In this interview, meet two people who are determined to pave the way for a living wage for musicians in Austin.
Austin music industry partners Brandon DeMaris and Debbie Stanley of DeMaris Entertainment a public forum event on Wednesday, Feb. 21 at The North Door that will act as the introduction to the Musicians’ Living Wage movement. It will involve an intensive panel discussion with Austin music industry experts all aimed at kick-starting a conversation on musicians earning equitable pay for their art. The ticketed and seated event is open to sponsors and general audience attendees: each $250 sponsor ticket includes admission for two, a table up front and a pre-event meet-and-greet with the Musicians’ Living Wage founders, panelists and performers. Sponsorship proceeds will be used to pay the musicians performing at the event. General admission tickets are $25 and available in advance. Get Tickets HERE
We had a chance to speak with DeMaris and Stanley, and find out more about their unique combination of skills. Debbie Stanley, who is professional organizer, has written a dozen books, most recently The Organized Musician, and has presented at conferences including South By Southwest. Brandon DeMaris has a degree in music from Berklee College of Music, but segued into the business side and founded DeMaris Entertainment.
AMFM: There are so many wonderful musicians and music organizations in Austin, but do you ever get weary? it’s such an uphill battle.
Debbie Stanley: Brandon’s been at it longer, but my short naive answer is I’ve only been in Austin for six years, and I have a newbie energy. I know that there’s a long history and generations of people being ground up in this system. But I only know that because I’ve heard it, not experienced it. The silver lining answer to that question is I’m still blissfully ignorant to it, I know it’s out there but it hasn’t harmed me yet. I’m careful to recognize the elders in this conversation, and know that this has been going for a long time and I know that I’m new to the scene, but use my energy. People that have been at it for 25 years, if you’re exhausted and weary – then use me up. Tell me about the things that needed to be said in the past that worked and I will amplify that. Educate me on what did or didn’t work. Now is the time.
AMFM: And your background is journalism and…
Debbie: My undergrad was journalism and I have two Master’s Degrees in Psych, one in Mental Health Counseling and another in Industrial Organizational Psychology.
AMFM: That’s different. Not everyone has those organizational skills to bring to the table, as well as insight into people. I’m rooting for you, I hope you do make a difference. Brandon, how about you, “are you weary” is a loaded question, obviously you created this event because you believe in what you’re doing.
Brandon DeMaris: That’s what’s driving me. I do get weary. I’ve been through quite a few major failures in my life. I spent 20 years learning how to play the drums and went to college and got a degree in professional music from Berklee College of Music and found out that’s not a real viable career path. I did go into the music business as a result, and built a career for myself in artist management and booking. I managed a band called Porter Davis that toured all around North America playing festivals, got national press and was on the Americana top 10 chart. That band broke up 10 years in, because they couldn’t make a living at it. I got to experience that crushing disappointment along with the band. Questioning was it me, was the music not good enough. So I dumped all my energy into booking. I booked Ian MacLagan, Johnny Nicholas, Paul Oscher, some of the foremost musicians that already had a name for themselves and were in demand around the country, and watched those guys get the same kind of guarantees in clubs, and we weren’t going in to backend. So I watched my company fail as a booking agent, and we supported local music. That was around the time that I met Colin Kendrick and Matt Ott who founded the Austin Music Foundation and Black Fret (which has given over half a million dollars to local Austin musicians since being founded three years ago). We came together around the same purpose. We are building a foundational support system for these amazing local artists that we love and believe in. Now we are empowering them to make a living from their art. So did I get weary? Yes!
Even now, the amount of resistance we’ve gotten to get the conversation going about living wage is substantial. There are a lot of really smart people who have taken a run at solving this problem. I mean some of the folks on our panel, Peter Schwarz has a business degree from Harvard, and he was deep in the trenches…we talked to Kevin Conor from Sun Radio this morning, he’s been in this industry for decades…the issue is really complex. We are going into this knowing just how hard this really is, and we have a deep sense of purpose. We can make it better. We are realistic, I don’t think we are solving it at our Living Wage launch on Wednesday, I don’t think we are going to solve it in the focus groups that come after that. My hope is that in 10 0r 20 years we move the needle far enough forward that it improves the situation for future generations. That’s what I keep coming back to, to remind myself, and say ‘That’s why we do it.” I could go and get a corporate job but what drives me is “meaningful work.” I want my work to mean something when I look back on a career. The meaning and purpose behind it is we’re making it a better industry for the musicians. I can resonate with that all the way to my toes.
AMFM: So can we talk about this “situation” (I make air quotes), where people are not valuing live music, as they should. The music, that comes from the soul, that is so important, that comes from these artists….when a society does not value it’s artists, who speak their version of the truth, then as a society we’ve got a problem. They need to be a little more revered, instead of marginalized and pushed away. Debbie, you’ve got something that I’ve not seen that much in this industry. The organizational aspect. That might make a difference. You know the cliche that working with musicians is like herding cats. Can you tell me what you’re going to do differently?
Debbie: What your kind words are bringing back to me is, yes, I am an expert at helping people that are chronically disorganized…and musicians are over-represented in the population of folks that are chronically disorganized…as are all artists and creative people. The jokes and the stereotypes do have some basis in statistical reality, and people who are predominately creative-minded don’t tend to also be really strong in logistics, time management and spatial organization. That is the population of folks that my career has been about helping. That’s why I’m so drawn to helping musicians, that’s where the book came from. I hesitated to write a book that was directed at a certain population because it’s often unfair. To a chronically disorganized person, to hand them a book is like taking a person who is tone deaf and handing them a book on music and saying “here, now you have everything you need.” – which is just not true. If some people are able to glean a little bit from reading this book, as imperfect as it is, then it’s worth doing, because I can’t reach every musician personally. On the business side, they don’t have the budget for an individual consultant to come in and teach them how to organize. Corporations do it on behalf of employees that are worth rehabilitating. It’s all very business speak, and that type of language is a turn-off and a threat to creatives people, particularly musicians who are trying to get away from all that. So I tried to change my tone, the language that I’m using. and the approach that I’m using. I don’t want to be another business person that’s telling them they have to set aside their creativity, become self-employed, understand book-keeping, networking strategy, and go out and join a BNI (Business Network International) Chapter. But what you two have reminded me is that this is a skill set I need to make sure I’m fully employing on behalf of Musician’s Living Wage, because there is a lot of value in that.
The kickoff event panelists include Steve Begnoche (Local 433 Representative for American Federation of Musicians), Nancy Coplin (Founding Music Coordinator for Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Founding Chair of Austin Music Commission), Colin Kendrick (President/Founder of Black Fret and co-founder of Austin Music Foundation), Adrienne Lake (Senior Talent Buyer for Heard Entertainment [The Parish, Empire Control Room & Garage]), Omar Lozano (Music Industry Marketing Manager, Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau), Michael Mordecai (Career Musician, National Talent Buyer, Owner of BBA Management & Booking), Nakia Reynoso (Artist/Musician, Former Chair of Austin Music Commission), SaulPaul(Artist/Musician, 2017 Austin Under 40 Austinite of the Year), and Peter Schwarz (Consultant).
The night will feature performances by local musicians BLXPLTN, Dana Falconberry, Robert Rankin, and Barfield, The Tyrant of Texas Funk. The ticketed and seated event is open to sponsors and general audience attendees: each $250 sponsor ticket includes admission for two, a table up front and a pre-event meet-and-greet with the Musicians’ Living Wage founders, panelists and performers. Sponsorship proceeds will be used to pay the musicians performing at the event. General admission tickets are $25 and available in advance.