July 15--When multidisciplinary artist Leticia Rodriguez last summer released her debut album "La Americana," a collection of classic Latin songs from across the Americas, Rodriguez was both overjoyed at the response and overwhelmed with the decisions that had to be made.
"I have no big label backing me," Rodriguez says. "I needed basic skills like how to develop a professional website. Releasing the album made me realize that it wasn't just about putting out the record, but that I needed to catch up on other skills for my music." She quickly learned that positioning herself as an artist was not enough. She needed to be a businesswoman, too.
Luckily, Rodriguez discovered the Austin Music Foundation's Creative Media Center. Two years after its launch, Creative Media Center Director Alex Vallejo (of the band Vallejo fame) and a small staff have helped more than 500 emerging and seasoned artists navigate the business side of the music industry on a one-on-one basis. When musicians need guidance on anything from booking and touring to marketing and social media, the center offers professional advice for free.
Austin's music scene is starting to see the impact of the center, which also offers mentoring, musician-focused workshops and mixers. Since its launch, the Creative Media Center has played a part in 51 albums and 63 band tours. The center aims to strengthen Austin's overall musical landscape, and is reaching out to musicians -- like hip-hop, country and Latino artists -- who don't tend to use the center as much.
Austin-based rock band Vallejo recorded its first album in 1994, and since then the band has recorded 10 other albums under both major labels as well as Vallejo's own independent label.
Alex Vallejo was brought on board during the center's planning phase and now shares the music industry lessons he's learned with artists who seek the center's help. "I can make sure bands don't fall into the same pitfalls that Vallejo did," he says. "If we can save them five or 10 years so they don't waste time, then I think we've done a good thing."
The center's loungelike vibe at the Soundcheck building at Austin Studios encourages creativity, and the center staff hopes that after creating an action plan, musicians can leave feeling inspired.
For Rodriguez, finding an additional support system helped elevate her career plans. She revamped her website, adding music videos and integrating social media. She also plans to tour in New York and Florida this fall.
"Alex is super bright, instructive and enthusiastic," Rodriguez says. "Everyone that's (at the center) has tons of positive energy and makes you feel like they want you to succeed no matter what."
Rodriguez' album pays homage to her aunt Eva Garza, who reached international stardom during the 1940s-1960s and was considered one of the first Latina crossover artists. With "La Americana," Rodriguez has revived some of the music made famous by her aunt -- while making the music her own.
Rodriguez comes from a musical family that also includes brothers and singer/songwriters David and Philip Rodriguez as well as fiddler and singer/songwriter niece Carrie Rodriguez. Her relatives are all at different stages of their musical careers, she says, so it was important to be able to turn to additional resources as well to help her create her own unique artistic package. "There's always something more you can learn," Rodriguez says.
When the Creative Media Center first opened its doors, more entry-level musicians came through for career help, but lately more seasoned artists are seeking advice on everything from music publishing to how to keep a major record label contract. Alex Vallejo has also noticed that female musicians outnumber the males who schedule consultations.
Earlier this year, the center hosted an Austin Music Foundation panel on Latin music in Austin, where artists, music industry members and interested Austinites shared the struggles and successes of the city's Latin music scene. While there is no specific Creative Media Center campaign targeting Latino musicians, the center keeps finding ways, like the panel, to bring in more of the musicians that make up Austin's rich Latino music culture.
"I think it's also in the Latino culture that we try to figure stuff out on our own," Alex Vallejo says. "But one thing I've learned from being here is that you can't use that excuse. If you're a musician, you need to find ways to book shows and make them successful. It doesn't matter what genre you play. At the end of the day you're a musician and have to hustle."
Artists who come in for a consultation fill out a form answering questions such as: Where do you sell your music? Have you had your music in films, video or other forms of media? Where do you perform?
Alex Vallejo and the Creative Media Center staff help identify the holes and brainstorm ideas to get artists to the next level. Musicians get a copy of a music career checklist -- a detailed how-to guide addressing issues from trademarking band names and logos to merchandising.
"We want artists thinking of themselves as entrepreneurs," says Kellie Goldstein, interim executive director for the Austin Music Foundation. "They are their own accountants, public relations company, salesperson, and oh, by the way, they have to continue working to be a musician. It can be challenging. Those who are successful tend to be good at all those things or they get good people to help with all those different aspects."
Some of the consultations, Alex Vallejo says, can feel like therapy sessions. "There's a little crying on the shoulder sometimes," he says. "We don't have all the answers, but we can try to find them." Alex Vallejo says it can be challenging when artists follow all the advice but still struggle. But he doesn't give up, creating new plans to help them break through. The center doesn't manage artists, so it's up to the individual artists to put their own career plans in motion.
After several consultations, Rodriguez says, she's noticed that her booking calendar is filling up faster. She hopes to release a sophomore album within the next two years.
"I've been raising the bar for myself, not only with my music but with how I present the public with my information. It's one step at a time, but I now feel solid with the direction I'm taking."
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