Whether you missed the meeting or have a general curiosity, the Las Raices Recap brings you the details of the monthly San Antonio Sound Garden forums. Join us every first Tuesday of the month at 723 N Alamo, 7 pm, to take part in the creation of a sustainable local music economy.

While national democracy engaged in “debate” on Tuesday, local democracy was participating in productive, Socratic debate at Las Raices. Attendance included a greater variety of music backgrounds, with venue owners, promoters, and sound engineers present in addition to local musicians. October marks the six-month anniversary since San Antonio Sound Garden began with the goals of uniting voices within the music community and convincing city officials to invest in their own people.

Now it’s happening. In mid-September, the city pledged tangible support in the form of Cris Medina’s successful 11th-hour bid to allocate $25,000 for Sound Garden. Per Adam Tutor, the funding comes from the Department of Culture and Creative Development’s 2017 budget, and “will be used to gather a baseline for the impact of the musical economy of San Antonio” that will pave the way for future efforts.

Edwin Stephens was visibly having difficulty containing his excitement as he brought the meeting to order. He was proud to announce that organization within Sound Garden has stepped up and the team is growing, to include a new Chief of Operations. We can look forward to more musician-building projects like live-in-studio recordings, the first of which featured Brandon Cunningham in September, as well as artist showcase events. Edwin said he is “blown away” by the support and momentum that has accumulated, and expressed his confidence that these resources will achieve the vibrant local music economy that was his vision at the outset.

Announcements:

An event dubbed “11/11” was announced and, as the moniker implies, is scheduled for November 11. Whereas the SASG Mixer at Paramour was a tentative ‘hello’ to the community, this event is a full-blown, official launch party. A showcase of ten local bands will perform on stage, and the crowd will get the chance to vote for their favorites. Top performers are slated to win packages of career-developing services, such as studio recording, marketing, and public relations assistance. The “11/11 You Vote, They Win” event will be held at the Alamo Brewery, 202 Lamar Street, from 5-11 pm.

SASG has also formed a street squad with the task of activating the local music scene. Their immediate prerogative is gearing up for the aforementioned “11/11” event and encouraging involvement in SASG activities. Involvement with this task force is open to everyone, with sessions meeting weekly on Thursdays, 7 pm, at 723 N Alamo.

Business:

“You can have entertainment in a city, but if you have a thriving music culture, you will have guaranteed entertainment.”

In its interactions with city hall, the message from SASG has been one of hometown investment. “You can have entertainment [as an economic sector] in a city,” Noah Breeden related, “but if you have a thriving music culture, you will have guaranteed entertainment.” The city has started listening, he says, and recently hired consultants to gather data on the prospects and needs of a San Antonio music economy, whose conclusions apparently were no different from those given by local voices. “The city realized, ‘well, what did we pay those people for?’ So now they’re looking to us for answers.” Noah said those answers will come in the form of signatures upon the music community’s needs and the public decisions made at Las Raices meetings.

The next order of business was the presentation, review, and validation of the process that selected the ten artists for the “11/11” showcase. In evaluating the applicants, the SASG advisory board – a panel of 30 volunteers from the various backgrounds in local music – used a rubric based upon a professional development standard used by USAA. The board identified nine components that qualify musicianship beyond the general “sexy rock-band” ideal, which were aggregated in two-dimensions to produce a total score for each candidate. In some instances, members declined to score certain candidates due to a lack of knowledge or a conflict of interest. In those cases, an average was plugged in place of the individual’s evaluation.

Noah admitted the possible flaws of the system; the call for talent didn’t reach every ear, and he anticipated the potential of hurt feelings and genres underrepresented, but vowed to improve the process. For the sake of that improvement, and for transparency, the process would be reviewed at this meeting. First, attendees were asked to write and share their own criteria for selection. Most everyone’s boiled down to the following: musical ability and entertainment factor; representation on and off stage; and local popularity.

Members discuss the artist selection process at Las Raices.
Members discuss the artist selection process at Las Raices. Photo credit: Martha Breeden.

These answers weren’t far off from the rubric. Next, all present were asked to consider the following criteria from the actual rubric:

  1. Sound and Originality: What is the overall quality of the music produced? How does it stand out from similar music, or is it original music at all?
  2. Live Performance: What is the quality of the live show? Is there significant stage presence? Are visual and light effects incorporated well?
  3. Education and Experience: Do the musicians have a music education, or have technical or professional training? Do they know how to work a sound board or identify cables and equipment?
  4. Work Ethic: How many hours per week is spent practicing, playing, or building the brand? Are they ‘hustling?’
  5. Chemistry: How well does the band work together? Is there ‘drama?’ What is the likelihood of the band lasting?
  6. Business Acumen: Do they communicate professionally? Are they represented well electronically and in-person? Do they have a business plan, and have adequate knowledge of their own management needs?
  7. Momentum: Does the community support the act? Do crowds consistently turn out? Is there online chatter about them, and is it positive?
  8. Marketing: Is their branding immediate and concise? How well do they promote their own online presence? What is the quantity and quality of their online audio content? What is the visibility and ease of accessibility of all these things?
  9. Social Responsibility: How do they interact with fans, venues, and other musicians? Do they use social media responsibly? Do they litter online feeds with drunk posts at 2am?

To be clear, these criteria must be considered in their context. The purpose of the rubric was not to determine “the best band in the city,” but to determine qualifications for musicians who might best benefit from financial aid for their professional development.

For nearly an hour, the room debated the merits of these criteria, both individually and holistically. Hands were raised, and hands were dropped. Questions were asked. Arguments for and against were given and sometimes retracted. Hands were raised and dropped again, and arguments were refined. The whole process was very civil, and such I daresay to the point of shaming state and federal congresses.

There were suggestions of ‘investibility’ as a criterion, as well as lower-limit thresholds of negative weight to others, such as social responsibility. One person commented that some genres carry more weight in local profitability and thus, in an economic sense, might be more valuable. In the end, the majority agreed a small multiplier should be applied to scores of work ethic, social responsibility, and education, and a modestly larger multiplier applied to the sound and performance categories.

Breakout Session

In order to prepare for the issues that the smaller groups would tackle, Adam Tutor provided a quick recap of the information presented by Graham Henderson at last month’s Amped Up event, which framed the questions posed. Four groups then formed to discuss the following topics:

1. Musicians on the Ground: 

  • Dissemination of information was the focal point of this discussion of improving amateurs’ success.
  • Attendance to non-performance musical gatherings present valuable learning opportunities and must be encouraged. Members of the group attested to opening doors of knowledge just by showing up to a single Las Raices meeting.
  • Information-nexus platforms such as Event Escrow and do210 are invaluable resources to artists. Community support not only behind these platforms, but behind their mutual cooperation and open-source development, would increase their effectiveness and reach.
  • Creating new avenues of information is vital, particularly for isolated musicians in outlying suburbs. Open-mic nights are potentially just such an avenue, but outsiders may be discouraged from going if they perceive a venue as “not their scene” or outside their demographic. A newcomer-friendly image is a priority for activating these venues’ best uses.
  • SASG’s definition of a musician must be hyper-inclusive; narrowing it might narrow the opportunities to patch weaknesses. They gave an example of a hypothetical cover artist with a couple of original songs up his or her sleeve who, if included, might be developed into a creative artist.

2. Music Tourism:

  • This discussion group advocated capitalization upon existing events that might be under-utilized by the music community, such as Oyster Bake and Fiesta.
  • Other music-centric events, such as the Current Music Showcase and Maverick Music Festival, need greater local outreach. Adam commented that budgets often aren’t big enough to spread information effectively.
  • Consider more unconventional locales for activation, such as Brackenridge Park and its driving range as a future music festival site.
  • The push for a culture of musician residencies among venues would drive predictable and sustainable music economy growth.
  • Areas of the industry that need measurement as part of an economic impact study were also addressed. Venues should be polled on the system and rationale behind artist pay to generate data for predictable and sustainable musician incomes. Artist retention should also be investigated to determine the rates and reasons of artists leaving San Antonio.

3. Music Offices:

  • This group was tasked with brainstorming relationship-building opportunities with civic institutions, such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Department of Culture and Creative Development.
  • Petition these entities to sponsor music education and diversity programs for at-risk students, as well as social media and advertising workshops for marginalized groups.
  • Other educational opportunities exist in teaching business ethics, effective crowdfunding, and registering with ASCAP, BMI, and other non-profit performing rights organizations.
  • Communities in danger of losing their diversity should be examined in addition to business practices that endanger diversity.
  • City offices should construct and maintain a roster of venues replete with specific demographic and economic data.

4. Spaces and Places:

  • Re-engaging with public parks and education facilities was the initial focus of this discussion.
  • Encourage pavilion rental in local parks for home-brewed and small-scale shows.
  • Specialty schools that offer unique creative programs to students might be very receptive to SASG engagement that develops and supports those programs. The possibility of opening up schools as rehearsal spots, and opening up private rehearsal spots to students and school programs, is also worthy of exploration.
  • A qualitative standard of recording studios by which SASG may make recommendations is needed, and was defined by “a worthy sound engineer paired with competitive gear and ample space.” SASG might also conduct research that identifies which studios are best suited to meet specific artist needs.
  • Specific recommendations were given for locality-tailored policies that city leaders might implement. The first was to create and train police units that specialize in music tourism areas, citing Austin’s implementation of police dedicated to handling sixth street, who keep the peace without disturbing the “party vibe” necessary to local businesses.
  • Another dealt with the sound problems associated with venues. The White Rabbit’s philosophy of ‘louder is better’ ultimately resulted in negative experiences for both audiophiles and the folks directly living behind it. Conversely, 502 Bar invested in balanced sound that remained on the pleasant side of deafening and contributed to its success. City elements might emulate that success by studying standards of efficient sound architecture and employing engineers to advise venues in their implementation. Not only would this practice ease tensions with neighborhood residents in many cases, it could result in better sounding music across San Antonio.

Check back at the beginning of each month for the latest Las Raices updates and recaps.

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