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A Chat with the Founders of Black Fret – Austin’s Underground Music Network

At a recent Austin Music People event, we ran into Black Fret Founders Matt Ott and Colin Kendrick and immediately wanted to know more.  

How would you describe Black Fret to someone on the street?

At our heart Black Fret is a social and connected community of music fans dedicated to good music, good times and the sustainable success of Austin’s local musicians. Together our members find great bands, gather to see them in intimate shows and award them grants to help them create and perform new music.(Erin Ivey at the Black Fret launch party, January 2013)

Why is Black Fret’s mission important?

In 2012 the Austin music industry was an almost $1.7 billion dollar economic engine.  It supports over 18,000 jobs**.  Austin is home to thousands of amazing musicians.  Yet many musicians struggle to create and distribute their art.  There is a misconception that the digital revolution has made creating music an inexpensive and easy thing to do.  While the technological advances have made recording music more accessible to more people, creating “professional” high-quality music and then spending the money to tour, manufacture, distribute and promote that music remains an amazingly expensive proposition.  Black Fret grants make a big difference in the success of our local artists and, hopefully, keeps Austin out of danger of losing the talent that makes our creative economy so unique. 

Where did the name come from?

Naming is always a fun challenge.  After starting the Austin Music Foundation over a decade ago, we were looking for something with a little more character.  We wanted a name that didn’t sound like a traditional charity because we aren’t one.  We wanted something that reflected our mission to support local music.  We wanted something younger, edgier and a bit secret society-ish that would align with our limited membership model.  So we started brainstorming and researching.  In the process discovered an obscure thread on the Internet about searching for a black metal that could serve as a fret on the neck of a guitar.  It turns out there is no metal that can sustain a metal to metal vibration and remain black.  So in effect a “black fret” doesn’t really exist.  In that way it is sort of the unicorn of the music world.  So we figured that was a good space for us to live.  “Black Fret” was born.

How do I get involved with Black Fret?

Our business plan is simple and proven: find 1,333 patrons to donate $1,500 annually… raising $2,000,000 each year.  After tax deduction this can cost you less than $100 per month ($50 if you have access to a corporate match).  This allows us to build an endowed non-profit institution capable of supporting more than 50 artists each year.  Those grants will flow to the best of the best of Austin’s internationally recognized musicians allowing us to build an internationally recognized brand around Black Fret Artists that will further enable those artists as they look to build their own brand outside Austin.

In return for their annual dues our members are guided through an annual process to learn, listen, see and share Austin’s best musicians ultimately resulting in a vote to select artists to receive grants.  During that process members will experience regular and amazingly intimate musical events while gaining personal insight into Austin’s music scene.  The member experience is equal parts arts patron, music industry insider, talent scout and connected Austinite.

If you don’t want to become a member or a sponsor, the easiest and most impactful thing one can do to help is spread the word to your friends, family, co-workers and favorite bands.  If you are invited to an event we would love for you to bring people that are interested and able to join.  Ultimately the sooner we get to 1,333 members the sooner we can achieve our full potential.  There is also a Supporter level (annual dues of $300) outlined on our website and any and all donations are welcome.  Lastly we need a few select volunteers at our events.  If you would like to help please email us at sustain@nullblackfret.org.

For more information about Black Fret, membership and upcoming events, visit BlackFret.org.

** Source: THE STATE OF THE AUSTIN MUSIC INDUSTRY” WHITE PAPER; AUSTIN MUSIC PEOPLE, FEBRUARY 2013

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