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A decade of Austin music for me, by me, with help of iPods, MySpace, ACL fest

Musicians, club owners and others on the scene talk about what's different in Austin music 2009 vs. 1999

Patrick Caldwell

When the clock hit midnight on Dec. 31, 1999, the iPod was but a distant dream, the controversy over file-sharing service Napster was just flaring up and CD sales were still trucking along nicely — according to data from the Recording Industry Association of America, 939 million CDs were shipped in the United States alone in 1999 (that number would drop to 385 million in 2008). The association wouldn't start compiling figures for digital sales until 2004. Billboard didn't start the practice until 2005.

Austin was stinging from the 1999 loss of Liberty Lunch, Austin City Limits was still just a TV show and SXSW still had fewer than 1,000 showcasing artists.

The music industry and the Austin music scene both looked very different — but the vivacity and the variety of the Live Music Capitol of the World haven't waned a bit. We talked to eight individuals who have been active in Austin music all 10 years to get some of their thoughts on the changes the decade has brought.

'Something wonderful that I have seen happen is the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. That is one of the neatest things I can imagine. It's something my brother (Clifford Antone) always wanted to see happen. That's a huge change I've seen happen in the last decade. To me it's the most unique and fabulous thing and I hope it happens everywhere in every city.'

— Susan Antone, Antone's

'I can't really put my finger on it, but making music feels pretty different. In general, in music, it seems easier now to do your thing independently and have some level of success doing it than it was 10 years ago. Bands proceed more independently than before, rather than looking for a big deal with a label or something. And that has an impact on the way you create, when you have more confidence that you'll be able to get it straight out.'

— Toto Miranda, the Octopus Project

'The most significant change I think is that the cost of living in Austin has gone up a great deal and that affects the music scene. It's more expensive to live here so artists spend less time on their art that isn't immediately making money. It used to be as cheap as dirt to live in Austin. Now there's less of a chance for people to explore and develop and come up with a new sound, as opposed to something they think they can get a club owner to think he can sell immediately.'

— Guy Forsyth, musician

'It's a lot harder to run a club, I would say. There's a lot of competition and a lot of venues, but really I think it's just that it's pricey. You have liquor licenses, you have the billions of fees on top of fees, which meanwhile skyrockets every year and it gets pricier and pricier to do something that's not hugely profitable on its own. The financial perks of running a venue or a bar or anything with live music doesn't quite keep up with the amount of money that keeps raising on the other end, whether it's rent or taxes or the cost of alcohol.'

— Graham Williams, co-owner of music booking agency Transmission Entertainment

'Obviously you don't sell records like you used to. Ten years ago there was no MySpace and there wasn't a lot of file sharing. There was a little bit of that, but not as much as there is today. So you don't look at your record as something you sell anymore, but as a way to spread the gospel of your music. You count on the live shows as a way to survive in the business aspect of making music. I think I've seen a very minimal amount of money through royalty checks.'

— Jason Reece,...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead

'I think now, obviously, with piracy it's harder to sell a CD. We all know that. It's down to merchandise nowadays. Before you could sell an album or a CD and that was how you made your money back. Now it's all about selling T-shirts and signing stuff. It's almost like you kind of have to be a hustler. Vallejo is a brand name. We're like Velveeta or Pepsi. It's still about creating music but it doesn't end there. You have to create a brand name.'

— A.J. Vallejo, Vallejo

'I think we've gone through kind of a fundamental change. We had a very rock and blues foundation to what the world saw as far as Austin music, with acknowledgements to the underground and all that. It seems like rock and blues was the meat and potatoes of Austin music and I'm happy to see, although I don't want to knock those genres, that the wave of the future is really eclectic stylings. Everything from soul to electronica to a new kind of bluegrass to a new kind of punk. I think you can no longer pigeonhole music coming out of Austin. It's as eclectic as it's ever been.'

— Paul Oveisi, owner of Momo's and chairman of the Live Music Task Force

'Starting I guess in the early part of the decade, because of the decreasing sales of music we started diversifying to having other music-related and lifestyle items in our store, so for someone that is a person that's doing the file-sharing, there's other things here that they can find that hopefully will make them a customer. We never abandoned vinyl like a lot of other record stores did, and we saw the leading edges of the vinyl revival sooner than other folks. That's been a big and vital part of the business for us. It's one of the big bright spots as far as indie record stores are concerned this decade.'

— John Kunz, owner of Waterloo Records