We love our local music. But there’s a noteworthy difference between sending out raving groupie tweets to three hundred followers about the no cover show you attended on 6th Street, and being instrumental in helping a band with legs get their first album out.
If you’re addicted to your groupie tweets and free shows, read no further. But if you’re part of the smaller group that means business when it comes to helping talented musicians earn a living doing what they love to do, I’ve found the organization for you.
For a decade, the Austin Music Foundation (AMF) has provided business education and mentoring to local musicians. But there was a component missing from AMF’s model: money. AMF co-founder Colin Kendrick and his team realized that all the education in the world couldn’t reserve a recording studio, edit tracks, or hire a touring bus. Musicians needed money to take their game to the next level.
This need inspired Black Fret, a member-driven 501(c)3 that exists “to empower musicians to create and perform great new music” by awarding at least 50 $25,000 grants annually. If you can’t do math that quickly, we’re talking about more than a million dollars to Austin musicians every year.
Launch of Black Fret
We had the privilege of attending Black Fret’s launch party at the 29th St. Ballroom. It was an intimate gathering of local music’s 200 or so closest friends. Amidst cheese plates and a generous open bar, the talented Erin Ivey serenaded us with her urban folk tunes, inspired by Americana themes like Amelia Earhart and road trips.
From the stage, this Texas Music Magazine “Top Artist of 2011″ discussed what Black Fret could mean for Austin music artists. “[A Black Fret] grant would provide a lot of stability for the lives of musicians,” Ivey explained.
After Ivey’s lovely set, Quiet Company broke the peaceful lull with the height of energy that only they can muster. Lead singer Taylor Muse insisted that “Black Fret is going to keep talent in Austin.”
We recently gave out three signed copies of Erin Ivey’s latest CD, Dreamy Weather. In February, we’ll be giving away a handful of Quiet Company’s We Are All Where We Belong, signed by all five band members. Subscribers to our free email newsletter, Best of the Austinot, are the only ones who are eligible to win. Sign up here – it’s free to enter. And keep a look-out for our next issue!
How Black Fret Works
Black Fret is able to award hundreds of thousands of dollars annually due to its membership system, and I hope you’ll consider getting involved. The organization’s goal is to get at least 1,300 members contributing $1,500 each on an annual basis. Though not feasible for everyone, this level of investment is a small sacrifice for working professionals who want to leave a legacy.
The return on investment for members goes beyond helping musicians succeed. Membership in Black Fret ensures that you’ll be invited to regularly scheduled private shows like the incredible one we got to witness at 29th St. Ballroom. Not only that, but members have an important say in which musicians receive Black Fret grants.
Why Black Fret Has the Tools to Succeed
Co-founder Matt Ott says that one of his goals is to “keep Austin the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ for decades to come.” The Black Fret Board of Directors equates to a bastion of business savvy that can make this happen. Together, Colin, Matt and third board member Kerry Edwards have put together a sleek machine and a detailed business plan.
One unique Black Fret feature that they’ve incorporated is a $1 million contribution to an endowment:
“As the funds in the endowment accumulate, the organization leverages the interest earned on the invested dollars to generate incremental grant dollars. In as little as 10 years the organization can triple the amount of grant dollars we distribute each year.” -BlackFret.org
And don’t get the impression that Black Fret is handing a load of cash to musicians, then walking away. Rather, an Artist Mentor Program will institute a merit-based system, encouraging artists to reach professional milestones and give back to the community.
Through all of their years at the Austin Music Foundation, and now as they launch Black Fret, Colin and Matt have never been paid a penny. Their personal passion and immeasurable investment of time and equity has been a complete labor of love. Their genuine love for the local music industry is contagious, and I’m excited to see how Black Fret enriches the community in the coming year and beyond.
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What do you think of the Black Fret concept? If you can’t become a member yourself, will you tell others about the organization?