Here at LiveMom, we love meeting new moms (and dads) doing interesting things around town. Our monthly features give us an excuse to learn more about these hardworking Austinites.
In recent years, a growing number of organizations have emerged to support our town’s musicians. One of these is Austin Music People (AMP), a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization founded in 2011 to support the brands, bands and fans that make Austin the Live Music Capital of the World. The organization does this by fostering networking and cooperation among music professionals, promoting research and discussion of ideas facing the music industry at large and Austin in particular, giving fans a voice to be heard and a forum to celebrate Austin music and hosting events to strengthen the connection between music professionals and fans.
At the helm of Austin Music People is Jennifer Houlihan, mama to two girls (ages 9 and 11). Read on to learn more about the organization, her take on changes ahead for SXSW and how we as parents can support the music scene in the Live Music Capital of the World.
LiveMom: How did your career lead to you becoming the Executive Director of Austin Music People?
Jennifer: I was in nonprofit fundraising for decades, and wanted to stay in a profession where I could be of service, but had burned out during the recession. A friend mentioned a job with a new arts organization that would be working with city policy, and my inner Leslie Knope jumped at the chance!
LiveMom: How would you describe the work Austin Music People does?
Jennifer: We are the advocacy arm of the local music industry – the brands, bands, and fans that made Austin the Live Music Capital of the World. It’s our mission to ensure that the economic health of the local music community remains a priority for our political, civic, and cultural leaders. That includes everything from registering music fans as voters to working to make sure that living in Austin is within the financial reach of our artists and creatives – a tall order.
LiveMom: What AMP project happening in the coming year are you most excited about?
Jennifer: On March 9, we’ll be presenting our third annual Esme Barerra Award in Music Activism and Education. We present other awards, too; but I have a soft spot for this one. Not only is it named for a force of nature and unstoppable local music fan who left us much too soon, but the winner is selected by a group of kids – young ladies, now – known as Esme’s Posse who studied with her and were her number one fans. It’s a privilege to help them give back to their community each year in honor of someone who was so special and deeply loved.
LiveMom: How do you feel about the changes announced so far for this year’s SXSW?
Jennifer: I don’t envy anyone trying to manage all those moving parts, from policy enforcement to neighborhood relations! At the end of the day, SXSW proper only accounts for about half of what most people see and experience – so much of the SXSW experience really happens inside the Convention Center. The rest is local businesses and other entrepreneurs making the most of a great opportunity to introduce themselves and their products to new audiences. But I think the extensive public process over the last year or so has resulted in some smart, responsible tweaks to the system that will improve the fan experience, and more importantly, public safety and the safety of first responders, across the city. My hat’s off to those who did so much work on this and are still able to remain open to public input and future opportunities for improvement.
LiveMom: What do you wish the average Austinite better understood about our live music scene?
Jennifer: Great question. I wish it were better understood that the show you see is only a small part of a musician’s day. There’s also the hard work of writing the songs, rehearsing them, changing the arrangements, adjusting instrumentation, tuning and repairing gear, reading and signing contracts, generating new business, networking, collecting fees, taking lessons, and rehearsing some more – every hour a professional quality band is onstage probably represents a dozen hours of disciplined, behind-the-scenes work on musicianship and business development. So when a fan balks at a $5 cover – about the same as cover was in the 1970s, and still often being split between several bands playing the same night – or doesn’t tip, that hits hard. Sure, artists do it because they love the work, but applause doesn’t pay their rents – which are rising as fast as everyone else’s.
LiveMom: How have you balanced being involved in a traditionally late-night industry with being a parent?
Jennifer: We share custody of the kids 50/50 with their mom, so when I can, I try to save the late nights for non-kid nights, or at least try to get home to tuck them in at 8pm – though there are plenty of times that isn’t possible. Sometimes Dad will turn on the livestream, if it’s a council night, and they say goodnight through the computer. As they’ve gotten older, they’ve gotten a better understanding of what I do and they get that sometimes the best way to help people is to go to a meeting “after work,” when more people can participate. They love visiting City Hall and listening to live music and coming with us to vote, so they understand why I love my work and why it’s important for Austin that we look after our artists.
LiveMom: What are your favorite ways to spend your family time in Austin?
Jennifer: At our house, cooking is a great way to reconnect. It’s been fun to watch how they’ve gotten more confident and independent over the years as they’ve developed better skills. We also like to hike and go to parks when the weather is mild, and museums and craft opportunities are always great no matter what time of year. The battle isn’t finding something interesting or fun to do – it’s getting them away from electronics to do them!
LiveMom: What do you like best about Austin, and what would you change if you could?
Jennifer: I love everything about it. I find change exhilarating and energizing. If I could change anything, I suppose it would be to get people to stop looking backward to (pick the decade) and to get involved in moving Austin in the direction of the city they envision. Be part of the future, instead of complaining that it isn’t the past.
LiveMom: What role we can play as parents in supporting live music in our town?
Jennifer: Teach your kids that every voice matters and every vote counts. The people that make history – as artists, teachers, doctors, businesspeople – are the ones who show up and speak their truth, even if their voices shake.
And if you like the music? Tip the band. Watch their faces light up when they know they’re appreciated. There’s no feeling like making someone else know they are seen and valued, especially for sharing a bit of their heart with strangers.