The beauty of San Antonio is found in its roots, its connection found deep in the earth that gives us the richness and resilience of a people who stay and grow because of a love for la familia. The maxim of “do unto others” is found in the compassionate actions of individuals across the city, and is the guiding light for San Antonio Sound Garden (SASG), a budding nonprofit seeking to elevate the city’s musical economy in a way that simultaneously gives back, and raises up.
Enter Edwin Stephens, a humble servant who has dedicated more than a decade of his life to the creation and production of quality music that gives musicians the opportunity to have their voice heard. Aside from the endless hours dedicated to his group fishermen, Stephens has worked with of the city’s musical hard-hitters such as Femina-X, Lonely Horse, and countless others, and helped them realize their sonic dreams.
As founder and president of SASG, Stephens is actively transforming his 1,500 sq. ft. of office space at 723 N. Alamo – part of the co-working space CO-LAB – into an in-house studio and production facility where local musicians will have a chance to see their music made manifest.
- “The mission of San Antonio Sound Garden is to provide networking, resourcing, and skill-building opportunities for working musical artists and entrepreneurs in the city of San Antonio,” said Stephens. “Starting in late May, we will be rolling out in-studio performances, recording as many of the local acts in SA as we can, all completely free for the artists.”
Even sooner than that, SASG will continue upon the success of their first monthly musical forum, Las Raices, a concept born from a video by QuestLove of The Roots, which proclaims forming your tribe as the solution to progressing positive change in the musical landscape.
“I was extremely excited about the enthusiasm, participation, and support of the local music community, how they engaged, how excited they are,” Stephens said. “It has really given us a concrete platform and it seems that the city is showing up, and the state, and they’re paying attention to what’s going on.”
Stephens refers to the presence of City Councilman Cris Medina (D7), as well as Steve Ray of the Texas Music Office, who drove down from Austin to take part in the dialogue. Ray returned again on April 27 for Music Biz Day at UTSA, where he told the audience that groups like SASG are providing a “great opportunity” for musicians here in San Antonio.
Both men spoke to more than 100 members of the musical community on April 5, reminding them of the resources available from local and state governments that help support the musical economy. Medina is also working closely with the City of San Antonio to create a Music Commission for the city, which further demonstrates that the concerns of local musicians have not fallen on deaf ears.
Stephens is also a close friend of District 123 State Representative Diego Bernal, who has consistently been a support for the work he’s doing as a musician, and now at SASG. “Diego, as a musician himself, is a staunch advocate for helping to create a prosperous musical economy, and SASG is most grateful for his continued belief in our work,” Stephens said.
Those present for the forum, which will continue on the first Tuesday of every month, took part in the event’s four pillars: listening, sharing, advocating and expressing. Discussion took place under a carefully structured and facilitated format, utilizing white boards, sticky notes, and break-out sessions to help individuals share their feelings in a progressive and proactive manner, offering solutions to every problem they came across.
Half of the attendees took part in the “Advocating” component, led by George Garza of the San Antonio Local Music Guild and Libby Day of Do210 and SATX Music, while the “Sharing” component was led by Edwin Stephens and Noah Breeden, the Business Strategist for SASG.
“Las Raices is really important because it allows people to stay continually involved in the conversation,” Breeden said. “The more we can get musicians to understand the importance of connecting with each other – building up their value, respecting themselves as musicians – the better it will be for SA as a whole.”
Through Breeden’s strategy, music becomes the driver, and a way to enrich the city.
“This forum can help keep musicians engaged on a consistent basis,” he said. “There are a lot of entrepreneurs who are hungry and ready to get on the grind, and want to know how they can help. It’s exciting that they are engaged and willing to figure out what can be done.”
However, there are serious questions being asked at the forums, ones that get to the heart of the issue and SASG plans to answer through a collected and focused effort.
“We are doing specific exercises, taking surveys that are asking ‘How do we clear the path for musicians?’ Are they getting compensated? What are people already doing to help?’,” Breeden said. “I think it is important for us to have the facts and figures in order to understand the intricacies of SA, so we can advocate for the changes necessary for people to be successful in the musical economy of San Antonio.”
Both Stephens and Breeden recognize that goals will not be reached through the musical community alone, and invite anyone– including interested local businesses and civic community members –to join in the conversation.
“We’re going to do this either way, but we really need their help and for people to recognize the value that working artists have in the city,” Stephens said.
Labels and comparisons can be misleading in the never-ending “San Antonio vs. Austin” conversation, but in order for San Antonio to expand its musical landscape, it is critical to take the lessons learned from our performance-prolific partners to the north, to get a sense of what studies we need to undertake to measure a baseline for the economic impact of the music scene in San Antonio.
In a 2016 economic study done by Austin Music People, researchers found that the “total music industry impact rose from $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion in four years,” primarily due to the influx of concert-goers for the second weekend of Austin City Limits and the addition of Austin’s 360 Amphitheater. However, the following data is indicative of what can happen when a chaotic regulatory system is paired with weak public policy – they become “proximate causes” to the growth of a musical economy.
“The impact of primary music – year-round economic activity by local artists, venues, and businesses – declined more than 15%, from $856 million in 2010 to $726 million in 2014,” the study stated. “This is a decrease of $130 million and more than 1,200 local music industry jobs in a four-year period.”
Although there is no comparable study for other cities, if such a trend is taking place in the “Live Music Capital of the World,” there may be reason to be fearful for less robust markets. Granted, rising market prices, the cost of living, and the competitive nature of the industry all surely contribute to the issue as well, but it seems worthwhile to view this as a cautionary tale and take proactive measures to ensure that San Antonio does not fall into the same trend.
Robert Livar of Bombasta, an individual who unconsciously helped to inspire Las Raices through his sharing of QuestLove’s video, has been a part of cultivating chicanismo y latinidad in the SA music scene for many years.
“People will move here for the job, but la cultura keeps the people here,” Livar said. “Building the economy while being true to the local identity, that’s what keeps people here.”
The mentality of rasquachisimo, the industriousness that allows the musicians of San Antonio to create something out of nothing, means that if local musicians had resources to work with they could do amazing things.
“With that mentality, if we give a little bit to the locals, there is a lot of potential there,” Livar said. “A guy gets $2,000, let’s say. To another city that may be nothing, but here in San Antonio, they could do all kinds of stuff with $2,000.”
Livar believes that the bread and butter of the city is found in its history and unique culture. “You have to be activating the local people, those tied by DNA to the community, those doing the work,” he said. “The DIY spirit is so strong, with just a little bit more, they could do so much.”
Real change starts at the legislative level, and that’s what has to happen to transform San Antonio’s musical economy. “We have to have a coalition to hold these people’s feet to the fire because what is inked on paper, that’s what it comes down to,” Livar said. “We need that collective voice, so that we can make our dream come true.”
Editor’s Note: Adam Tutor is the Community Outreach Director for San Antonio Sound Garden
*Top Image: (From left to right) Noah Breeden, Adam Tutor, George Garza, and Edwin Stephens join together to celebrate the first Las Raices at San Antonio Sound Garden. Photo courtesy of SASG