What’s it Really Like as a Working Musician in the Live Music Capital of the World?
written by Kate McDermott
In some places, Austin’s “Live Music Capital of the World” moniker might be irksome. Like Nashville. Or Los Angeles. Or New York. Places where live music isn’t exactly uncommon.
But when we bestowed the honorific upon ourselves back in 1991, our wealth of venues and low cost of living made Austin a mecca for musicians. Since then, we’ve expanded to over 1,000 live music venues by some estimates. Plus, Austin is home to major music festivals like ACL and SXSW, which attract vast swaths of out-of-town artists.
Yet for those artists who live here full time, the relationship with the local music scene can be complicated. Beloved venues have shut down, competition has increased, and the cost of living has skyrocketed.
We’re lucky to have some prolific local musicians on our team here at GRAV. So we asked a few to share their thoughts on what it means to be a performing artist in this complex music town, plus a few other questions just for fun.
First, Let’s Meet the Artists
Jake Lloyd is a local favorite. A three-time Austin Music Award nominee, Jake’s brand of “alternative R&B” has gained a loyal following. He’s been performing in Austin since late 2010, and he was named an Artist to Watch by NPR’s “Here and Now.” Here at GRAV, he’s putting his attention to detail to a different use as our Quality Control Specialist.
Kathryn Legendre has been performing her original honky-tonk music around Austin for the past seven years. She and her backup band have played at legendary local spots like Antone’s and The Continental Club. She received a Honky Tonk Female Ameripolitan nomination in 2020. During the day, Kathryn is our Social Media Manager, so obviously her meme game is on point.
Check out her music on Spotify!
Rudi Dizer is a hip hop artist and musician who sits in with several Austin groups, as well as writing and recording his own music. Besides performing all over Austin for the past 11 years, he continues to improve his skills by learning more instruments, like bass and piano. He’s played the Tito’s stage at ACL, and has travelled internationally to perform with CAPYAC. When he’s not working on his music, he’s answering questions and resolving issues as an integral part of the Customer Service team at GRAV.
How has the Austin music scene changed in the years you’ve been performing here?
Jake: (11 years performing in Austin) Well, the easy answer is — venues have come and gone a lot in the past 11 years. Friends have moved away, and things have shifted. The urban scene has made major strides, and the face of "Austin music" is a tad more inclusive.
Kathryn: (7 years performing in Austin) I think there’s been a bit more of a shift in terms of the business behind the music (e.g. Tunecore and BMI having offices here). Also, as a woman, I’ve seen it become more inclusive in terms of booking and lineups.
Rudi: (11 years performing in Austin) A lot of venues have changed names and/or closed down, especially after COVID hit. It almost feels like the scene is getting smaller, though there are new emerging artists all the time!
What is it like to be a musician in the self-proclaimed "live music capital of the world?"
Jake: Sometimes the "live music capital of the world" label can be a security blanket that allows the city to be a little more complacent than I think it needs to be. That phrase creates big shoes to fill, and we all do what we can to honor that tag. I don't think about it as much as I used to, but it has definitely brought me opportunities that not living in the "live music capitol" couldn't have.
Kathryn: Personally, I think it’s important to take a step back every now and then and recognize how I’ve been able to carve out my own space within the Austin music scene. It can be very overwhelming and intimidating, especially moving here having never really performed in public before.
I also think the Austin music community is one that talks the talk and walks the walk when it comes to supporting the musicians that call this city home. I certainly don’t think my music career would’ve been able to grow without the lessons and encouragement of fellow musicians, as well as opportunities given to me from local establishments, employers, venues, radio stations, etc.
Rudi: It's a grind, especially on the Hip Hop end. Everyone is fighting for eyes and attention. So it has its highs and lows. That said, there's nothing like the feeling of performing for a receptive crowd.
What is your favorite local venue to perform at, and why?
Jake: The Far Out Lounge. It has a huge outdoor area. It's south, far, far away from downtown, and just has that South Austin vibe that I moved away from Round Rock for.
Kathryn: My favorite venue to play at is definitely The White Horse – I feel so comfortable there that it’s like my second home. However, I’ve had the chance to play Stubb's outdoor stage during the pandemic, and you just can’t beat that sound quality!
Rudi: Empire Control Room. They have a great sound system and even greater staff.
What is your favorite local venue to see a show at, and why?
Jake: Unfortunately, It didn't make the 2020 cut, but when it was still around, I loved going to Barracuda on 7th Street across from Empire Control Room. In the heart of the performing district, you could walk out and hear music coming from all corners in its prime.
Kathryn: I really enjoy seeing shows at Sam’s Town Point in South Austin! It’s an intimate, dive-y venue, and a dance floor (‘cause I love to two-step).
Rudi: Empire Control Room. For reasons listed above, plus they have such an awesome variety of booking/events for local and national acts. It's always conducive to a good time!
If you could see any artist perform live (alive or dead), who would it be and why?
Jake: Prince. He was the greatest entertainer ever to walk this earth, with showmanship like I've never seen. He could play the danciest pop hits, then the most conscious think pieces, not to mention the sexiest love ballads. He did it all and has played a huge role in the way I approach my own music.
Kathryn: I’ve been lucky to see a lot of my favorite musicians perform, but I never had the chance to see Townes Van Zandt or Stevie Ray Vaughan, and I feel like those would be incredible shows to witness, especially in an Austin setting.
Rudi: Stevie Wonder. I've loved his music since I was a kid and he's definitely on my bucket list of artists to see before I (or they) die.
Could you share a story of one of your most memorable Austin gigs?
Jake: I was playing the first annual Summer Jam via KUTX at Barracuda, and at the end of my set I looked in the back of the seating area and saw 3-time NBA champion Chris Bosh. He was 3 feet taller than the tallest person in the crowd. It's pretty common knowledge now that he lives in Austin, but back in 2018/2019 he was just getting settled here, and it was crazy to see.
Kathryn: I used to have a Monday-night residency at The White Horse where a certain patron would always put a fat joint in the tip bucket for me and the band. (GRAV approves.)
Rudi: There was this one time at Empire Control Room (ha) when I had three performances with three different groups in one night.
Empire has three stages: The Control Room inside, The Garage outside (which actually used to be a garage), and an outdoor patio. The band I played with called CAPYAC was the headliner at The Garage, my rap group 5-D was an opener for them, and inside at the Control Room, my emcee/producer group Retr0grade had a set. On top of all that, I had multiple outfits! I'll be honest, I felt like a superhero that night!