Austin music scene sees growth in strong DIY community

Chris Duncan

After falling in love with student-run house shows as a design freshman, Chris Dock knew he wanted to get involved in Austin’s independent music scene. Several months later, he and his friends released their first zine under their new art collective, Raw Paw.

Raw Paw is one of many Austin art avenues, driving engagement with the arts through a variety of outlets such as house parties, record pressings and regular publications with a do-it-yourself attitude. As the music industry struggles to find financial footing in the streaming era, bands cannot survive without taking chances. According to Dock, the shock of streaming stunned some artists, but for others, it signaled an opportunity.

“Nowadays, people are forced to find sustainability in music,” Dock said. “It leads to a larger variety of exciting stuff. Either you’re going to move on, or you’ll do your best and make good art here.”

Like Dock, Sam Sterling attended his first house party as a geology freshman, rented a house the following year and started booking shows as The Audubon Society while playing in his own band. Sterling said he has noticed a growing DIY presence in Austin and an increasing preference for more intimate music experiences.

“A lot of times, smaller bands don’t get as much crowd participation at smaller venues,” Sterling said. “At houses, people get closer knit, they’re jumping around and dancing.”

With both a strong local presence and moderate national success, the band Summer Salt is a prime example of what independent Austin musicians can achieve. Phil Baier, the band’s bassist and a UT alumnus, said he has seen a growing presence of young and excited DIY bands in Austin.

“We’ve always been DIY,” Baier said. “(Success) takes longer and comes naturally, but when you’re young it’s just fun to play. House parties and free shows, everything helps.”

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he believes independent efforts are crucial to Austin music. In 2016, Adler introduced the Austin Music & Creative Ecosystem Resolution to make Austin more affordable and accessible to artists, bringing them into policy conversations and allowing them to explore a variety of artistic avenues.

Focused heavily on recording and touring while working a full-time job, Baier said this kind of support allows his group to make time for the creative process. Summer Salt records on cheaper equipment and spends months mixing, which is key to their organic sound fans love.

“Our album Driving to Hawaii was recorded on a $50 microphone and a $100 interface,” Baier said. “With our new album, we’ve recorded it all by ourselves, and we take pride in that.”

Dock said that anyone trying to pave their way is going to hit speed bumps, whether it’s finding a venue or allotting funds properly, but it’s the passion that keeps artists going.

“Whenever I hear someone in art who’s super focused on the business side of things, it confuses me,” Dock said. “It’s about getting your music out cheap or free, trying to tour as much as possible and meeting people. Most of all, make a good album. The secret of making good art is just to make art, and then make better art.”