Zoe Cordes Selbin leaves her mark on city’s tough music scene

Gerald Rich

In the Austin music scene, Zoe Cordes Selbin is unmatched. “Seventeen years old,” “homeschooled” and “straight-edge” are rarely epithets for the people in the music business. Currently working as the operations coordinator at Transmission Entertainment, a reporter and producer for “Youth Spin” on KOOP Radio and an independent marketing consultant, Cordes Selbin started working her way onto the local scene when she was 12.

Despite sometimes working with presumptuous bands that see a teenage girl and don’t respect her, Cordes Selbin has maintained a strong sense of self during her rise to prominence in Austin’s music industry.

“There is still a groupie culture, and you have to fight against the fact that people can be sexist,” she said. “I’ve literally been running around backstage and have had guys say, ‘Oh, are you dating one of the guys in the band?’ and I’m like, ‘No, I’m fucking back here because I’m running this.’ Anyone who tells you sexism isn’t alive isn’t in touch with reality.”

Some parents might have reservations about their daughters going to so many concerts and entering the music business at such a young age, but Cordes Selbin’s parents are very confident in her judgment. While some teenagers begin to experiment with alcohol and drugs in high school, Cordes Selbin discovered her own alternative lifestyle in the punk subculture of the straight-edge movement. People who identify themselves as straight-edge don’t drink, smoke or use any kind of recreational drug.

“I am straight-edge, but I don’t care what other people do,” Cordes Selbin said. “None of my family is straight-edge and I’ve never dated anyone who is, either. It was very much a decision I made solely for myself. I always want to be in control, and for me it’s about always being strong enough without having to rely on any sort of substance to have fun or make something easier. Since I’m a teenager and I’m still trying to figure out who I am and what I want, I don’t want to use anything that would confuse that.”

Her mother, Helen Cordes, says that homeschooling allowed her daughter to develop a better sense of self while she was able to freely pursue her musical interests. Contrary to the stereotype that homsechoolers do not gain much exposure to the world, there is an Austin community of homeschoolers that holds its own dances and other social events. Cordes started considering teaching her two daughters after doing research and sitting in on public school classes for her book “Girl Power in the Classroom.”

“Often girls [in the classroom] don’t have the same confidence that boys do,” Cordes said. “[Boys] tend to generally act out more and to soak up the teacher’s attention so that girls get shortchanged in a way. Girls are often less willing to speak up if they aren’t sure of the right answer whereas often, guys — not all guys, of course — will blurt out the answer.”

Growing up listening to bands ranging from The Monkees to Blink-182, Cordes Selbin took after her musically inclined father. After a brief stint trying to learn guitar, piano and singing, Cordes Selbin quickly realized that making music simply didn’t click or give her the “warm fuzzies” that many musicians describe. It was around that time, though, that her sister began college at UT and Cordes Selbin discovered KOOP Radio’s high school program, “Youth Spin.”

Through working with “Youth Spin,” Cordes Selbin learned about other positions available to people who want to be involved in the music industry — for example, in public relations and marketing. After a long search for other companies that would allow a teenager to intern, she eventually met other strong women who continued to inspire and help her along, such as Austin Music Office director Rose Reyes and Giant Noise principal Elaine Garza.

Last summer, Cordes Selbin held seven internships, but by the fall she started focusing on Transmission Entertainment and “Youth Spin” and is still active in both.

“People are going to say you’re too young or not experienced enough, and you just can’t listen to them,” she said. “The music industry is a place that should be open to anyone because we’re all sort of misfits.”