Facebook’s New Reach Objective: A Game Changer for Touring Musicians

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog post written by Don Bartlett, owner of No Door Agency, an Austin, TX-based boutique management and marketing agency. Don also hosts a seminar titled “Facebook Marketing For Musicians. Be sure to read his TuneCore Blog article on maximizing your Facebook ads on an indie budget.]

From it’s earliest days Facebook has used its powerful data algorithms to deliver incredibly well-targeted ads. It was a dream for most advertisers. They wouldn’t just put your ad in front of your target audience, they’d put it in front of the specific members of that audience who were most likely to engage with the ad. The success of this approach changed the entire landscape of advertising, and advertisers reaped the benefits. For musicians trying to promote tour dates, though, this presented a problem.

Bands are in a relatively unique position, from an advertising perspective. In each tour city we have small but very valuable target group of people we want to reach. It’s critical that we reach ALL of that group, not just the ones who might be prone to engaging with Facebook posts. If we’ve got 500 fans in New York City, we want all 500 to see the ad for our show.

Until now, the best objectives were “Page Post Engagement” or “Website Clicks” which deliver to those people who historically took those actions when viewing ads. In many cases that left a decent chunk of your fans out.

In late 2016 Facebook rolled out a new objective that solves this problem. When you choose the “Reach” objective you are now functionally telling Facebook that you want to reach as many people in your target audience as possible. After a few months of testing we’ve found that ads with the Reach objective perform significantly better for these small but valuable targets.

Note that that when you’re advertising to larger, non-fan target audiences….fans of similar bands, for example…you’re still better off using the “Page Post Engagement” or “Website Clicks” objective.

Another significant advantage to the Reach objective is that for the first time Facebook is allowing you to put a limit on how often people see your ads. Even an ad for your favorite band’s show can get annoying if it’s popping up in your newsfeed 4 times a day. This new feature lets you define an amount of time that a user will not see your ad again after viewing it.

It’s a very helpful tool that provides an extra degree of control to what your fans are seeing from your page. A good rule of thumb is to build in a frequency cap of at least two days for most campaigns.

Taken together these two new features provide a huge improvement to the tour marketing arsenal. Facebook ads have always been a one of the most effective ways to reach fans in a given city, but the effectiveness was often limited by their optimization algorithms. With the “Reach” objective we now have a concrete way to reach all of them.

Music Streaming Platforms & Mastering – 3 Guiding Concepts

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Alex Sterling, an audio engineer and music producer based in New York City. He runs a commercial studio in Manhattan called Precision Sound where he provides recording, mixing, and mastering services.]

Background:

As an audio engineer and music producer I am constantly striving to help my clients music sound the best that it can for as many listeners as possible. With music streaming services like Apple Music/iTunes Radio, Spotify, Tidal, and YouTube continuing to dominate how people consume music, making sure that the listener is getting the best possible sonic experience from these platforms is very important.

Over the last several years some new technologies have been developed and integrated into the streaming service’s playback systems called Loudness Normalization.

Loudness Normalization is the automatic process of adjusting the perceived loudness of all the songs on the service to sound approximately the same as you listen from track to track.

The idea is that the listener should not have to adjust the volume control on their playback system from song to song and therefore the listening experience is more consistent. This is generally a good and useful thing and can save you from damaging your ears if a loud song comes on right after a quiet one and you had the volume control way up.

The playback system within each streaming service has an algorithm that measures the perceived loudness of your music and adjusts its level to match a loudness target level they have established. By adjusting all the songs in the service to match this target the overall loudness experience is made more consistent as people jump between songs and artists in playlists or browsing.

If your song is louder than the target it gets turned down to match and if it is softer it is sometimes made louder with peak limiting depending on the service (Spotify only).

So how do we use this knowledge to make our music sound better?

The simple answer is that we want to master our music to take into account the loudness standards that are being used to normalize our music when streaming, and prepare a master that generally complies with these new loudness standards.

Concept 1: Master for sound quality, not maximum loudness.

If possible work with a professional Mastering Engineer who understands how to balance loudness issues along with the traditional mastering goals of tonal balance and final polish etc.

If you’re mastering your own music then try to keep this in mind while you work:

Don’t pursue absolute loudness maximization, instead pursue conscious loudness targeting.

If we master our music to be as loud as possible and use a lot of peak limiting to get the loudness level very high then we are most likely sacrificing some dynamic range, transient punch, and impact to get our music to sound loud.

The mechanism of loudness maximization intentionally reduces the dynamic range of our music so the average level can be made higher. There are benefits to this such as increasing the weight and density of a mix, but there are also negatives such as the loss of punch and an increase in distortion. It’s a fine line to walk between loud enough and too loud.

Here is where loudness normalization comes in:

If our song is mastered louder than the streaming target loudness level then our song will be gained down (by the service) as a result. If you are mastering louder than the target level then you are throwing away potential dynamic range and punch for no benefit and your song will sound smaller, less punchy, and more dynamically constrained in comparison to a song that was mastered more conservatively in regards to loudness.

If we master softer than the target level then in some cases (Spotify) the streaming service actually adds gain and peak limiting to bring up the level. This is potentially sonically adverse because we don’t know what that limiting process will do to our music. Will it sound good or not? It most likely will create some loss of punch but how much is lost will be based on what content was put in.

Some music is more sensitive to this limiting process. High dynamic range jazz or classical music with pristine acoustic instruments might be more sonically damaged than a rock band song with distorted guitars for example so the result is not entirely predictable just on loudness measurement but also on musical style.

Thankfully the main platforms other than Spotify don’t add gain and peak limiting as of this writing so they are less potentially destructive to sound quality for below target content.

Concept 2: Measure loudness using a LUFS/LKFS meter.

The different streaming services have different loudness standards and algorithms to take measurements and apply the normalization but for the most part they use the basic unit system of loudness measurement called LUFS or LKFS. This metering system allows engineers to numerically meter how loud content is and make adjustments to the dynamic range accordingly.

Being able to understand how our music masters are metering with this scale is useful to see what will happen when they are streamed on different services (i.e. will the algorithm gain them up or down to meet the target or not?)

Concept 3: Choose which loudness standard to master to.

Direct your mastering engineer if you are working with one to master to a target loudness level and consult with them about what they feel is an appropriate target level for your music. If you are mastering jazz or classical music you probably don’t want to make a very loud master for sound quality and dynamic range reasons but if you are making a heavy rock, pop, or, hip hop master that wants to be more intense then a louder target may be more suitable.

iTunes Sound Check and Apple Music/iTunes Radio use a target level of
-16LUFS and this would be a suitable target for more dynamic material.

Tidal uses a target level of -14LUFS that is a nice middle ground for most music that wants to be somewhat dynamic.

YouTube uses a target level of -13LUFS, a tiny bit less dynamic than Tidal.

Spotify uses a loudness target of -11LUFS and as you can see this is 5 dB louder than iTunes/Apple Music. This is more in the territory of low dynamic range, heavily limited content.

Somewhere in the middle of -16LUFS and -11LUFS might be the best target loudness for your music based on your desired dynamic range but the goal is not to go above the chosen target otherwise your content gets gained down on playback and dynamic range is lost.

In all services except Spotify, content that measures lower than target loudness is not gained up. So for people working with very dynamic classical music or film soundtracks those big dynamic movements will not be lost on most streaming platforms.

However since Spotify is unique and adds gain and peak limiting if your content is below target it is potentially the most destructive sonically. So should you master to -11LUFS and save your music from Spotify’s peak limiting but lose dynamic range on the other platforms? It’s a compromise that you have to decide for yourself in consultation with your mastering engineer.

You might want to test out what -11LUFS sounds like in the studio and hear what the effect of that limiting is. Is it better to master that loud yourself and compensate in other ways for the lost punch and lower dynamic range? Or should you accept that Spotify users get a different dynamic range than iTunes users and let your music be more dynamic for the rest of the platforms?

In all cases there is no benefit to going above -11 LUFS because that is the loudest target level used by any service. If you go louder than -11LUFS then your music will be turned down and dynamic range and punch will be lost on all the services needlessly and permanently.

Further Reading:

Great info – graphic on the different streaming loudness targets.

More info on LUFS/LKFS metering.

The Music Industry Belongs to the Hypercreators

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Ryan Kairalla, an entertainment lawyer based in Miami, FL. He recently published Break the Business: Declaring Your Independence and Achieving True Success in the Music Industry and also hosts the Break The Business Podcast.]

 

“You can’t use up creativity, the more you use the more you have.”
– Maya Angelou

A few weeks ago, I was giving a talk at the NAMM Conference in Anaheim, California. After it was over, a musician approached me and asked me what was the most important thing he should be doing to be more successful in his music career.

I succinctly responded: “Make music. Make lots of music. All the time.”

I could tell that this young creative was more than a little unsatisfied with my answer. Perhaps he thought I would give a lengthy discussion on the value of effective social media. Or maybe he was expecting that, as an attorney, I would talk to him about the importance of having good legal structures in place.

Granted, those things are important. But if you’re going to be in the business of making music, there is nothing more important than making as much music as you can. Today’s musicians need to be “hyper creators.”

Let’s lay down some essential truths about the current state of the industry:

  1. It has never been easier or cheaper to create quality music thanks to advancements in low-cost home recording hardware and software.
  2. It has never been easier or cheaper to distribute your music thanks to the digitalization of music and the emergence of low-cost distribution platforms.
  3. It has never been easier or cheaper to promote your music with the advent of social media.
  4. It has never been easier or cheaper to fund your music projects with the rise of online crowdfunding platforms.

Modern technology has removed nearly all of the barriers preventing artists from creating music constantly and sharing that music with a worldwide audience. Being able to make more music means that artists can have more opportunities to connect with their fans. It also means that artists can have a larger catalog of material to sell or license.

The musicians that will succeed in this world will be the ones who are best able to take advantage of these developments. This means creating lots of music—far more than the musicians of previous generations did.

The prevailing music creation model of recording and releasing an album’s worth of songs every two or three years is making less and less sense in the New Music Industry. It is a product of a bygone era where the creation, distribution, and promotion of music was an expensive endeavor, and thus bunching together the release of a small number of tracks was the way things had to be done.

Today, it is a better strategy to (1) make more music and (2) spread out the releases of your music throughout the year so that your fans never have a chance to forget about you. You can still make and release traditional albums if you so choose, but don’t do it at the expense of depriving your fans of a steady stream of new material.

Many musicians have effectively embraced the hypercreation model. Ireland-based indie acoustic artist J.P. Kallio has garnered some impressive success by releasing new original songs every week. Colorado-based Danielle Ate The Sandwich gained considerable fanfare for writing, recording, and producing an album’s worth of songs in just 24 hours (and she’s done this twice).

And then there’s New Jersey’s own Jonathan Mann. Mann has written and recorded a new original song every day for the past eight years—and counting. Mann and his catalog of nearly 3,000 songs have been featured on ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, and HuffPost Live.

If hypercreation seems too daunting to you, remember this: Creativity is a muscle. The more you create, the more prolific you will become. Conversely, the less you create, the more that muscle atrophies. Make creation a constant in your music career, as each song you produce gives you one more opportunity for success.

A final word of warning:

As you embrace hypercreation in your own career, you should be wary of business relationships that are not conducive to you being prolific with your art. You cannot hypercreate unless you have complete authority over when, how, and with whom you make music. As a result, you should look upon exclusive recording agreements with great skepticism.

These contracts essentially give someone else (such as a record label or producer) full control over your recording projects. Under such a deal, you would not be able to make music without that someone’s permission, and they almost assuredly will not approve of you creating new music on a weekly basis. Rather, they will favor the old release model: Make an album, wait 2-3 years, and make another album (assuming that the label/producer still wants to record with you).

In the New Music Industry – one in which the creation, distribution, and promotion of music is so conducive to hypercreation — artists should give some serious thought to the significant value in being able to create on their own terms.

5 Tips to Prepare for SXSW

[Editors Note: This blog was written by W. Tyler Allen, a music and marketing consultant and contributor to the TuneCore Blog.]

SXSW is one of those events that has become synonymous with the music industry. The festival and conference is one of the best known events in the US that centers around technology and music.

But did you catch that? Festival and conference? It’s even in their name.

While SXSW is known internationally- many creatives still approach SXSW as just a festival, and pass up the networking opportunities and more that exist on the conference end.

Here’s a truth – it’s not bashing anyone – but it’s just an observation:

Many artists hand out CDs on the corner, or post on social media – hoping that by chance – the “right people” will just stroll into their showcase. Maybe it’s a writer, a label head, a music supervisor. But this is all by chance.

However… there’s networking events all week, where these “important people” actually go to meet artists like you. So why are you standing on the street corner, or tweeting about your event – when you can be getting actual facetime with these individuals – inviting them in person? Or better yet – you can pitch them a few weeks before SXSW (which we’ll discuss in this article).

I discussed SXSW last year in an article on the lessons I learned taking an indie label to SXSW. I spoke about the music supervisor I met loading in gear who landed us an MTV spot, I spoke about the issues in pay-for-play gigs at SXSW, and more.

The event can be a huge boost for your career – but you need to know where to focus. There’s a lot going on – events, crowds, speakers and showcases – here’s how to drown out the fluff, and properly prepare for SXSW.

TIP 1: BUILD A MEDIA LIST + CONTACT IN ADVANCE.

As I said earlier – why wait for the right person to walk down the street, when you can genuinely target them and reach out to them before hand? If you work for any large company – what do they do before a conference?

They (or their publicists) compile a media list to see what writers and reporters will be attending the conference. Next they email the writers before the event – inviting them to their booth.

Now replace the word “reporters” with music writers/A&Rs/management teams – and the word “booth” with your showcase – and now you’ve cracked the code.

What if you don’t have a showcase? That’s fine – still introduce yourself for maybe coffee or drinks at a mutual show.

Unfortunately, SXSW doesn’t have a publically available media list like some conferences. However with some resources – or some good ole’ fashioned Googling – you can make it work.

First – check out tools like PitchZen – they research media connections on a customized basis, all humans, not robots or directories. They can surely assist you with customized lists for SXSW. They help write the pitches, too.

Secondly – if that’s not a route you wish to take – simply search which writers have covered SXSW in years past, and start compiling a list. The list should have their name, outlet, and a link to the article they wrote. This list is just for your reference.

Go deeper and go to ZoomInfo (for emails) or even Twitter to find info for other industry folks that may have attended in past years. Add those to the list, too.

Lastly – hit ’em up! Send them a short email telling them about yourself, your showcase (or work) and a link to your EPK. Keep it casual and quick – but also give them resources to make them want to come meet you.

TIP 2: YOU HAVE $250 TO SPEND … BUY ONTO A SHOWCASE, OR BUY CONFERENCE PASSES?

Conference passes.

Look, I mentioned this in my past article – there’s a difference between playing at SXSW at an official showcase and playing during SXSW at an unofficial one.

An official showcase is one that SXSW approves of, they help market – and they give passes to media, and promotes official shows to media (and other influencers). SXSW official showcases will never ask you for money to perform. SXSW official showcases are not pay-for-play.

An unofficial showcase, is usually a nearby venue, who is renting out their space to a promoter or someone else. Usually they charge you money (to perform your own work.. yep), and are just looking to make a quick buck off of hungry artists.

Side Note: Do good unofficial showcases exist? Yes. Especially ones that don’t charge. Some big brands have unofficial showcases (and they don’t charge artists) – they just likely missed a deadline with SXSW, or some other technicality.

So – let’s say you are going to Austin with $250. You can upgrade your passes for a conference, or pay to have a 15 minute set at an unofficial showcase.

Go to the conference.

These unofficial shows usually have 30+ artists performing in a single hour, you can’t sell merch and they aren’t well put together. They also aren’t marketed by SXSW.

If you’re short for cash, spend that on the conference. There’s networking events, there’s talks from music industry execs and panels from marketing experts. That knowledge is worth much more than performing for 30 people and never seeing that return on investment.

TIP 3: SPEND MONEY ON MARKETING/EDUCATION NOT CDS.

If you go to SXSW – you’ll notice that the streets are littered with tossed aside CDs. Now – as an indie artist – you should know that every CD laying on the ground is money.

Literally dollars upon dollars – wasted. Laying on the streets – for the sanitation department to sweep up the next day.

So – as you prepare for SXSW, think wisely about what will make the best investment. Is it buying onto shows? Pressing 100 CDs? Or something a bit more direct.

For instance – instead of pressing 100 CDs – how about spending that money on Facebook or Twitter ads – targeting people who follow, or have tweeted about SXSW in the past?

Or – instead of pressing CDs – how about investing in a publicist that can link you with reporters directly that week, instead of hoping one falls in your lap?

Or – and to repeat myself now for the third time – instead of pressing CDs, how about attending the conference and meet with decision makers face-to-face?

TIP 4: FIND OTHER ARTISTS WHO ARE PERFORMING + LINK UP!

Hey! Under the veneer of labels and A&Rs and all this smoke and fanciness – the power largely still resides in the artists. That why services like TuneCore, Landr and other tools are so powerful.

You may not be able to track down the super-busy Billboard magazine editor at SXSW, or the management company CEO – who’s running around checking on all her acts.

However, you’ll likely be able to easily connect with other artists. They’re usually pretty open to it, too. In fact, I’ve been part of and seen many financially successful tours or just co-promo situations when artists come together.

Even if it’s grabbing a beer before someone elses show – go and meet other artists. You may find a new touring partner, or even a new manager – or at the very least, swap stories and learn.

Check the SXSW artists page – or even your Twitter feed to see which artists are headed to Austin, and see if you can meet up – or even just go support their show.

TIP 5: OF COURSE – GET YOUR MARKETING RIGHT.

If all goes well – you’re going to be sending people to the Googles or to your social media. So – ensure that all outlets are active. Ensure there’s a good mixture of music/fun/and promo posts on all your pages.

Also make sure your EPK is up to date – upload any and all photos, videos and more. Also – research what makes a “quality” EPK, too. No more PDFs, folks. Web-based, mobile friendly EPKs are the wave.

As I mentioned before – spend money on social media ads, and build up your numbers and presence while in the city. I can guarantee there’s very “big name” artists at SXSW that aren’t geotargeting ads to Austin for their shows.

So, do that.

Ensure your digital presence is right – and that people are aware of your physical presence at SXSW.

Quick checklist:

– All social channels are current and active.
– An updated EPK.
– Social media ads – geotargeted to Austin during the event.
– Social media posts scheduled when you’re on the road – so you don’t have to manually post them.
– Custom graphics for your performances.

BONUS TIP: ENJOY AUSTIN.

Yep – let’s get a little cheesy.

I had a former client of mine hit me up recently. We designed a merch campaign together – and he’s making some good income on merch. But he also knows I’m very anti pay-for-play.

He let me know that he’ll be in Austin for the first time for SXSW. He bought tickets to attend a few networking events – but he asked about all the pay-for-play offers he was getting.

It was cheap – especially for his budget, and two of his friends were performing at the unofficial event. He also had meetings set up with editors, and a booking agent. All meetings he set up beforehand.

So I told him – I don’t advocate pay-for-play – but if you have meetings with writers, potential booking agents, if you’re spending time with artist friends – if you are going to the conference – spend your change on playing that 30 minute set, and then go enjoy Austin and the SXSW scene.

Artists are lucky to get to see and experience parts of the country that folks in an office can’t. So – get out there. Austin is one of the most unique cities in the country, and the live music capital of the world. So – why not? Pencil in time to go to the SXSW conference events, to meet with fellow artists – but also get out there, , the culture, (the bats) and everything else that makes Austin and SXSW great.

Your Stress-Free SXSW Kit

With SXSW 2017 kicking off this week, we thought it would be cool to offer our friend Debbie Stanley’s “Stress-Free SXSW Kit” infographic, covering everything an indie artist or band will need during their time in Austin for health and comfort, communication, and overall preparedness.

Debbie is the author of The Organized Musician and owner of Thoughts In Order. She’ll will be presenting at SXSW’s “Time Management For Musicians” panel this week (details below):

“Time Management for Musicians”
Thurs. 3/16, 3-4:30pm – RSVP required

Stress-Free SXSW Kit - Stanley

SXSW 2017 Austin Local Picks: Tacos, Record Stores, Margaritas and More

Heading to SXSW 2017 this week? Prepare for sensory overload! So many unique and exciting places to grab a bite/drink, catch a show, or dig in the crates. Regardless of your busy schedule, it’s likely to include at least a little bit of downtime, so we thought it’d be cool to build on our “Local Picks” blog from SXSW 2016. (We’ve peppered in some selections from last year into this one, too!)

Austin local and our own Manager of Entertainment Relations Amy Lombardi linked up with some TuneCore Artists and music industry folks who also call Austin home and asked them about their favorite spots around town. Because trust us, you always get the best digs from folks who know the area inside and out.

[Editors Note: if you see it listed more than once, you better check it out!]

Chris Thomas – C3 Management

Favorite Music Venues: Stubb’s
Tacos: Tyson’s
Margaritas: Curra’s and Polvo’s
BBQ: La Barbecue, Micklethwait, Franklin
Queso: Torchy’s and Polvo’s
Record Store: Waterloo
Music Store: Austin Vintage Guitars

Austin Vintage Guitars
Austin Vintage Guitars

Colin Campbell of Strange Fiction

Music Venue: Empire Garage has recently taken the cake for amazing FOH, on-stage sound and great lights.
Tacos: Not super close to downtown, but Tyson’s Tacos on Airport Blvd is always a winner. They make lots of crazy taco combinations, if you’re into that sort of thing (one personal favorite is The Pharr East). On top of that they have free beer on Fridays and give one free taco for every song you sing with the ukulele.
Queso and Margaritas:El Chile on Manor Road. Get the Queso Flameado. It’s different from your typical liquid queso, but after having this style I will never go back to the cheese soup…which I know is blasphemy to say in a town like Austin. While you’re there, you might as well have a few margaritas, too.
BBQ: John Mueller’s truck on East 6th. The lines aren’t usually as bad as other local landmarks, and the brisket is amazing. Also for a bit classier BBQ experience, Lambert’s downtown is solid. They also have a pretty incredible, though pricey, brunch.
Music Store: Austin Vintage is hard to beat with a drool-worthy selection of vintage guitars and amps, and plenty of effects to play around with.

Waterloo Records
Waterloo Records

Matt Reilly, KUTX Program Director

Favorite Music Venues: ACL Live, Cactus Café, Paramount (they are all seated venues – a huge bonus for me)
Tacos: Julios
Margaritas: Guero’s (because they’re small and you can drink a lot of them)
BBQ: Ruby’s (NOT Rudy’s)
Queso: Maudies (Diablo Sol Food is amazing)
Record Store: Waterloo Records
Music Store: Strait Music

Alexander Beggins of Wild Child

Music Venues: Cheer Up Charlies is my hometown hangout. Always put on great shows and it has a great atmosphere.
Tacos: Simply cannot beat Tacodeli breakfast tacos in my opinion. Pro tip: Get the green sauce.
Margaritas or Micheladas: Polvos for margs and Hotel San Jose for micheladas. I crave the michelada from Hotel San Jose all the time. It’s a first stop when I get home from the road.
BBQ: Freedman’s BBQ in West Campus. It’s all the rage in my book.
Queso: It’s not queso but it’s an app so I’m going to say it: the spicy chili edamame from Madam Mam’s is mind-blowing.
Record Stores: Waterloo always and forever.
Music Store: Fidler’s Green.

Polvos
Polvos

Emily Bolf, Digital Director – ACLTV

Favorite Music Venues: ACL Live, 3Ten, Scoot Inn, Broken Spoke
Tacos: Veracruz All Natural (get migas tacos with a Skinny smoothie)
Margaritas: Maudie’s: Gill’s margarita, also Guero’s house margarita on the rocks with salt
BBQ: Super secret best ribs in town are at Cafe Mueller at 51st St. HEB
Queso: Polvo’s ChoriQueso
Record Store: Waterloo Records
Music Store: South Austin Music; Soundcheck Austin for gear rental and rehearsal space

Scoot Inn
Scoot Inn

Lauren Bucherie, Director of Music – Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants

Favorite Music Venues: As a music fan, having ACL Moody Theater right down the street is a dream come true. There’s no other venue in the world you can see acts like Radiohead, Beck, Coldplay, or Kendrick Lamar with only 2,000 other people. Acts like this sell out arenas, but will stop everything to play Austin City Limits LIVE. It’s so rad. For smaller, local shows – beyond our club (Geraldine’s), I love C Boys Heart and Soul and Antone’s.
Tacos: Depending on my mood and time of day: Torchy’s, Taco Deli, or El Taquito. The last one is a new hidden gem that I’m hesitant to even mention because I want them all to myself.
Margaritas: I have several, very specific, favorites. The coconut frozen marg from Sazon, the mexican martini from Austin Land & Cattle, and the mango habenero margarita from Takoba.
BBQ: The brisket from Franklin’s really is life-changing. It’s worth the hype in the unique way most things aren’t. The crispy wild boar ribs from Lambert’s are also amazing.
Queso: Top three quesos in order: El Taquito, Torchy’s, Magnolia Cafe (mag mud).
Record Store: Waterloo for new releases, Antone’s for rare finds (especially jazz and soul).
Music Store: I shot a music video with Delta Rae once in South Austin Music store and it was one of the most fun afternoons I’ve ever spent. Since I’m not musical in the tactile sense, I don’t usually frequent music stores unless it’s something like that.

Sazon Mexican Restaurant
Sazon Mexican Restaurant

Johnny Sarkis – Sound on Sound Fest, Barracuda Club

Favorite Music Venues: Barracuda. I’m one of the owners, so pfffft. Ginny’s Little Longhorn.
Tacos: Tacomore on Riverside next to the new Emo’s. Total Favorite.
Margaritas: El Chile on Manor
BBQ: Mickelthwait Craft Meats
Queso: I’m the wrong guy to ask on this one.
Record Store: End of an Ear
Music Store: Austin Vintage Guitars

Mickelthwait
Mickelthwait Craft Meats

V. Marc Fort, Digital Media Specialist – Texas Music Office, Office of the Governor

Favorite Music Venues: Spider House Ballroom – This 300 capacity, red-curtain adorned venue is so perfectly intimate that you feel like every show there is a special secret show. From The Soundtrack of Our Lives, to Ronnie Spector, to The Cynics, to hometown heroes The Black Angels and Roky Erickson, the Spider House Café and Ballroom bookings are some of the best in Austin. And since the club is far from “Dirty Sixth”, you can avoid the punters and the weekend amateurs vomiting on your shoes, etc.

I also love the Continental Club (including their tiny upstairs Continental Club Gallery venue). Garage Rock, R&B, Soul, old-school Country, the through line of their disparate, eclectic bookings is just sincere, authentic music from the heart.

Tacos: The “Taco Tuesday” special tacos at Counter Culture Restaurant. 52 different delicious and creative taco specials a year: Teriyaki Jackfruit BBQ, Jerk Seitan & Greens, Ethiopian Beans & Squash, Asian BBQ…it’s insane how good these tacos are. The fact they’re all vegan is just an added bonus that your arteries and your heart will appreciate.

And any other day of the week, Counter Culture has Butternut Squash Tacos on their regular menu: spiced butternut squash scrambled with dried cranberries and cilantro, topped with walnut chorizo & chili sauce, served on collard greens!

Margaritas: Polvo’s tops my list for their delicious, affordable and strong margaritas. Additionally, their chips & salsa bar is the best in town and is the perfect match for an extended margarita happy hour session. La Condesa wins the day if your in the mood for a little bit fancier margarita, including their signature fresh pineapple juice margaritas with cactus-lemongrass salt on the rim!
BBQ: BBQ Revolution food trailer does vegan BBQ really well. Yes you read that right: Vegan BBQ…deep in the heart of Texas (and it’s delicious too)! Also, it’s worth noting that when Franklin’s BBQ wants some vegan BBQ to accompany various large catering orders they’re fulfilling, they reach out to my friends at Counter Culture for their jackfruit BBQ and/or their BBQ soy curls taco special.
Queso: The vegan queso at Guero’s. They don’t always have their vegan queso in stock at Guero’s. So often I’ll head over to Counter Culture Restaurant (do you see a recurring theme here?) to devour their cashew cheese queso that covers their “East Side Nachos.” Eat ‘em up, yum yum!
Record Store: Tie between Waterloo Records and End of An Ear – Waterloo Records is right up there with Amoeba Records as one of the best record stores in the United States. I’d even say that Waterloo has the added bonus of not having as many dusty, bad records that you have to sort through to get to the good stuff.

And at End of An Ear you encounter vinyl that just doesn’t seem to turn up anywhere else: avant-garde jazz, outsider music classics, underground to the underground Hip Hop. Partially because most people head to Waterloo and don’t realize that the record buyers at End of An Ear are just as good.
Music Store: Tie between Sound Gallery and Switched On. The Sound Gallery is essentially an art museum for the best in mid-century to 1980s hi-fi audio equipment, wherein everything in the museum is for sale. They also have a well-curated selection of vinyl for sale.

Likewise, Switched On has some of the best vintage analog synthesizers and keyboard equipment in the United States (likely in the world based on their international clientele). When Radiohead or Devo are in Austin, they shop at Switched On for hours on end. One of the guys from Depeche Mode is always calling them to see what is new in their inventory. And as you’ve probably heard, the two guys from SURVIVE – Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein – that scored the Netflix sleeper hit STRANGER THINGS worked at Switched On for years before their band took off. It’s a great place to hang, as well as make your dream list for future vintage electronics and music equipment purchases.