Being dubbed the live music capital of the world has given Austin a reputation to maintain as a culture with an underlining dogma that emphasizes accessibility between musician and audience. Being an online station dedicated entirely to local sound, Austin Independent Radio is following this creed as being the first free independent radio station in the city, absent of a DJ or commercials that interrupt precious time between listener and song. An interview with Austin Independent Radio’s creator, Chris Brecht, has given this author a deeper look into this reflection of local music culture.
Austin Culture Examiner: The website contains the phrase, “Austin’s First Independent Free Radio.” What was the motivation behind creating the first cost free portal between the public and local musicians?
Austin Independent Radio: Austin has no radio station that devotes any significant amount of time to the Austin Music Scene. This is something that more or less has always driven me up a wall. Not that every band out there in this town is worth hearing but a lot of them are worth listening to for their uniqueness and what they contribute to the scene. These bands don’t fit the status quo. They make up the music scene’s identity. I created AIR because I always thought that it was pretty lame no other stations in town took notice of this and did something about it.
ACE: How was the initial public response?
AIR: Public response was okay at first. For the first few months I didn’t really know what to expect. I just wanted to see the website in creation. Turns out that people are interested in listening to independent bands. Probably more so than hearing the same U2 and Tom Petty songs for the rest of their lives. I’ll always love U2 and Petty, but you get the idea. Corporate radio treats their listeners like kindergarteners that want to sing the alphabet everyday.
ACE: What is the criteria for choosing to put a musician(s) on air?
AIR: I don’t have a “criteria” so much as a vibe I’m after. It’s really pretty simple. If I can listen to a song over and over again, then it’ll play. I also question whether the bands have a concept of who they are… a few photos, a bio, some recorded music and a place where they’re distributing it.
Even though it’s online, ListentoAIR.com probably has more in common with AM radio of the late 50s, when it wasn’t impossible to get a new band or sound on the airwaves. It’s not that it’s that hard in the age of the internet and digital cameras for a band to create themselves. All they really have to do is make music, record it and share it. AIR makes that possible. It happens pretty fast.
I think one of the best things about AIR is that it is a place where bands can offer up their best music or demos. Unlike the radio we’ve always been listening to, demos are welcomed. Demos are cool. It would be pretty rad to play some of the Beatles demos in that day and age. I was given the opportunity to sift through the entire “Daniel Johnston” catalogue and play what I want. I think that’s great. I think the presence of that kind of music in a station format makes this station better. Different is good. Strange music is cool. Being independent is cool. Not fitting in is cool. I never did. So tracks from bands like Jesse Woods or the Crooks or the Lonesome Heroes are cool. Music that sounds like it was recorded in a log cabin is cool. The music on this station sounds very real. It’s like an online festival of independent artists.
ACE: You now reach out to over 15,000 listeners a month. How have you witnessed Austin Independent Radio grow over time?
AIR: The jump from 300 listeners a month to where we currently took about 6 to 8 months. I think as people get into the vibe of www.ListentoAIR.com and get used to listening to the difference in the sound of the music, then the amount of listeners will continue to grow. As more bands come to us, we will continue to grow. I get submissions from all over the US. I’ll probably end up sneaking some independent artists that I really dig. I love that listeners keep coming back. I want to make the station better. I dig that the sound of the station lacks perfection. I totally dig that all conventions of regular radio have been thrown out the window because they are outdated.
ACE: Have you run into any challenges in maintaining the station? How are you able to operate with no revenue coming in from commercial advertisements?
AIR: We are probably ready to bring in revenue. I know I need to because I can’t keep this up forever. So far, I paid for the entire thing myself, since its inception. Balancing the budget would be nice. When I made AIR, building the site was my only intention and see if it worked. I didn’t really think about revenue. I thought about creating a place for the Austin music scene online, because nobody else had done yet in radio format. I couldn’t believe that in the 80 or so years of music in this town no radio station played only Austin music. Seriously, what’s the problem?
Now I call it, an “Online Source for the Austin Music Scene”. If bands want in, they can get in. I’m not just going to play anything. But I know that if I lived in the Netherlands and I loved Austin Music, I’d probably listen to this all day long. I’d want to see what’s going on. That’s why I made it. Just so happens that it thousands of listened in other countries.
ACE: How do you think Austin Independent Radio has contributed or reflected Austin music culture?
AIR: I see it contributing in a way that Austin’s Music culture is very spontaneous. It’s very original. Just like the restaurants or food trailers that are all over this city, the culture here is independent and sexy. People here stay up late. They dig on good vibe. They eat at restaurants that would be pretty off the wall in other cities. This city is filled with thousands of artists all doing their own thing. I think that is cool.
ACE: Are there any future initiatives or plans for Austin Independent Radio?
AIR: I have a world of thought invested into www.ListentoAIR.com. But because I’m not able to do all the things I want to do, I’m really hesitant to give away the vision I have for AIR in an interview. But I will say that I want it to grow into a locomotive for independent music. Places like MySpace, Facebook, Reverbnation, Sonicbids all suck in my mind. I doubt any of them were designed by musicians or with consideration for what a musician or band needs in order to share there music more efficiently. I want a website that promotes their music the way AM radio used to.
AIR has achieved about less than three percent of my vision for its development. It has only just been born. It’s brand new. I’m just letting it exist for a little while on its own. Just to see what happens
To get back to your original question, I would like to get more bands recording their own promos from home for the station. Promos, commercials, station IDs, show announcements, whatever. What I like about AIR is that bands can record basically anything, and I’ll get it in the mix. A band could pre-record a promo for their new record or announce a big show or even talk about a new video or just play a bit of a song and say their website. Much like a commercial specifically for the band, or something like that. Bands can create whatever they want I’ll play it, with the thought in mind that AIR is for listeners. So I’ll keep mostly music going all the time, but in the middle of all that music, for a band to share some of their creativity, isn’t such a bad thing… This is a great way for bands to get exposure for themselves. But it is theirs to take advantage of and be creative with. I have all sorts of ideas, but I can only steer people in the right direction. That’s kind of what AIR is for.