He doesn’t need an introduction, but we’re going to give him one anyway: The Convoy Group’s Mark Austin is the man to talk to when you want to understand the current state of the Houston music scene and how important Record Store Day is to independent record stores.
Q 1: In honor of Record Store Day’s 10th Anniversary, The Black Sheep Agency is putting together a list of the records that need to be on Houstonians’ shelves this year. Do you have any special edition recommendations?
A: Again, too many to really list here. Some of my favorite recent and local vinyl releases have come from Robert Ellis, Khruangbin, UGK and The Suffers. I think owning and listening to those records should be required in Houston. Hopefully we see more and more vinyl releases from local artists in the coming months. It’s a process these days and can take a lot of time and money to pull it off.
Q 2: Every year, RSD names a new music ambassador of the year. Who would you choose to be Houston’s Record Store Day music ambassador?
A: Thomas Escalante (Sigs Lagoon), Quinn Bishop (Cactus), John Baldwin (Deep End) and Chuck Roast (Vinal Edge) should all be in consideration. No one lives closer to music in Houston than these cats. Bun B will always be the people’s choice. Kam Franklin of The Suffers should be a top candidate as well. Gotta throw a couple of legends like Billy Gibbons, Archie Bell or even Beyonce on that list for consideration.
Q 3: What’s #nowplaying on your current playlist?
A: This new Spoon record is my life right now. It’s unreal. That and this upcoming Matthew Logan Vasquez* record should get me to summer hopefully. Demos from The Tontons*, The Suffers* and -Us.* are in rotation as well. Exciting times.
Q 4: Many artists have said before that record stores have a sincere and authentic way of connecting with a community and defining culture. How do you feel that’s reflected right here in Houston?
A: Ever been to an instore at Cactus and watched a band while drinking a cold Saint Arnold’s beer? If that’s not connecting with the community, then it doesn’t exist. Go spend some time at any of our local shops and tell me you don’t feel connected. Outside of the actual music venues, record stores are where like-minded music lovers go to meet and hang and chat and connect.
Q 5: Why is Record Store Day important to you and Houston? What are some of the best ways you’ve seen this day celebrated?
A: I stood in the rain outside Cactus last year to make sure I scored the Texas shaped UGK rerelease of International Player’s Anthem. I celebrated by doing a little dance outside the store after grabbing my copy.
Seriously, it’s important because these are our meeting places. These are some of our only outlets to getting physical products to our fans. We want to celebrate these businesses. They are our history and our future.
Q 6: In your opinion, what Houston artist is really breaking through the static or inspiring you lately?
A: I get this question a lot. To be 100% honest, there are so many that it really is hard to list here. Keep in mind, that this is all I do all of the time. The answer to this question changes weekly/daily. But I do wanna share a few. This is by no means a comprehensive list and I’m surely leaving some very deserving act off here. Go spend some listening to and researching these guys:
Gio Chamba—Latin electronic cumbia + more
Genesis Blu—Super hot local female MC
Guilla—Another smoking hot MC + local tennis pro.
Say Girl Say* – Worldly amazing harmonies and songwriting.
Us.*—Solo electro/live/multi instrumental.
Vodi—Tom Petty meets Ryan Adams meets War on Drugs. Go jam them!
These guys are grinding super hard and building bigger and bigger local audiences. Lift off should happen for all of these in 2017.
Q 7: It’s an exciting time for Houston artists with the many added music venues and festivals. How has that impacted your mission to find a place for every artist?
A: More venues, more festivals, more opportunities. We book music in 5 different spaces now and are open to more. Also, Day For Night, Madness on Main, Houston Whatever Fest, Free Press Summer Fest, Super Bowl Live, NCAA Final Four, weekly/annual events at local breweries—means A LOT MORE opportunities for locals to shine. Where asked, we help the businesses align with the right artists for their event. We hope to help ensure these guys are successful so that those opportunities are sustained.
Q 8: You started The Convoy Group to focus full-time on artist representation and management in 2011. How has that vision grown and evolved with the Houston music scene in the last six years?
A: I started out to just try and focus all of my attention on my artists. I believed that’s all they needed was more attention and for me to focus 100% on achieving the next tier for them. I’d like to say that was accurate, but I’d be lying. I needed to grow as well. Having the time and ability to invest in myself definitely helped here. I started spending more time in Austin, Nashville and New York. I focused on building relationships and at the same time The Tontons’ “Golden” EP was my reason for knocking on folks’ doors. I never had intentions of booking any other shows besides my artists at the time. That changed. Opportunities to book for more venues and bands started coming my way and I eventually took a shot at it and now it’s a core competency of my overall business.
In terms of the evolution of the vision and the overall scene, I’m not sure I’ve assessed that or my company’s impact here. I wanna say we’ve helped drive more opportunities for more artists and specifically in the live music setting. We work on multiple annual festivals, book over 100 artists per month and were a part of the Super Bowl Live booking team—always ensuring that local artists get the much-deserved attention in these opportunities.
Q 9: In a recent interview, you mentioned there’s more work to be done to make Houston a music powerhouse. What are some of the opportunities you’re working to create in 2017?
A: For the last couple of years, I’ve been working with the GHCVB/Houston First as well as the Texas Music Office to incorporate more Houston music in general. Both groups have made efforts to help achieve that as well. We’ve had some success at SXSW, CMJ and other tourism related initiatives. The bridges are being built and the relationships are blossoming. I think we’ll hopefully see bigger Houston footprint on SXSW in the future and more involvement from the state capitol in the Houston music scene.
After the success of Super Bowl Live, I would expect that we’ll see more conference and/or sporting event related opportunities for local artists. The Houston bands at Super Bowl Live were some of the most talked about performances. It was heartwarming to see our guys go up against bigger names and compete for audience share. I’m hoping that the city and event planners adopt a more “Houston First” mentality when it comes to local music and opportunities because of this. Efforts have been made on both sides of the ball (no pun intended).
Q 10: Are there any upcoming events or artist projects you’d like to share?
FPSF – the city’s big summer festival. Tons of locals and national touring acts.
Saint Arnold’s 23rd Anniversary – which will feature only local independent bands and will insanity.
The Suffers w/ Houston Symphony at the Woodlands Pavilion. Tons of free tickets available to this once in a lifetime collaboration.
Check out the weekly calendar’s for The Nightingale Room, MKT BAR, 8th Wonder’s WonderWorld and House of Blues Foundation Room. Tons of local/regional acts and most all of the performances are free to attend.
Every Wednesday in May and June, the city is bringing back Party On The Plaza on the Avenidas stage right outside George R Brown. Two amazing local/regional acts and free to attend! Bring the family!
Be sure to check out the amazing new Heights Theater on 19th St. Had my birthday party there recently and it is simply amazing. You gotta see it in person.