The tectonic shifts in Central Texas' music business is a well documented change, especially in the Live Music Capital of the World. Soaring rent rates have changed one of the main facets that made Austin desirable in the first place. The more affordable San Antonio has improved its cultural landscape and is quickly emerging as a new player on the national stage. The trademarked phrase CityOnTheRise is an apt title. The UNESCO designation of the historic Spanish Missions as a World Heritage Site, Forbes and other organizations publishing data illustrating the trend of growth in the Alamo City, and even in the sports world we’re a city to be reckoned with.. and now, live music has taken on a new life.
The growth of live shows in SA has happened nearly over night. It wasn’t always like this (Concert Radar). For generations San Antonio was plagued with nothing to do. This unfortunate situation fueled our brain drain for years. If you went to high school or college before 2001, you had to work to find events and even music. Music wasn't as readily available on the internet 15-20 years ago (dialup, no social media) and radio & TV rarely played the good stuff, if ever.
The infrastructure that existed back then helped make the experience of music unique and its own thing. But much of the ecosystem of the music industry pre-00's died several years ago. Some pieces remain but as a vestige of its former self. The old eco-system of record stores, radio, MTV, alt-weeklies, physical media like liner notes, show posters, etc., etc. all have died or have been fractured beyond being effective.
Criticisms of local press and the struggle of musicians to profit off recorded music are some of the visible claw marks grasping desperately to the old world. People are still holding on to the infrastructure/ecosystem of yore, hoping radio will play a role in their lives, the way radio use to; hoping alt-weeklies will fulfill that alternative view point, but in reality, these days they have matured into a predictable ad delivery system. With radio, TV and print no longer the gold standard for media in general, we now see the music blogs along with potential of social media beginning to fade.
A new ecosystem/infrastructure has yet to fully replace once reliable methods. Evidence is in Apple's several attempts at creating an environment for music. Look at the recent launch of Apple Music that combines a store, a radio station, ticket & merchandise sales, they even host a festival in the UK; and if Apple ever purchases a record label or begins owning artist contracts, they will be close to vertically integrating much of the former landscape under one roof. Old print regimes like Rolling Stone and Spin have somewhat adapted to the digital world but at a fraction of their pre-internet sizes.
In 2015, we see the ubiquity of music is fused with the experience of everything else, it’s the content for technology and event experiences. Music is tied to the products we buy, the places we go and all the people we see are wearing headphones. The 340K young people living their lives in a booming and vibrant San Antonio are being saturated and bombarded by choice. Every week there’s a new event to attend aside from traditional live music: drinks at the museums, multiple concert series, beer events, festivals of different kinds, movies in the parks, and new and exciting eateries.
The news of Live Nation purchasing a controlling stake in the Aztec led to a collective groan by much of the independent, boutique promoters and fans of non-mainstream music. But don’t be fooled, a Coldplay concert announced 6 months in advance should have nothing to do with most of your show/event/concert if your in the dance music business and Live Nation bringing Deadmau5 to the Aztec shouldn’t interrupt the $5 cover and cheap drinks at your local dive bar with punk bands. To say the little guy is going to get muscled out, slow down there. No one is losing their jobs over these latest moves and we can argue about hypotheticals all day.
I spoke with Erica of Twin Productions over the phone and asked her if Live Nation, Transmission or other large promoters doing business in San Antonio is a concern of theirs: and the bottom line: “no.” “Instead of bidding against each other on a show, we find a way to work together. I like Live Nation and what they’re planning on doing to the Aztec. It’s a better vibe (when more bands to come to San Antonio) and overall, it’s better for the city”. “We’re a small company,” Erica stressed, “it may not seem like it, be we’re small and we do what we can. There are plenty of shows, too many shows! It’s exhausting,” she said.
Angel of Korova, had an extremely similar position: “really has no effect on us considering the capacity of Aztec and types of shows they generally go after wouldn't be in Korova to begin with.” When asked whether there has been significant change at Korova since Transmission and Score More have stepped up their presence, Angel replied, “I can honestly say there isn't much of a change, we have always done what we do and will continue for years to come. We acknowledge the fact people have other options but I also know our city has grown as far as population, live music enthusiasts & downtown living overall, thus there is room and was a need for more venues in town. Since the thing to do as of late is to compare San Antonio to Austin, let's just say SA has gained it's own "Mohawk" with the addition of Paper Tiger and Korova is in a sense, the "Red 7" which is great for our city to have both.”
Deric Wynne, GM of 502Bar and Limelight, again expressed a familiar sentiment, “In terms of competition, Aztec is of no concern given the size of the venue: zero overlap where booking is concerned. Also the same case with the large room at Paper Tiger, they hold 3-4 times our capacity. The important thing is San Antonio is now getting introduced to artists that were previously not booking here. SA and Atlanta are always two of the worst performing markets for most touring acts. While there are a lot of factors that contribute to that, a lot is being done to remedy San Antonio's music scene: larger booking entities like Transmission and Live Nation, Maverick Music festival, and solid venues for artist bookings from small to large (Limelight, Paper Tiger, Aztec). We strive to occupy that small venue role for SA w Limelight and 502 Bar.”
It has not only been outside groups investing in San Antonio’s music economy. The Majestic & Empire Theatres have been hosting TwoTen Empire Concert Series and it is not cheap to fully staff the theatre and create show posters and garner press. 103.3fm “The App” has recently began hosting bands and airing their music over the local airwaves. Local publications have been hosting more and more events, many involving or revolving around music. Limelight, Korova and Paper Tiger are still locally owned. “San Antonio is growing and that's a great thing for everyone, Korova is also growing along with it and that's all I can ask for is to be a part of this great time for our music community.” said Angel.
Many factors contribute to local artists’ success and many want different things out of their music career, and now, there will be more opportunity. Example: Transmission booked the legendary punk band, Death, in 3 cities including San Antonio, and our own, FEA, opened the night. That’s just one example of the opportunity local bands now have access to.
While San Antonio might not have the Raiders or a Major League Baseball team, Coachella or Ultra EDM Festival, mountains or a beach, – we’ve got several of the nations leading music promoters doing business in our backyard because they believe and/or are betting that San Antonio is a music lovin’ city. And if, in fact, San Antonio is the Eagle Ford Shale of the live entertainment business…? DRILL BABY DRILL.
cover photo by Michelle Gonzales @gon_ziee