Black Fret uses age-old patronage model to benefit modern musicians.
By Steve Habel
Even in Austin, the Live Music Capital of the World, a town that revels in its options for quality performances on nearly every street corner, the road to an artist’s or band’s success is paved with dirt rather than gold. As much as the digital r evolution has empowered artists with falling costs to produce and distribute their music, it has taken away more. Piracy, the collapse of some major record labels and a flood of starryeyed bands willing to give their music away for free have endangered the livelihood of musicians who would otherwise be able to make a living with their art.
Stepping up to offer aid in the form of industry expertise, guidance and—even more welcome to some—cold, hard cash is Black Fret, a public charity headquartered in Austin whose mission is to empower musicians and allow them to create and perform great new music. The organization is an innovative evolution of the age -old symphony and opera patronage model that is focused on supporting popular local music and bringing it to the masses.
Co-founded by Matt Ott and Colin K endrick in January 2013, Black Fret has a limited membership that looks to build an endowed institution capable of sustaining more than $1 million a y ear in grants to Austin’s artists. The organization just awarded its first 10 $10,000 grants after it reached its initial goal of 100 members donating $1,500 each to the cause by early 2014.
“With every new member that joins, we can show that much more support for the local music that is the lifeblood of our city,” Ott says. “Joining Black Fret not only makes you a patron of local music, but also an active participant in keeping Austin Austin.”
Once Black Fret reaches its membership cap of 1,333 members, the organization’s core program will allow its members to select more than 40 artists each year to receive $25,000 grants on a sustained and ongoing basis.
“This kind of support for indie music is unprecedented,” says Gina Chavez, a recipient of one of Black Fret’s inaugural grants. “The most exciting part is that Black Fret is ultimately about community, and one that’s only just begun to show its love for local musicians.”
Lifelong music fans, Ott and Kendrick grew up going to the clubs in Austin in the 1980s and ’90s, seeing the punk, blues , Western swing, alt rock and other music that defined an amazing era in the city ’s music evolution. Ott, Kendrick and Nikki Rowling started the Austin Music Foundation 12 years ago. AMF’s mission is to provide education to musicians to help them make better business decisions to achieve a sustainable career in music. While the Austin Music Foundation originally had a component of grant giving, it did not have a sustainable funding model and did not serve the core mission of the organization.
“It takes great resources to create music that will be heard outside a few clubs in a local market, even in today’s connected world,” Kendrick says. “The power in our model comes from a concept we call equitable patronage, in which all our patrons contribute equally in building an endowment that provides sustained and community-directed support for our cause.”
Black Fret’s limited group of members will constitute a social network of dynamic friends dedicated to great music, good times and to seeing Austin’s artists prosper. Annual Black Fret member dues is $ 1,500, and many members have access to corporate charitable-giving-match programs (offered by Dell, for example, and other major employers). In return for annual dues, members are rewarded with unprecedented personal access to the city ’s top artists through a broad range of private events, including monthly shows in intimate venues and an incredible annual gala event named The Black Ball.
Black Fret doesn’t just hand money to an artist or band and walk away. Through its Black Fret Artist Program, the artist is compensated based on achieving specific milestones (writing and recording new songs, touring, etc.) and providing community service, such as playing in classrooms or at fundraisers for other charities. During the course of an artist’s residency, Black Fret will work with the local music community to provide those artists with educational and mentoring opportunities to help advance their professional careers and empower them to produce outstanding new music.
To ensure that its members get real bang for their bucks, the Black Fret financial model allocates 20 per cent of each member ’s dues to funding events. That equates to about $300 per member spent each year on delivering first-class entertainment. For a city and music community that lifts its artists and bands to a high pedestal, membership in Black Fret and the support of its initiatives is the ultimate no -brainer. For more information and to grab a membership before they are gone, visit blackfret.org.
Grants Awarded to 10 Artists at Inaugural Black Ball
The music careers of 10 local artists and bands were bolstered Nov. 8 when Black Fret hosted its inaugural Black Ball gala at The Paramount Theatre to announce and fete the first recipients of the nonprofit organization’s Black Fret Grant. Ten grants, for $10,000 each, were awarded to Amy Cook, Elizabeth McQueen, Erin Ivey, Gina Chavez, Graham Wilkinson, Lincoln Durham, Mother Falcon, Quiet Company, The Rocketboys and Wild Child.
“The Black Ball was truly amazing,” says Colin Kendrick, founder of Black Fret. “You could feel the love and profound respect of our members for these musicians we so cherish. Next year, we are on track to double our grant giving and with every new member, we can do that much more to support Austin’s musicians.”
Grant recipients will be able to unlock their grant dollars in 2015 by writing, recording and performing new music and by providing community services to other area nonprofits. As the artists unlock the grant dollars, Black Fret members will receive regular updates and private glimpses into the lives and creative processes of those artists. The grant recipients and all 20 of the 2014 nominees will have continued access to one-on-one mentoring from Black Fret’s advisory board, which consists of some of Austin’s top music-industry leaders. The Black Ball featured performances by 16 of the 2014 Black Fret award nominees. Special guests Shawn Colvin and Riders Against the Storm also graced the stage at the historic theater that evening.
“It was incredible to have 16 of our nominees play and to see our nominees, advisors and members all come together in such a beautiful way to support our local music to the tune of $100,000 and a whole lot of love,” says Matt Ott, Black Fret co-founder.
Now that The Black Ball is complete, the annual process starts again as Black Fret begins its 2015 artist selection process, commencing with the nomination period, during which the organization’s members will explore new bands to become well versed in Austin’s talent pool. In March, Black Fret will announce the short list of 2015 Black Fret nominees and begin the next listening period, ultimately leading up to the selection by its members of the next group of Black Fret grant recipients.