Where preparation meets opportunity (AUSTIN CITY LIMITS 2014)
by Joey Pore
This article originally published as a member exclusive at GRAMMYPRO.com. Do not redistribute without permission from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Booze, crowds, and music—that’s not the name of a music festival, but it very well could be the altar ego of the Austin City Limits music festival. I’m in Austin, TX this weekend for ACL Fest, a self-contained music festival that many attendees call “the best one out there.” Tickets are reasonable, the festival itself is relatively straightforward to navigate, and the city isn’t so large that your commute to and from Zilker Park each day wears you out before you enter the gates. But what do the artists think about Austin, TX? Is it just another stop of the tour schedule, or is there something really special about this city? I sat down with artists Spoon, Fitz & The Tantrums, and Parker Millsap to find out.
The dream of playing songs from the soul to crowds of thousands is the dream of bands everywhere, but it doesn’t start there. Los Angeles based band Fitz & The Tantrums knows this all too well. The group booked their first show at the “Hotel Cafe” in Los Angeles with exactly one original song in their repertoire. “It was a great way to get us to write more songs fast!” laughs Michael. It wasn’t long after that the band found themselves preparing for a showcase here in Austin, at SXSW. “Getting in to an official SXSW show is really tough,” says Noelle, “but even though it was just a small showcase in a hotel bar, we came to South By with the dream most bands have when they come here.” By no coincidence, at that very showcase, a label executive heard the rudimentary sound of Fitz & The Tantrums and more importantly, saw the potential and the chemistry they had as a group. It wasn’t just showing up to Austin to play SXSW that penned the deal; Michael cautions me, “We just really focused on playing [before that], and we just knew we had this special chemistry between us… Even after moving on to Atlantic, I don’t think it’s changed our perception of who we are as artists. We just got to get out there and do what we got to do. You never know where it’s gonna go.”
It’s daunting for those starting out. Filling in the gaps, planning for the future, and hoping for the best, all with virtually no repeatable pattern of success—it’s a lot to sign up for if you really want to get into the music business. But the band Spoon had some more practical advice for those sinking their teeth into this world of uncertainty. “Intern at as many types of places as you can. Just do everything. That way you can find out where you really want to be… It’s about doing what you’re not asked to do, about being available.” Oklahoma native, Parker Millsap, emphasized the importance of always striving for more, saying, “It’s important to always have something to work on… When you stop having something to do, you lose your purpose.”
If there’s one message I’ve heard loud and clear this weekend, it’s this: drive and determination isn’t optional. Get used to hearing the world no, and just keep going. If you’re really serious about what you’re doing, you’ll love it as you climb the ranks and establish yourself. The magic isn’t here in Austin, TX; instead, it’s wherever your preparation meets opportunity. Many artists playing here this weekend have similar stories to share about a time in their career where it all just started to click, and for many that are taking the stage for the very first time, this is the opportunity that will put everything they have to the test. And for those of you still waiting on that opportunity, if it came to you today, would you be ready?
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