To say Brent Grulke's fingerprints are all over South by Southwest would likely be a gross understatement. While working on my book about Austin's live music scene, Indisputable, I had the opportunity to interview Brent to learn about the history of the Austin Chronicle and SXSW. Sitting in Dog & Duck Pub, Brent re-counted some great stories about the small group of creatives who started two of Austin's important businesses in the early-to-mid '80s. At the end of that interview, perhaps feeling a creative-entrepreneurial kinship, I shared with Brent an idea I had about SXSW adding a fourth segment alongside its successful Music, Film and Interactive components, which would be focused on style. While Brent was already heavy into 2010 SXSW planning (this was December 2009), I shared the initial concept of Style X with him months before I ever sat down with Brad Spies Jon Pattillo Cristina FisherNiraj Mehdiratta or many of the other people who would later be key to Style X's first year success. For a couple of months, before unloading my SXSW Style idea onto others, I went over notes for Indisputable - focusing on the interviews I'd conducted with people who'd actually started something of note, like Brent, like Austin City Limits' Terry Lickona, like Susan Antone (whose brother Clifford gave us Antone's) - and their impact in and on Austin. In the end, it was the confidence, not in success but in the collective spirit of "guys we should do something cool together" and creative zeal I heard in Brent's voice that drove me to have those initial conversations with Jon and Brad. Hopefully, one day, I'll be able to make Brent and those other guys proud of having joined their ranks as someone who left their mark on Austin's creative scene. Brent certainly left an impression on me that I hope to someday leave on others. May he R.I.P.
I’m writing you today to apologize that my phone usage during last night’s Austin City Limits taping for Kat Edmonson disrupted your experience at the show. I attend quite a few of these tapings, as I know you and your husband, John Kunz, do as well. I definitely wouldn’t want to hinder a fellow live music lover’s enjoyment of such a delightful artist as Austin’s own Kat Edmonson.
However, I also wanted to take the time to point out a few things that may shed some light on exactly why I was on my phone last night. For starters, I wasn’t texting anyone; I was Tweeting. Secondly, I intentionally sat on the upper level to ensure my phone usage did not show up on the taping or impact the artists. Typically I’m in the standing only section during these shows because I prefer to be closer to the artist. But knowing Kat Edmonson’s music fairly well – I saw her several times at the Elephant Room after moving back to Austin in 2009 – I figured this would be a better show if seated.
The main reason I attended this show was because I continue to work on my second book, Indisputable: A Fan’s Guide to the Live Music Capital, and had yet to include a major mention of Kat Edmonson in the book. I wanted to fix that, and the best way for me to do so was by seeing her at arguably the biggest show of her career.
So you may wondering why I was Tweeting at all during such an amazing, heartfelt show in support of one of Austin’s favorite young songstresses. Well, it’s rather simple: I was trying to do two things: 1) further promote Austin’s live music scene (being the vice chair of the Austin Music Commission only does so much) and 2) help artists like Kat Edmonson to make a living off the music she makes (ultimately, she’ll depend on fans like me [I have spent more than $2,000 in Waterloo Records since 2009] to buy her record).
You see, whether you like it or not, this “social media thing” isn’t going away. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that it’s quite revolutionary to the way people consume and gather information. Major news stories break on Twitter. Every major magazine/TV show/musician/news anchor/presidential candidate/brand/business has a Twitter presence because of it’s significance in raising awareness, expanding the brand connection with consumers, fans and “followers”, and bringing the world closer together. I could send you a ton of articles about this kind of thing because I’ve been working in the social media space for several years, but I think you get the point.
Interestingly, I realized that the very Tweet I was sending when you came up to chastise me was the following:
“Kat Edmonson's voice may seem soft, but it's a reminder how powerful jazz music feels. I'm being swooned. @acltv #Austin #livemusic #jazz”
You may not think that has any value to the show or Kat Edmonson’s career or to Austin City Limits, but sure enough that tweet was the only thing @ACLTV – their official Twitter handle – retweeted during the whole show.
It turns out that something I wrote and sent out to my 1,619 followers – approximately the number of people who were able to attend the show itself – registered with the folks running ACL TV’s Twitter and they decided to share it with their 27,133 followers. Talk about spreading the word. And considering that artists whom perform for ACL tapings are paid something paltry like $500 (imagine Radiohead getting paid $500 for a gig same as Kat Edmonson) and it’s pretty easy to see that the main reason bands are attracted to this show are for two reasons: 1) they love playing in Austin’s best venue and 2) they love the publicity generated from the show.
Simply put, Twitter has become one of the best and biggest publicity mediums a musical artist or business can have. This is probably one of the reasons why Kat Edmonson has a Twitter as well (1,073 followers), and why your husband’s business – Waterloo Records – does too. Last I checked, Waterloo had 15,042 followers on Twitter, not to mention another 19,320 fans on Facebook. You may not think it has value, but when tourist come to town for South by Southwest or any other time of year and spend their money buying CDs and vinyls, they’ll go home and click “like” or “follow” and that will be the way they stay connected to that legendary place called Waterloo Records.
I hope you know I'm not just guessing that this is the case. I actually know a thing or two about publicity because I’ve worked in the industry for a decade. I was a public relations graduate from the University of Texas several years back. Over the years, I've acted in a publicity-related role for the Texas Longhorns, Southwest Airlines, Volkswagen, the Beijing Olympics, the Pac-12 Conference, South by Southwest Festival, the bars on Rainey Street, and aided nonprofits such as the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, the March of Dimes, AIDS Services of Austin. Also worth noting, I've written a book called Real Role Models, an inspirational book for young African-American students, which was published by the University of Texas Press; I write blogs for The Huffington Post and have been published both in print and online for newspapers and magazines ranging from The New York Times to Austin-based Tribeza. I was the chief speechwriter for a government agency in 2005 and 2006.
My point is that I understand the value of both publicity and words, along with relevance. It’s also worth noting that I work for a tech company in town called Bazaarvoice, which specializes in helping some of the world’s leading companies leverage word of mouth behavior. That being said, a Tweet about that show was more valuable to ACL and Kat Edmonson last night because it drives a trending topic. In essence, it makes it more likely that a lot of Twitter users will find out about what was happening than if I had waited until after the show.
To be chastised for trying to raise awareness for Austin’s live music scene (thus reinforcing its status as the “Live Music Capital of the World”) in a real-time setting such as a live performance on Austin City Limits for an emerging artist like Kat Edmonson whose album is being sold at Waterloo Records, one of the last and best locally-owned record shops in the world is upsetting.
That it came from someone who loves Austin’s live music scene every bit as much as me is even more disheartening. I, too, would have been upset if someone was texting throughout the show. The problem is, that wasn’t happening.
The day and age we live in isn’t passive. We don’t just stand and watch. We don’t just sit and listen. We get on Facebook, we Tweet, we YouTube, we Instagram, we share. We build fan bases for our favorite musicians, TV shows and locally- and independently-owned businesses through word of mouth, online. I get it. @ACLTV gets it. @WaterlooRecords gets it. I hope you do too, someday.
With the utmost respect,
P.S. When I'm in Austin (I travel very often), I go to Waterloo Records just about every Tuesday to check out the newly-released albums and buy a few. My friends could tell you how serious I am about purchasing rather than stealing/pirating new music. Let me know if you'd ever like to meet up and chat more about the importance of social media and why I love Twitter. I've trained dozens of corporate executives, marketing reps and brand managers on how to leverage social media tools, and I'd be more than willing to give you a free tutorial if you're interested.
I’m on a plane back from LAX to Austin right now.
The last five days have entailed action sports, business meetings, concerts and DJ shows, dancing, driving, eating, people watching and shopping.
Experiencing the X Games and meetings with the people responsible for taking the event global in 2013 to Brazil, France, Germany and Spain.
Watching live performances by The Chemical Brothers, Diplo and Ghostland Observatory.
Driving on the 405, the 101, the 110, the 105, I-10, La Brea, La Cienega, Melrose, Sepulveda, Sunset, and others.
Hanging around Downtown LA, Los Feliz, Manhattan Beach, Sherman Oaks, Silverlake, Venice, and West Hollywood.
Eating at Patisserie on Abbot Kinney, Bottega Louie in Downtown, 26 Beach in Venice, A Frame in Culver City.
Partying at bars and clubs with name like Avalon, AV, Icon, and The Short Stop.
Seeing celebrities like Lil’ Wayne, Dave Chappelle, Guy Fieri, Ben Harper and Tony Hawk, of course.
Watching guys like Jamie Bestwick, Paul Rodriguez, Nyjah Huston, Andy McDonald, Bob Burnquist and Kevin Robinson lay down some of the sickest tricks ever, while watching young bucks Mitchie Brusco and Tom Schaar lay the foundation for prolific X Games careers.
Spending time with Cali friends, like my boy Kiel at CAA and Levi Maestro, and Austin friends like Jon and Niraj.
Visiting shops like Paul Smith and Undefeated along with Venice locations for Steven Alan, The Milk Made and Robert Graham. Buying socks, shirts, books and sneakers along the way.
Racking up some more Rapid Rewards points with Southwest and Starwood Preferred Guest points at the Sheraton.
Driving a black Nissan coupe from Enterprise and taking it up to 125mph in the tunnel at LAX after driving some 390 miles in five days in LA, including a 2:30 a.m. trip up Mulholland Drive.
What does all this mean?
I’m not really sure, but this is the life I’m living right now. It’s fast-paced, culturally-dynamic, uber-everything and experience-driven.
Charlie Sheen and DJ Khaled say it’s “winning”, Birdman and Kanye may say its “ballin’”, Levi Maestro and Matthew McConaughey call it “livin’”, Curren$y calls it #JetLife.
I call it something else: the siph-life.
No matter what it is that I’m doing with my time or where I am, I siphon a little bit of value and enhance my quality of life with every single act of every single day.
On Wednesday I start another fivee-day trip; this one between Atlanta and Nashville. I’ll be running the Peachtree 10k first thing in the morning on Wednesday, hanging out with my friend Larry (of We Are The Process glory) all day and watching the Atlanta Braves while catching up with a high school friend. Then I’ll go back to Sid Mashburn and buy a purple tie (since I accidently put my favorite purple Ike Behar tie in the dryer last week), and check out the new G-Star Raw store my boy Farshad (of Standard ATL fame) opened up. Then I’ll drive up to Nashville to meet up with friends I just met in Charleston three weeks ago and do some Music City research to add more background to my book, Indisputable, about why Austin’s live music scene is the best. And all this helps me bring sound perspective to Bazaarvoice; I am the ultimate consumer-traveler-social mediaphile.
Maybe I do too much. Maybe I don’t sleep enough. Maybe I share too many details. Maybe I shop too damn much. Maybe I should slow the f*ck down. Maybe travel is exposing me to risks greater than if I sat still in Austin for a while. Maybe I’m distracting myself from something much larger and more important.
The only thing I know for sure is that this siph-life is pretty awesome and I wouldn’t change a thing right now.
This isn't something I wrote, but I had to share this because it touched me in such a way that very few things I read do. This originally appeared on the Yale Daily News site.
The piece below was written by Marina Keegan '12 for a special edition of the News distributed at the class of 2012's commencement exercises last week. Keegan died in a car accident on Saturday. She was 22.
We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life. What I’m grateful and thankful to have found at Yale, and what I’m scared of losing when we wake up tomorrow and leave this place.
It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four a.m. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt. The hats.
Yale is full of tiny circles we pull around ourselves. A cappella groups, sports teams, houses, societies, clubs. These tiny groups that make us feel loved and safe and part of something even on our loneliest nights when we stumble home to our computers — partner-less, tired, awake. We won’t have those next year. We won’t live on the same block as all our friends. We won’t have a bunch of group-texts.
This scares me. More than finding the right job or city or spouse – I’m scared of losing this web we’re in. This elusive, indefinable, opposite of loneliness. This feeling I feel right now.
But let us get one thing straight: the best years of our lives are not behind us. They’re part of us and they are set for repetition as we grow up and move to New York and away from New York and wish we did or didn’t live in New York. I plan on having parties when I’m 30. I plan on having fun when I’m old. Any notion of THE BEST years comes from clichéd “should haves...” “if I’d...” “wish I’d...”
Of course, there are things we wished we did: our readings, that boy across the hall. We’re our own hardest critics and it’s easy to let ourselves down. Sleeping too late. Procrastinating. Cutting corners. More than once I’ve looked back on my High School self and thought: how did I do that? How did I work so hard? Our private insecurities follow us and will always follow us.
But the thing is, we’re all like that. Nobody wakes up when they want to. Nobody did all of their reading (except maybe the crazy people who win the prizes…) We have these impossibly high standards and we’ll probably never live up to our perfect fantasies of our future selves. But I feel like that’s okay.
We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time. There’s this sentiment I sometimes sense, creeping in our collective conscious as we lay alone after a party, or pack up our books when we give in and go out – that it is somehow too late. That others are somehow ahead. More accomplished, more specialized. More on the path to somehow saving the world, somehow creating or inventing or improving. That it’s too late now to BEGIN a beginning and we must settle for continuance, for commencement.
When we came to Yale, there was this sense of possibility. This immense and indefinable potential energy – and it’s easy to feel like that’s slipped away. We never had to choose and suddenly we’ve had to. Some of us have focused ourselves. Some of us know exactly what we want and are on the path to get it; already going to med school, working at the perfect NGO, doing research. To you I say both congratulations and you suck.
For most of us, however, we’re somewhat lost in this sea of liberal arts. Not quite sure what road we’re on and whether we should have taken it. If only I had majored in biology…if only I’d gotten involved in journalism as a freshman…if only I’d thought to apply for this or for that…
What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. Get a post-bac or try writing for the first time. The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical. It’s hilarious. We’re graduating college. We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.
In the heart of a winter Friday night my freshman year, I was dazed and confused when I got a call from my friends to meet them at EST EST EST. Dazedly and confusedly, I began trudging to SSS, probably the point on campus farthest away. Remarkably, it wasn’t until I arrived at the door that I questioned how and why exactly my friends were partying in Yale’s administrative building. Of course, they weren’t. But it was cold and my ID somehow worked so I went inside SSS to pull out my phone. It was quiet, the old wood creaking and the snow barely visible outside the stained glass. And I sat down. And I looked up. At this giant room I was in. At this place where thousands of people had sat before me. And alone, at night, in the middle of a New Haven storm, I felt so remarkably, unbelievably safe.
We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I’d say that’s how I feel at Yale. How I feel right now. Here. With all of you. In love, impressed, humbled, scared. And we don’t have to lose that.
We’re in this together, 2012. Let’s make something happen to this world.