Black Fret – A Non-Profit Giving Money to Local Musicians

matt-ottMatt Ott Vice Chairman Black Fret

By Bailey Cool

If you’re in the music scene here, whether as a musician, writer, bar owner, or just a good ‘ole scenester who hops shows every Friday night, you know that Austin musicians rely mostly on live shows to generate enough money to allow them to continue touring, writing, and recording, but it’s hard for them to stay afloat with that. A vast majority of musicians here have full-time jobs and scrounge for time and money to do what they love on the side. Apart from show-goers spending their money going out, and the occasional Kickstarter campaign, there is very little financial support from the community for musicians – and almost none from people outside of Gens X and Y. There isn’t a streamlined way for people outside this age range to learn about new artists, hear them in comfortable settings, and invest their money in them.

Enter Black Fret (, a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting music fans to good music, good times and the sustainable success of Austin’s local musicians. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Black Fret’s Board Chairman and Founder Colin Kendrick and Vice-Chair Matt Ott over some sandwiches and coffee at Spiderhouse Cafe to explore what makes this music-driven nonprofit so important to the Austin community.

Bailey: I’d like to start off simple, and address your mission statement – “Our mission is to empower musicians to create and perform great new music.” – How did you get to this? What went into deciding that this should be your mission?

Colin: The mission says exactly what we want it to, and it’s a broad statement but it really is about creating new music and enabling Austin artists to create that music. There’s a real demand for resources to create music and musicians aren’t really getting that from anywhere else.

Matt: We believe that local music is just as worthy of support – in the way that the opera, the symphony and the theater have been supported. Us both having a background with the Austin Music Foundation, we recognized this – and have spent much time trying to figure out how to fill this gap. We finally came up with this membership-based model that we think is going to work wonders in the community during this first cycle in 2014.

B: Can you explain the model? What does it mean to be a member?

Matt: Members pay annual dues (of $1500) and are then involved in the entire process from the beginning of nominating bands, actively getting to listen to them at parties, voting for their favorite one and then ultimately getting to experience them using that grant money to continue touring, making new music, etc. Each member gets one vote per grant.

Colin: $1500 is a lot. But, after taxes it works out to about $100/month for most people. Lots of people work for corporations who do charitable match so that’s $50…you can get it to be about $25 a pay check. We assume that since it is still a relatively high membership rate that only really dedicated music fans will join. And that’s what we want: a family of local music fans who can get involved, have a say in what’s being produced and have a curated view of it.

Matt: We worked on the financial model a lot and we believe that that level of dues is what we need to give substantial grants. There’s a second level at $300 a year – but there are no nomination or voting rights there, you get to come to some events and still support Austin music without giving the full amount.

Colin: The flat rate of $1500 really creates an egalitarian experience for members. In most nonprofits they ask you for money, ask you for money, then you get invited to the year end fundraiser are stuck sitting in the back table because someone who inherited their dad’s fortune wrote a check with three more 0’s than you. You give 5-10% of your income to a charity and get nothing…you vanish into the wind. Here, you all have the same hands-on experience.

Bailey: You’re right, it seems like for your target audience, that isn’t necessarily a lot of money per month. What does the cycle look like each year?

Colin: In March the bands are nominated by members and through the rest of the spring and summer people host listening parties at their houses, with food, drinks and the band of their choice to play. We call these “artist socials” because they are curated, intimate parties where bands play for about 50 people, and other bands come to see them. It becomes a networking and social experience. Members lobby throughout the summer, having these parties like this (all of which can be totally set up by Black Fret and the bands).

Then come October or November members vote on the band they want for each grant level. We would ideally love to be giving out 20-25 grants eventually. Then by the next January the funds are released to the bands as they hit certain points and landmarks in their process.

But that really fun period is the aforementioned “Listening Period”, from March to September when the “artist socials” and parties are happening. Thinking about this from an economic point of view, considering people who will likely become our members, this is the best deal they can ask for. Lets say, for people who work a corporate job at Dell, or wherever, and they have kids and don’t know which clubs to go to anymore or if they’ll like the music, and they have to shell out $150 for a babysitter and a cab…this option of having a fun, intimate music experience with a band they know is solid (because fellow Black Fret members are also vying for them) with free alcohol and food that’s already covered in their annual fee … doesn’t that sound better than taking your chances at a club that you may hate? Especially if that’s the one time you go out that month. You don’t have to be the awkward old guy in the corner! We’re providing excellent, high quality experiences for our members that make it worth annual dues.

Matt: The common thread is that these are all people who love Austin and love music – and this “Listening Period” gives them an option to network with each other and still get that “Austin Music Experience.” The biggest event we have each year will be the Black Ball in November where we will announce the winners for that year.

Bailey: Since we’re primarily a music review site…we would love to know who are you excited about right now? Who are you listening to and making it a point to catch around town?

Colin: Decline to comment.

Matt: Too many! We won’t have any say or sway in who gets nominated from the members.

Colin: Your year-end list will be really helpful for our members to go through when deciding who to nominate.

Bailey: Anything else you want to say about the January 18th event?

Colin: It’s our first largely public, advertised event. It’s our coming-out event. It’s so important to have as many people as possible there – especially people who are ready to sign up as members.

Matt: We’re doing something special right now, where people who sign up and become members prior to announcing the nominees will be Founding Members. We’re going to do a few special things for them because of their vote of confidence.

Right now Black Fret has about 65 members and are looking to get over 100 after their VIP Launch Party with Ben Kweller and Emily Bell this Saturday, January 18th at the Gibson Brands Showroom from 6-10pm. We expect to see some great new music and support for some lucky musicians come out of this year’s cycle.

poster-for-Black-Fret-launch-party-membership-drive_212617-Bailey Cool