When it comes to music in Houston today, it’s hard to imagine a bigger fan or supporter than Mark C. Austin. His efforts with The Convoy Group continue to contribute immensely to the artists he works with and to the quality of life of the city. We had a great conversation with him this week on Houston, music, and his industry and wanted to share.
In Taylor Hackford’s 1987 film Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’Roll, there’s a wonderful scene where Keith Richards describes knowing what he wanted to do with his life after hearing the music of Chuck Berry. What brought you to music in Houston?
I wanna believe that I’ve always known I wanted to do something in music, but it honestly wasn’t until I got invited to The Tontons debut EP release party in 2007 that I felt the real desire. Even then it took years before I realized I was “working in music”. It never seemed like a reality that this could be my job.
Houstonians come from everywhere, and the city continues to evolve. How has this shaped the artists and music being made in Houston?
The obvious answer is the influences that folks bring to town. Stuff that you wouldn’t normally just find here tends to find its way here. I’m from Louisiana originally, so my tastes come from a different geographic area. I feel this happens a lot in Houston. I mean this isn’t 90s Seattle. There isn’t one sound that defines Houston. And that is beautiful I believe.
Houston’s been home to many greats over the years such as Lightnin’ Hopkins, Arnett Cobb, and DJ Screw. Is there an artist from Houston’s past you would have loved to have managed?
Man, I would love to be involved with Lightnin’. The definition of cool. I’d love to been a part of the Love Street scene with David Addickes and ZZ Top. Those shows looked super cool.
What’s your preferred format and place for listening to recorded music?
I live on my phone and computer, so I listen to a lot of digital music. I really like listening to music alone in my car on trips. I’m able to focus on the music for an extended period. I’ve got a pretty decent vinyl collection, but I find it harder and harder to spend that kind of time with it. Obviously, I love experiencing music live.
Speaking of recorded music, 100 years ago Freddie Keppard chose not to record the first jazz record for fear of the competition stealing his licks. In other words, the music business was live performing and regional. Have we come full circle back to this as the industry has become so decentralized?
Great question. I’m not sure I know that answer honestly, but it sure feels like it. I feel like Houston’s music community is something that only Houstonians can really appreciate and while I’d love to hear that music executives in LA and New York were clamoring to find out more about Houston’s music, I’m excited at where we are as a scene. More people on more levels are paying more attention to what’s happening in the city in terms of music that has at least since I moved here in 1999. I have nearly daily conversations with tastemakers and such that wanna learn more and get more involved. It’s a good time to be working in music in any capacity in Houston. That’s exciting.
What role can a vibrant local music scene play in enhancing our community and quality of life?
I’m out 7 nights a week watching music and I’m the happiest person you know. Does that work for an answer? Just kidding. You know its hard to convince people to seek out local musical entertainment, but once that do, they generally fall in love with the experience. That one thing brings me more happiness than anything in my life. Arts and entertainment are the colors that fill this canvas that is life. Without them, life can be pretty dull. My goal is to make sure people have those opportunities – both as a fan and as a performer.
The city seems to be pretty genre agnostic. Do you approach music and the artists that you work with the same way?
Genre agnostic? Is that a new band? Just kidding. My personal tastes are all over the place, so this works well for my enjoyment. In terms of the artists that I work with from a management perspective, I only work with artists that I’m super passionate about – so genre means very little to me.
The connectivity of our world has made making and distributing music much easier but more difficult to navigate and value. What effect has technology had on the music business in Houston?
I think your first sentence nails it. Way easier to get to music, but harder to be found. As an artist, you are constantly required to find new ways to be found. If a song gets on Spotify and no one hears it, did the song really make it on Spotify? Jk.
As a buyer constantly looking for new talent, it’s a constant struggle to discover. I also critique bands on their ability/inability to effectively make their music available on digital streaming outlets. Like it or not, it’s very, very important.
Would you be moved more by a mediocre performance of a great song or a great performance of a mediocre song?
Tough question. Nothing really trumps a great song. I’ve seen lots of mediocre performances of great songs and stuck around. If the song is terrible, I’m more apt to use it as an excuse to walk away. With that said, I do like to just rock out sometimes. Final Answer: I have no idea here. I just wanna have fun and be entertained.
One of our goals at Local Sun is to bring people and clean power closer together. How is this similar to what you are doing with music in Houston?
I do love me some clean power. For real, I think we both really just wanna have good clean fun.