of the “Live Music Capital of the World,” jazz music is a familiar, and often welcomed, sound. On the streets of downtown Austin, one is sure to hear the smooth notes coming from a jazz band playing in a club or a street musician’s saxophone. 

But in the 1940s, Austinites might have been surprised to hear those notes coming from anywhere at all. 

The origin of jazz dates from the early 1910s, but it was still unfamiliar and unappreciated enough in the ‘40s that it prompted former Daily Texan writer, Pvt. E. Gartly Jaco, to write a series of articles about it, titled “Jazz from Jaco.” 

Though it may seem strange to have had such articles printed alongside news about World War II, perhaps it was all the more necessary to shift the attention of
students to a topic such as jazz to remind them of the cultural movements also taking place at the time. 

In his first piece, Jaco addressed four assumptions made about jazz by those he called the “followers of the old school of music.” The assumptions included jazz was “low brow, disconnected noise,” its “original conception was formed in immoral institutions” and should be shunned, it only appealed to adolescents and, in its best form, jazz could only be understood by musicians. 

The article, published Sept. 1, 1944 — exactly five years after World War II had begun — hit each of those points, with Jaco’s fervor equal to that of any jazz musician’s today. 

In the case against those who called jazz “disconnected noise,” Jaco said, “Laws of psychology prove that when a person cannot understand something, he either shuns it altogether or denounces it in some manner,” a statement many non-mainstream musicians today would likely agree with. 

Jaco returned with his second article on Oct. 3, this time defining jazz for the “laymen,” though he admitted it “would be like attempting to depict art without illustration, music without notes, life without living.” 

With these limitations placed on him, Jaco began to describe jazz. 

“Originality and individuality is its keynote, emotion and phrasing is its medium of expression and syncopated rhythm is its basis,” Jaco said. “To be colloquial, jazz is democratic music.” 

Jaco’s third article in the series, published Nov. 30, boasted a bright future for jazz in the post-war era, citing the success of many of the day’s jazz musicians, including Coleman Hawkins and Don Byas. 

In addition to predicting the popularity of jazz, Jaco briefly discussed the differences between the musical talents of white and African-American jazz performers in the ‘40s, leaning heavily in favor of music produced by the latter. 

“Past performances of mixed white and colored musicians in a jam session proved that the colored jazz artist is far superior and more advanced in his musical ideas than his opposing white performer,” Jaco said. 

While Jaco’s opinion concerning the connection between race and musical talent might be taken with a grain of salt, the rise of artists such as Buddy Johnson and Dizzy Gillespie following the war and the continued popularity of jazz today reveal his predictions were on track.  

In a city now known for the diverse genres that fill its clubs, bars and cafes, it is hard to imagine the need to make the case for the seemingly-classic jazz; but Jaco’s articles are a good reminder that even the classics had to face a little resistance.

“The Live Music Capital of the World” is a title that has belonged to Austin for many years, and a recent study has proven the city is a good start-up location for aspiring musicians in several genres.

Graduate student researchers at the University of Toronto recently conducted a study in which they used Myspace as a way to analyze which genres of music were more popular in certain parts of the country. Austin was included in the study, along with other major U.S. cities, such as Houston, Atlanta, Ga., Memphis, Tenn. and New Orleans, La.

The data indicated that the trending genres in the Austin music scene were folk, country pop and most significantly, rock ‘n’ roll.

In order to determine which genre was popular in a certain city, the researchers from Toronto used five levels of comparison with the help of an algorithm used in another study — which was completed by researchers at The University of Chicago — to analyze music trends. 

“Overall we found that rock ‘n’ roll was the most popular genre across all metros followed by urban contemporary,” said University of Toronto graduate research assistant Garrett T. Morgan. “With the remaining genres composing the remaining share of the market.”

The study showed that many regional stereotypes remained true, Morgan said. The Northwest preferred rock, while southern cities preferred country pop. Large cities like New York and Los Angeles had diverse tastes in music.

“Overall the data shows that Austin’s music scene is centered on folk, rock ’n’ roll, and country pop,” Morgan said. “Reinforcing the city’s reputation as a destination for aspiring musicians keen on breaking into the diverse country music scene.”

However, certain locals feel the study does not accurately reflect the music scene in Austin.

“The categorization misses blues and indie, which are obviously two popular genres in Austin,” said Joah Spearman, vice chair of the Austin Music Commission. “Austin isn’t really limited by genre. Compared to most markets outside of maybe New York or LA, [Austin] has shown itself to have a great ear for talent regardless of genre.”

The creators of FOX’s “So You Think You Can Dance” are embarking on their 10th nationwide search for primetime-ready dancers, and they are starting in the Live Music Capital of the World.

Open-call auditions for the dance-based reality show will be held Friday and Saturday at the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Center for the Performing Arts. Austin, the first stop on the show’s five-city talent search tour, will be hosting auditions for the first time. The show held auditions in Dallas last year for its ninth season.

Jeff Thacker, the show’s co-executive producer, said he has no idea what size crowd to expect, but he hopes the turnout will be large.

“We never have any idea what we’re going to get, honestly, because people travel from all over the state,” Thacker said. “But we always have a good turnout in Texas.” 

The show’s most popular auditions occurred in Memphis, when Thacker said he watched 13-and-a-half consecutive hours of auditions on the first day of tryouts.

“The police ended up closing five streets,” Thacker said.

If dancers successfully audition with Thacker, they are allowed to proceed to the second round of auditions in front of the show’s three judges. The guest judge for the Austin auditions is British actress Minnie Driver.

Thacker said the key to a successful audition is making sure to stand out from the thousands of other dancers he will see during the course of the day.

“It’s actually kind of easy — just be memorable,” Thacker said. “Don’t blend. Don’t leave us wondering who you were — if you were just the girl in the red top with dark hair, there will be fifty other girls just like you. We want the girl that goes for the huge split.”

Stephanie Del Paggio, Plan II honors and business freshman and fan of the show, said she expects Austin performers will bring an especially diverse range of dancing skills to the show.

“We have some really talented dancers at this school, especially since the music scene is so big here,” Del Paggio said. “But I feel like they will definitely incorporate the weirdness of Austin, too.”

However, Del Paggio said she would not consider trying out for the show herself.

“I tried dancing, but I failed,” she said. “I don’t actually think I can dance.”

Printed on Friday, January 18, 2013 as: 'Dance' holds season 10 auditions at Long Center 

Top 20 Austin Musicians

Editor’s note: The following music and videos contains explicit content.

On August 29, 1991, Austin City Council members passed the resolution that named Austin the Live Music Capital of the World. Now, 20 years later, the music scene here is still booming, and arguably better than ever. To help celebrate the anniversary, here’s a list of the top 20 Austin musicians, including native musicians and non-native, notable artists who have help contribute to the burgeoning scene:

Erring on the side of weird, ArcAttack started using Tesla coils to literally make electric music in 2008 and hasn’t stopped producing nerdy, viral hits.

Formed in 2005, Balmorhea weaves dynamic post-rock melodies that pull you in and leave you feeling serene. The band plans to kick off their Midwest tour this month.

Ben Kweller
Although he was originally born in San Francisco, the folk singer-songwriter still happily makes music out of his home in Austin near Zilker Park.

The Black Angels
If you think Austin psych rock ended with The 13th Floor Elevators, think again with this Austin band that hit the scene back in 2004 and have gone on to play everything from the Austin Psych Fest to Lollapalooza.

Blue October
Yeah, we knew them before they got big. Originally from Houston, Blue October banded together in 1995 and then brought their rock to Austin in 2001. The band still frequently performs around Austin, including ACL Live this past April.

Bob Schneider
Despite touring nationally, Americana folk rocker Schneider has stuck to the small stages and is a regular at the Saxon Pub down on South Lamar Boulevard. According to his MySpace, he says he still has about 600-700 unwritten songs ready to be recorded.

Daniel Johnston
Going back to the late ’70s, Johnston has been an all-around Austin renaissance man from his music to his iconic Jeremiah the Innocent art that greets everyone with a simple, “Hi, How Are You?”

Explosions in the Sky
The term “post-rock” can’t capture the dramatic, self-described “cathartic mini-symphonies” of Explosions — a band that got its start over a couple of slices of pizza 12 years ago, according to their MySpace.

Ghostland Observatory
This contemporary Austin-based music duo, formed in 2004, brings the funk with a hip, contemporary electro twist. Ghostland Observatory continues to play music and has performed on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and at Coachella.

Guy Forsyth
The epitome of homey, Austin dive bars, singer-songwriter Forsyth oozes that bluesy rock sound that’s come to help shape Texas music. Additionally, he’s played Austin City Limits Music Festival twice and opened for the likes of B.B. King and Ray Charles.

Janis Joplin
Before becoming the rockstar she’s still known as today, the Texan profiled her back in 1962. “She goes barefooted when she feels like it, wears Levi’s to class because they’re more comfortable and carries her Autoharp with her everywhere she goes so that in case she gets the urge to break into song it will be handy. Her name is Janis Joplin.”

The Octopus Project
Described as a hybrid ‘indietronica’ band, Octopus Project has been entertaining the capitol of Texas since 1999 with everything from Theremins to electric plug masks. The band has even perked the attention of ’80s cult band Devo, performing with them at last year’s Moogfest.

Okkervil River
It’s been 12 years since indie rock band Okkervil River took the stage at Steamboat in Austin and have since gone on to release six studio albums and perform with other indie sensations, including The Decemberists and The New Pornographers.

Robert Earl Keen
Born in Houston and graduated from A&M, country musician Keen springboarded his career in Austin back in ’84, then moved back in ’86 because he was inspired by the Texas landscapes and residents, according to CMT.

An indie-rock perennial favorite, this band played the Austin scene for roughly seven years before they gained widespread acclaim for their album, Girls Can Tell.

Stevie Ray Vaughn
The late, great electric blues guitarist Vaughn, an Austin music epitome, honed his skills here in the ’70s and was one of the first musicians to help put Austin on the map. His statue still overlooks Lady Bird Lake.

The Sword
Since 2003, The Sword has rocked Austin, the Lone Star state and the world with their doom metal ballads. Often compared to Black Sabbath, the band recently wrapped up their North American tour.

Townes Van Zandt
Singer-songwriter Zandt is another Austin country folk favorite. Although he was already famous by the time he moved to Austin in the ’80s, he continued to build his notoriety as he battled depression, drug abuse and alcoholism in between writing songs.

Indie pop-rock band Voxtrot may have disbanded last year in June but not before garnering the praises of SPIN and Pitchfork over their seven-year career.

Willie Nelson
Acclaimed Texas singer, songwriter never hesitates to stop by Austin or be stopped for possession while on the road. Last year, Second Street was renamed “Willie Nelson Boulevard” and a life-size statue of him to be placed in front of the new ACL studios is in the works.

Security guard Dave Mesa looks at the graffiti that has accumulated over the past 19 years in Emo’s Green Room, Monday afternoon. Demolishing of the outside stage has already begun leaving the rest of the venue open until after SXSW.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

The corner of Sixth Street and Red River will be less loud and lively due to the upcoming closure of the outside stage of well-known music venue Emo’s.

Emo’s manager Mike Staples said the changing landscape of downtown Austin is responsible for Emo’s gradual transition to a newer and more equipped venues in East Austin.

“Our venue is not going in the direction that downtown wants,” Staples said.

To continue the wild and free character Emo’s has been famous for since 1992, the owners have recently opened a new venue called Emo’s East on East Riverside Drive, Staples said.

“It’s a state of the art venue with capacity for 1,700 people,” Staples said. “There is a nice patio, lots of parking space and indoor air-conditioning.”

Staples said he is sad to see the removal of the outdoor stage because many famous acts have played there and contributed to Austin’s title of “Live Music Capital of the World.”

“Everyone from Johnny Cash, Wu-Tang Clan, The Melvins, Damian Marley and so many more have played there,” Staples said. “It’s a legendary stage. Everyone will miss it.”

Bartender Randy Conrad said he wasn’t happy about the closure of the outside stage and said there isn’t much time left before it is finally gone.

“We have to move everything out of there by Friday,” Conrad said. “It’s sad to see this go, but we are moving on to bigger and better things.”

Conrad said the entire Emo’s downtown venue will eventually transition into a new small-sized venue in East Austin.

“The inside stage will be here through the next South By Southwest and then we will be looking for another space to open a smaller venue alongside the new Emo’s East that opened recently,” Conrad said.

The employees of Emo’s weren’t exactly sure who purchased the space or what will replace it.

Emo’s sound engineer Brian Bash said that Emo’s doesn’t feel the same with one of it’s major stages preparing to shut down. He also said he was honored to see Toronto punk band Death from Above 1979 play the last show to take place on the outdoor stage.

“It’s a little eerie,” Bash said as he was organizing the cables and effects pedals for that night’s performers. “It’s been around for so long and now it’s all cleaned-out.”

Radio-television-film and government senior Cameron Jones said he knew how famous Emo’s was before he moved to Austin and that it’s sad to see a symbol of Austin’s music scene removed.

“Emo’s is a fixture of Austin,” Jones said. “If the city wants to still be seen as the Live Music Capital of the World, then it’s inconsistent to pressure Emo’s to change what they do.”

Printed on September 20, 2011 as: Downtown loses historic punk venue Emo's