James Taylor

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

Austin has more than 200 venues that put on multiple shows a week. For young bands trying to book their first shows, figuring out how and where to start can be overwhelming. Venue calendars are often full with national touring acts and established local acts, making it difficult for smaller local bands to break into the schedule. 

The barrier between these bands and the stage is typically a booking agent or club manager. 

“I probably get 10 submissions a day,” said Max Meehan, a booker at Beerland. “In a whole week, maybe two or three are worthwhile. Most of them are either terrible fits or just plain terrible.” 

Booking agents are looking for fairly basic requirements from submissions they get from new bands. James Taylor, manager of Holy Mountain, explained that what most young bands need to work on is simply being able to write a coherent email with links to music or live videos. Some booking agents, such as Taylor, require some sort of recording from prospective bands, while others prefer live clips to get a feel for the band’s stage presence. 

“It’s so easy to get a cheap recording these days, [that] there’s really no excuse,” Taylor said. 

There are plenty of venues in town including Beerland and Holy Mountain that mostly book local bands. There are also larger companies, such as Transmission Events, which handle the booking for Mohawk, Red 7, Fun Fun Fun Fest and occasional shows at venues such as The Parish, The Belmont, Hotel Vegas and ACL-Live. While Transmission focuses on booking and promoting touring acts, it also books local acts to support those touring acts, and sometimes to headline its own shows.  

Marcus Lawyer, a talent buyer associate for Transmission, books the local bands for those shows. While other Transmission employees book the national touring acts that come through Austin, Lawyer’s job is almost entirely focused on finding and breaking local bands. Bands have to work their way up, though, as Lawyer typically won’t book a local band to open for a touring act or play a festival slot unless he already has a relationship with them.

“I usually have to work with the band a few times before I add them as support because I want to know they’re the right band for the bill,” Lawyer said. 

In order to work their way up to that point, bands have to prove themselves by playing slots on local bills and conducting themselves in a professional manner, like simply showing up on time. 

“There will be shows where load-in is at 7, doors at 9, show at 10,” Lawyer said. “Don’t show up at 9:45 with your drum kit.”

Since so many bands are emailing these booking agents on a daily basis, the majority of them will end up getting rejected. This is often not as harsh as it sounds. Sometimes, Lawyer and Taylor will tell bands to stay in touch and reach back out when they have more experience playing together. 

“There are bands that I just don’t think are ready to play Holy Mountain, in which case I try to encourage them to keep at it and touch base at a later date,” Taylor said.  

One thing bands can do to improve their chances of booking a show is find a couple of other bands they are friends with and go to the venue with a pre-made lineup. If a band can do this, it benefits the venue because, then, the booking agent doesn’t have to worry about seeking out two or three other bands to flesh out the lineup. Sometimes new bands will also only draw a few fans that leave after the set, but, if all the bands are friends, there’s a greater chance that people will stick around and buy more drinks, which is how venues make money.

Lawyer stressed that venues aren’t always the best places for bands to start. His advice is that a band plays a house show for friends first. House shows serve as comfortable settings that don’t have the added pressure of being in a venue where the band might be worried about bringing a lot of people out to the show.

“If you can pack a house show, you can bring a comfortable crowd to a venue,” Lawyer said. 

Beyonce sings the National Anthem at the ceremonial swearing-in for President Barack Obama at the U.S. Capitol during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington on Monday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

News broke mid-Tuesday morning that national treasure Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at the presidential inauguration may have been lip synced, compromising the very foundation of America itself. Rumors that bald eagles fell out of the sky and the Lincoln Memorial shed a real tear have yet to be confirmed or denied as the country stood, united in shock, at this stunning betrayal of trust in the nation’s capital.

The inauguration, starring Beyoncé and featuring celebrities such as Kelly Clarkson, drew both crowds and criticism. The First Lady Michelle Obama debuted controversial new bangs and presumably “wowed” in some designer dress. Cheez-Its were part of the culinary offerings. James Taylor proved he’s still doing stuff. The highlight by far was Beyoncé’s performance of the national anthem, which spawned endless praises on my Facebook news feed. The emotion! The flawless vocals! That infamous removal of the earpiece! It seemed too good to be true.

Perhaps it was.

A mere 24 hours later the social media world had done an about-face and was plagued with lamentations of the pop culture queen’s supposed inauthenticity. Surely if the president is being sworn in with a hand on the Bible, the performers, too, should be held accountable, right? Did Kelly fake it too? And let’s reopen the whole Beyoncé-faked-her-pregnancy can of worms while we’re at it.

Maybe we’re blowing this whole thing out of proportion. As news broke, I couldn’t help being reminded of an episode of “Hey Arnold,” one I had coincidentally watched that very morning, in which Eugene finds out his favorite TV action hero doesn’t do his own stunts. Poor Eugene is heartbroken when he sees that actor Maurice, clearly based on a pre-Gubernatorial Arnold Schwarzenegger, has a stunt double, and writes him off as a phony. In the end, Maurice redeems himself and proves that even though he does fake his stunts, he’s still a decent person.

Are we skewering Bey as Eugene did Maurice? Have we built her up so much as a culture goddess that we can no longer accept reality? Performers are just that, performers. They entertain, often at the cost of authenticity. We should be used to it by now. And face it: that national anthem was entertaining. Lip synced or not, it’s still Beyoncé’s voice singing and it still sounded incredible. Though that whole earpiece bit, in light of recent knowledge, was definitely taking it too far.

I understand, we’re all still so hurt about Lance Armstrong lying to us and Photoshopped CoverGirls and Kristen Stewart still being allowed to act that we feel like we deserve to have something real. Beyoncé denied us that. It’s natural to feel betrayed; I do too. But I choose to stand by Beyoncé in this difficult time, and I hope you will too.

Published on January 23, 2013 as "Beyonce accused of lip syncing anthem". 

Guitarist/lead singer Taylor Wilkins, vocalist/keyboardist Sara Houser, percussionist Jud Johnson and bassist Kyle Robarge make up rock band The Couch. 
 

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

There’s no glitter left at 617 East Seventh Street, the space formerly occupied by Beauty Bar. The beehive-clad silhouettes and Neapolitan painted walls have been replaced with richly colored reclaimed wood, bare concrete floors and dark brick accents. The subtly sexy, rustic Americana vibe of bar and music venue Holy Mountain fills the void that its previous retro-kitch occupant left behind.

Manager and co-owner James Taylor said he and his business partners were going for a classic American heritage feel, “like drinking whiskey in your grandfather’s basement in the Midwest,” making Holy Mountain an ideal location for Austin’s self-described “sweaty, whiskey rock” band, The Couch, to hold its upcoming album release show on Dec. 1.

“We had previously set it up at another place but ended up deciding to do it here,” guitarist Taylor Wilkins said, sipping a Lone Star at an iron patio table, one of the few relics left behind from Beauty Bar. “We found that this place best catered to our timeline, size and sound. It’s a brand new venue here. And we’re not a new band, but we have a new sound, a new direction. We’ve done a lot of good things in the past but this is almost like starting all over again for us.”

The band has been around, in various incarnations, since about 2007, when Wilkins and drummer Jud Johnson met up and played shows in the San Marcos area. After cycling through several bass players, Kyle Robarge stuck around and, most recently, Sara Houser joined in on keyboard and vocals, rounding out the band’s current lineup.

“We’re kind of all over the board in terms of our sound,” Johnson said. “We aren’t very genre-specific. Our sound is melodic and accessible, but we definitely keep that foundation of rock.”

Wilkins said this album is a marked change for the group, graduating from what he calls a straightforward three-piece rock n’ roll feel to more complex melodies and a collaborative song writing process.

“The Couch has recorded several albums before, but this is the first one as a four-piece and the first album that we all decided, ‘Hey, lets write and record this album together,” Wilkins said. “There’s really not a part of this album that anyone’s been left out.”

One of the most noticeable changes on the new album is Houser’s contribution with vocals. The addition of the female singer to The Couch about a year ago has added a new facet to the band’s sound.

“I guess I kind of threw a wrench into the whole dynamic of the band, but the full length is half of me singing lead, which is a pretty big change for The Couch,” Houser said. “And it probably wouldn’t be as big of a deal if I wasn’t a chick, but it will probably catch a few people off guard. I didn’t think when I joined the band last year that this would come to fruition, but I’m definitely glad that Taylor was willing to share the songwriting duties and let me bring a couple of things to the table.”

Robarge agreed, mostly, with Houser.

“I don’t think [she] threw a wrench in things,” Robarge said. “The dynamic has changed for sure, but we just kind of took a different turn and that’s cool. We have kind of a one-two punch now that we have a girl and guy singer in the band, and all four of us can sing now and do a whole different sound.”

The band is on the upswing now, but when the group relocated to Austin from San Marcos, things weren’t working out quite as well.

“We did the opposite of taking off, we actually got to our lowest point when we got here,” Wilkins said. “We thought, ‘Maybe we should change our name, or quit, or try something else.’ When our second bass player quit it was a blow to the chest and out of the blue. We kind of had to rebuild the band.”

It was a slow climb back to recognition after the band’s move. A steady diet of practice and smaller shows helped build the band’s image in its new city.

“We were always under the philosophy of practice a lot then play really well for the five or six or however many people were at the shows,” Wilkins said. “Slowly we’d win over sound guys and bartenders who would invite us back to play on better nights. It’s about going out there and kicking ass in front of the crowd that you do have and just developing a live show that would make them want to have you come back and play again.”

With the band rebuilt and a new album forthcoming, The Couch is preparing for its Dec. 1 release show at Holy Mountain, supported by Royal Forest and Houston-based Featherface.

“We’re expecting a great turnout,” said James Taylor, manager and co-owner of Holy Mountain and friend of the band. “Featherface and Royal Forest are both excellent, and I know The Couch will bring a lot of people out. And it helps that we have 101X behind it.”

Though its sound has evolved with its new album, The Couch retains its rock roots.

“We’ve brought in a general direction of change with bringing in these new pop elements,” Wilkins said. “I mean, I love pop music, but I hate it at the same time. It’s gotta have some rock behind it — it’s gotta have that foundation. It’s gotta have balls.”

Students who would like to join the audience can pick up wristbands from the business office located on the ground floor of the Hearst Student Media Building all day Friday.

James Palaima tests out a guitar Tuesday afternoon at South Austin Music, located on South Lamar Boulevard. The owner of the store, Bill Welker, concentrates around customer’s requests in running his business.

Photo Credit: Mary Kang | Daily Texan Staff

Almost 20 years ago, South Austin Music owner Bill Welker picked up the phone at his store and heard a voice on the other end ask for the guitar strap department.

“Small of a store as I am, I thought that was pretty humorous,” Welker said. “I put him on hold and then I got right back on the line. I said, ‘This is Billy in guitar straps, how can I help you?’”

The potential customer asked if the store carried a specific elastic strap. When Welker said he did, the caller told him he was with singer/songwriter James Taylor’s tour group, and could he please deliver the item to the Four Seasons Hotel as soon as possible?

“I get to the Four Seasons thinking I was going to meet James Taylor’s guitar player or someone in the band,” Welker said. “But then I’m standing in the lobby and here comes James Taylor. When you grow up listening to ‘Sweet Baby James’ and all those hits, and then you get to meet the writer, that’s pretty special.”

Meeting his childhood idol was a highlight of Welker’s long career at South Austin Music, but he has no shortage of good memories. Oct. 1 marked the official 25th anniversary of the store’s opening, according to the original resale certificate Welker still has hanging above the counter.

The business owner started the store after graduating with a business degree from Midwestern State University. Although he doesn’t play any instruments, he put himself through school working at a music shop in Wichita Falls.

“A lot of people have a natural ability when it comes to the guitar, and there are some people that really have to work at it pretty hard,” Welker said. “I’m one of those that had would have had to work at it really hard. I know a lot about guitars from years of experience, but my main interest is helping musicians.”

He said the store, which has been in the same location on South Lamar Boulevard since it opened, looks a lot different than it did 25 years ago. Today it is covered floor to ceiling with guitars, banjos, amps and every conceivable accessory.

In 1986, Welker said South Austin Music only had six or seven guitars in its inventory, but he tried to build up his business by taking customer’s requests.

Brent Wilson, a longtime South Austin Music employee and guitar player, said Welker still has the same “we’ll get you what you need” attitude he had when the store opened.

“He tries to support his customers by going to see them play live whenever he can,” Wilson said. “After working a full day and going home to take care of three kids, it would be just as easy to say ‘I’m tired, I don’t want to go out.’ But that’s not what he does.”

By building relationships with Austin musicians, Welker tries to ensure there’s always a few people in the shop testing out the instruments. But in an economy where many people are strapped for cash, Welker said it can be difficult converting browsers into customers. Sometimes the shop can feel more like a museum than a guitar store.

“I tell everyone to make sure they’re having conversations with people,” Welker said. “You might be talking about music, or instruments. You might even just be talking about the weather. When you have conversations with people in your store, it always leads to something and you hope that it leads to future business.”

Hispanic studies junior Adrian Haynes lives close to South Austin Music and has been visiting the store for the past four years. Several months ago, he brought his guitar into get serviced before recording an EP with his band.

“It’s like taking your car in to get it fixed,” Haynes said. “You don’t want someone you don’t know messing with your car, and it’s the same with this. I know the guys there and feel comfortable around them.”

Printed on Wednesday, October 5, 2011 as: Music store owner tunes in to patrons