2020 has beaten us all up. Most of us are exhausted, struggling in one way or another, physically, mentally, or financially, and Austin musicians are no different.
Without live music shows or venues to play in, how have our local musicians made do? How have they stayed afloat and on their fans’ minds? How have they dealt with releasing long-awaited albums without a tour to support it? How have they flexed their creative muscle?
I’ve asked a few of my musician friends these same questions. Hopefully, their answers can inspire all of us or introduce you to some fabulous new music and performers that shone brightly in 2020, despite the all-too-familiar obstacles that this year has placed in their way.
Here are some of my other friends and favorite musicians, all answering the same five questions. I’ve largely left their answers alone, except for minor edits for style.
These are the five questions I sent to each artist/band:
- Have you postponed releasing music this year?
- What have you released despite the pandemic?
- How have you continued creating throughout 2020?
- How have you been able to stay active in front of your audience and grow it?
- While the downside is quite obvious, would you please share a bright side you/the band have experienced or a positive note you’ve realized dealing with the lockdown (since March)?
Ms. Mack & The Daddies
Austinot: Have you postponed releasing music this year? Ms. Mack & the Daddies: Yes, we got stopped in the middle of recording an EP, and our plans were to return to finish recording it at the end of March, and that entire thing has been delayed as a result.
Austinot: What have you released despite the pandemic? Ms. Mack & the Daddies: We released a variety video series, Funky Fridays, similar to a variety show, on YouTube with some music previews, snippets, conversations with band members, and other things we think will entertain our audience. Lauren’s Libations is one of the shows we do on the channel, where our bassist Lauren makes mocktails.
We wanted to give our fans a deeper look into what we were doing while we wait to get back live with our audience.
Austinot: How have you continued creating throughout 2020? Ms. Mack & the Daddies: Everyone got a DAW (digital audio workstation) and continued to record independently from home, then shared those files to be merged into a song. We are putting pieces together. Our songwriting process was all digital, though. It’s kind of cool, in the sense that we can do it all from home.
We are one of those bands that have a live feel, and previously, we were recording as a band, live and together, because we felt that this was key to getting the vibe across. It has been great to learn a new way to work together and see how we will likely need to do things in the future, at least partially. It is a way to keep moving forward as a band.
As a vocalist, I had the opportunity to support Ruthie Foster by singing backup on some songs on her Grammy-nominated album, Live at the Paramount. Congratulations to Ruthie! My friend and Austin vocalist Sheree Smith and I also supported Ruthie in her recent ACL Live taping that will be released in 2021.
Austinot: How have you been able to stay active in front of your audience and grow it? Ms. Mack & the Daddies: We launched our website! We launched our YouTube channel and those videos to engage with our audience until we can be together.
We performed for virtual HAAM Day 2020. Four of us recently performed a few songs at an event for the YMCA, Gather in Gratitude. We held a virtual Friendsgiving for our audience and friends and tried to keep somewhat active on social media.
Austinot: While the downside is quite obvious, would you please share a bright side you/the band have experienced or a positive note you’ve realized dealing with the lockdown? Ms. Mack & the Daddies: I would say that having to work remotely from one another but still having to work as a unit has allowed each one of us to showcase other skills and talents.
Teamwork really does make the dream work. I know it’s cheesy, but it’s true. We have all brought something to the group to maintain the band and help the band, and we all use these skills together and show our talents apart from music. It’s beautiful.
Austinot: Have you postponed releasing music this year?
Acosta: Absolutely. It threw a wrench where a monkey wasn’t there to to catch it when COVID-19 came.
Austinot: What have you released despite the pandemic? Acosta: At about when things got shut down, I suffered a nasty injury that kind of knocked me out. It took me a few months to collect myself with the industry crashing, personal, and physical elements projected in my direction. To me, releasing is a business craft and artistic strategy.
Making sense of releasing has been a marketing problem if ya ask anybody. In these times, it’s best in my opinion to focus on humanizing components. I released myself from doubt, negative notions, and ugly controllable vibes. Music will forever be released, it just starts from source.
Austinot: How have you continued creating throughout 2020? Acosta: I create in my mind 24/7 as I live life, God’s powers can derail me from that. Putting pen to paper to music and song to track in general, is a task. Making the visuals or creating to share is a tale as well. I think conviction, passion, love, and tenacity have propelled me to continue.
Austinot: How have you been able to stay active in front of your audience and grow it? Acosta: Perspective, 100%. I look to a music audience, music fans if you will, as a calculated set of eyeballs, a heartbeat, sound-sensitive, walking power, fun-loving, and people living life as I do day-to-day.
I think understanding that in general was my biggest lesson in connecting. We miss connection through this, so finding and seeking to understand has made me say hey, it’s about the music lovers, nothing more.
Austinot: While the downside is quite obvious, would you please share a bright side you/the band have experienced or a positive note you’ve realized dealing with the lockdown? Acosta: Yeah we had lockdown, it was unpleasant, scary even, yet after a few months one realizes that if one is able to provide food and shelter to one’s self, you have a gift.
I signed with a label about two years ago, my deal was to release a song then discover who I wanted to be as an artist and be that person. It alone was tough and hard to understand and this came down as I became ready to showcase.
My positive findings would be in words and one sentence: trust, value, faith, gratuity, adventure, tenacity, growth, collaboration, friendship, and passion. I love ya music, thank you for this and I’m gonna rock and roll it, I promise.
Austinot: Have you postponed releasing music this year? York: Yes, initially, I wanted to release my album in 2020. I also postponed putting my album on vinyl.
Austinot: What have you released despite the pandemic? York: I’ve released three tracks (Sunny Day, Over the Line, Shiny Things) online from my forthcoming record 3.
Austinot: How have you continued creating throughout 2020? York: I write, it’s my most comfortable creative outlet. Many of my songs start with lyrics. Before the pandemic I was doing some co-writing and I’ve kept collaborating (sometimes via telephone or FaceTime).
Austinot: How have you been able to stay active in front of your audience and grow it? York: Luckily I had material to release, and many of these songs make more sense now than they did when I wrote them. The first several months of the pandemic I did some solo livestreams from my apartment.
I also did a livestream with my band at Bud’s Recording Services in October (where I also recorded most of my album). We will do another livestream from there when my record comes out in February 2021. Bud’s is a great place; they’re doing great things over there.
Austinot: While the downside is quite obvious, would you please share a bright side you/the band have experienced or a positive note you’ve realized dealing with the lockdown? York: Definitely time alone to reflect and space to think about what I really want. I’ve also grown closer to my close friends and family.
And the realization of how lucky we all were before; as musicians, fans, and staff to see amazing live music on a daily basis. Those days will come back.
Tomar and the FCs
Austinot: Have you postponed releasing music this year? Tomar and the FCs: We released our second full-length record, Rise Above, on 2/1/20. We were able to play album release parties in Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas before the pandemic hit. So, we’re incredibly lucky!
Austinot: What have you released despite the pandemic? Tomar and the FCs: We released a live recording of the album release show at Antone’s (available through our Bandcamp page). It makes us all nostalgic for full capacity shows. That said, we’re fortunate Myles Crosby, Antone’s fantastic sound engineer, captured that night.
Austinot: How have you continued creating throughout 2020? Tomar and the FCs: We started the early pandemic by working up new tunes on Bandlab (an app that allows everyone to record from home). More recently, we’ve been rehearsing at Andy Tenberg’s (our guitarist) studio in South Austin. We all mask up and have enough space to feel safe. We’re halfway through a new album, and so the pandemic has probably sped up our songwriting process.
Austinot: How have you been able to stay active in front of your audience and grow it? Tomar and the FCs: We’ve played a few livestreams. Most notably at Bud’s Recording Services in East Austin. Bud’s has done an incredible array of livestreams with Greyhounds, Tameca Jones, Kalu James, and many others. Check them out online, if you haven’t already.
With the help of Splice Records, we released an animated video for “Fine Time,” one of the singles from our new record.
More recently, we’ve started playing shows at the clubs that are open with reduced capacity, including Antone’s, The White Horse, LUNA (in San Antonio), and 3Ten. All these clubs require masks and are taking social distancing very seriously.
Austinot: While the downside is quite obvious, would you please share a bright side you/the band have experienced or a positive note you’ve realized dealing with the lockdown? For the past four years, we’ve probably averaged four to seven gigs a month without a break. We definitely miss that schedule but it was time for a break (which we might not have taken without the pandemic). In addition to time away from music, the lockdown has allowed us to work up new tunes and spend more time thinking about and working on sounds for our next record.
On the eve of the 2020 Black Fret Ball, we also wanted to speak with this beloved organization dedicated to financially supporting Austin musicians and promoting live music. Black Fret co-founder Matt Ott spoke to us about how their model has changed in 2020 and how they’ve managed to keep supporting Austin musicians.
This year, everyone is invited to one of the coolest live music events of the year, the Black Fret Ball, with grants awarded and live performances. The event is free and virtual this year, with the theme “KEEP LIVE MUSIC ALIVE.” The event can be livestreamed Saturday, December 12 at 7:00 PM. Catch the livestream performances on the Black Fret YouTube channel or Facebook page.
Each 2020 Black Fret Austin nominee will receive an $8,000.00 grant and will perform on the livestream. Nominees include DOSSEY, Bayonne, Cilantro Boombox, Nobody’s Girl, Altamesa, Ali Holder, Darkbird, Moving Panoramas, Sir Woman, Carrie Rodriguez, Sam Houston & Blk Odyssy, The Belle Sounds, Nané, Think No Think, Dr JOE, Henry Invisible, Croy and the Boys, Love & Chaos, Barbara Nesbitt, and Alesia Lani.
Austinot: How has your organization continued to support musicians throughout 2020 without live performances? Black Fret: We have supported musicians in a multitude of ways through 2020. We fundraised $25,000 for HAAM during our SXSW online festival. We distributed all $250,000 in 2019 grants to our musicians by the end of March. We have paid artists well over $100,000 to play our online and (rare) real-world events.
We launched our Black Fret Happy Hour Concerts for companies to bring music via Zoom to their teams, resulting in over $160,000 in payments to over 120 musicians in six months. Lastly, we will award $160,000 to our twenty 2020 Austin musicians at our 2020 Black Fret Ball on December 12th, and have awarded $50,000 to 10 musicians in Seattle (funded by our Seattle chapter).
When combined, we are on track to distribute almost $750,000 directly to musicians in 2020. Not to mention the tens of thousands we have spent with the venues, crews, and those who support our music scene through their businesses.
Austinot: Do you have any advice for musicians struggling through this moment? Black Fret: I encourage all musicians to make sure you are making use of all the resources Austin offers our musicians: Sign up for HAAM, avail yourself of SIMS services if you need mental health or rehab, reach out to Austin Music Foundation for business education to make sure you are ready to rock once we can all rock again.
Also apply for every bit of financial help from the city or other organizations, even if the applications may be a bit daunting at first. I also ask everyone to stay connected as much as they can. Don’t let your friends drift away, stick together, and reach out to those you haven’t heard from in a bit. Lastly, take advantage of this time to write, create, learn, and grow if possible.
Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM)
When we think about resources for Austin musicians, HAAM is essential during a pandemic. They have been steadfastly helping Austin musicians find the best possible health coverage and resources for their health for 15 years. It’s time to sign up for 2021 coverage through HAAM!
Austinot: How has your organization continued to support musicians throughout 2020 without live performances? HAAM: This year, HAAM has had to most certainly pivot as we continue to support musicians throughout 2020 without live performances. Not only have we had to take our three signature events virtual, but we have also had to appeal to the Austin community and to our leaders in healthcare and the city to support the live music community. Following the onset of COVID-19, we have really stepped up our voice and become an advocate for our city’s artists, which has helped to garner support along the way.
We also diversified our services to help musicians with some emergency basic needs assistance, and, despite this year’s uncertainty, we did not have to cut services. Instead, we increased our efforts to advocate at both the city and state levels for the importance of live music.
We are now crucial to the success and longevity of musicians and live music in Austin. Unemployment assistance for many is going to stop in December, which means that the help they’ve been getting is going to stop without anything in the music industry changing or allowing musicians to get back to work. They are really going to need HAAM in the coming months. And we will be here for them.
HAAM has a great website with many resources listed for working musicians.
Austinot: Do you have any advice for musicians struggling through this moment? HAAM: Musicians have always sacrificed for their art and have continuously had a hard road. This pandemic has made an already difficult life more challenging. We want to encourage musicians and now realize, how much we need music in our daily lives. HAAM is here, and will continue to be here, to help. We want to encourage musicians to keep trying to be creative and pivoting around these new platforms.
One thing is true about musicians, they have always been creative and crafting and writing songs, but also adapting to changes in technology. We don’t know what the music industry will look like at the end of the pandemic, but we know musicians are ready and willing to adapt. There are a lot of smart and creative artists who are figuring these things out.
We’ve been impressed by the diverse ways artists are using online streaming venues with tip jars, Patreon, and virtual merch stores.
We would also advise all Central Texas musicians to reach out to HAAM for ways we can help. We often find people are reluctant to call because they think they don’t qualify or someone else needs it more, but that is what we are here for!
Keep Austin Music Playing
We love to imagine ourselves as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” and there is zero doubt that we have world-class musicians, music venues, and even music festivals, and all are struggling now, whether financially, mentally, or otherwise.
I encourage you to support your local bands and venues by following them on their social media, buying their music and merch, and tuning in for their livestreams. Music, after all, has the power to entertain, uplift, and even heal. Let’s do our part to keep this living heartbeat of Austin pumping.
The Austinot wants to know: How are you supporting Austin musicians during the pandemic?