Unlocking The Value of Austin City Limits
White Stripes NFT, Beatport x Bitcoin, B'more Club On Netflix, Clubhouse Rooms You Can't Miss
Next week, Austin City Limits will begin taping its astonishing 47th season—yet another mile marker on the long return to normalcy for the live music industry. We spoke with General Manager Tom Gimbel about how the longest-running music show in television history plans to move forward post-pandemic.
I saw you just announced some live tapings—the first since COVID. That must be exciting.
We announced the number of tapings, I think six or seven tapings for the year. And the intention is limited live audience in April, May, June, and then see how things are trending. People are talking about being back at a hundred percent by August. So that's encouraging.
I think we are probably a little more conservative as a PBS television show. But we're also in a unique situation where we don't sell tickets to ACL tapings. So we know who the people are in advance, which is helpful in terms of health protocols.
How many people attend a taping? How do you get invited?
When it's at full capacity, we get about 2,000 people. With our camera configuration we lose some seats compared to ticketed shows. If you have a standing floor, max capacity at ACL Live at the Moody Theater is about 2,700.
We have a charitable giving program called Friends of Austin City Limits. Individuals who donate are invited to attend tapings. We also have sponsors and national underwriters who may receive tickets as a part of their sponsorship package. And we always offer free tickets to the public. That's done through an email lottery system.
You’re working in a fairly unique ecosystem, with a TV show operating in a venue and licensing a festival.
I think it's really unique. My role is to manage those relationships and promote the ACL brand. The festival came about 20 years ago and has been a tremendous asset in terms of growing growing the brand by introducing ACL to a new fans, particularly young people. 10 years ago we did the licensing deal with the Moody Theater. As you said, it;s a hybrid television studio, live music venue. I don't think there's anything else like it, certainly not in the United States.
Two years ago we did a licensing deal here with the radio station KGSR to rebrand it as ACL Radio. We've also expanded, with the help of C3 and Live Nation, into international festivals with Sydney City Limits and Auckland City Limits. We've also got a great relationship with American Airlines where people can watch the show, as they travel. We want to continue to find opportunities to reach more people and reach them in new places.
We're really proud of Austin City Limits and we want to grow it and share it with more people and be able to feature more music, but the mothership is always the core program on PBS that airs every week.
The past decade has seen a massive expansion of live music streaming online. As one of the few institutions in the space, has the competition affected you?
I think we have a certain advantage of being first to market. Being a 47-year-old institution, as you put it, many of the musicians who are playing Austin City Limits grew up watching the show. It has a special place. We've been great partners to the labels and artists over the years, and we want to continue to be great partners. And it's still the only place on American television where you're going to see one hour of uninterrupted live music.
I also think the quality of what we do differentiates us from, you know, a music venue somewhere in the country, turning on a few cameras and live streaming a show. Obviously, there is competition because you're competing for eyeballs, you're competing for mindshare, but I do think we kind of have a special place with fans and with the industry that keeps us in a position of strength.
It also seems like your audience is varied. I noticed on your website that you’re selling a new Best of Country DVD boxset with Time-Life books, which sounds like an ancient artifact. But is there a market that is now being underserved?
When you’ve been on the air for 47 years and you've seen an evolution in the music industry. You've seen an evolution in the way that television is presented. You've seen the birth of the digital age. It's quite a trick to survive. I think we've done it by being very true to our core principle, which is presenting the very best in live music and doing it in a way that is fairly straightforward and simple.
If you look at the evolution of the show, there were people watching in the 70s, 80s and early-90s who are big country music fans or big fans of American roots music, which was featured far more heavily in our lineup. They're responding really favorably to this DVD collection
Then for the last 20 years, since ACL Fest has come along and we started to feature Coldplay and Pearl Jam and Arcade Fire, that was a new generation. And over the last five to 10 years, we've really tried to break new ground in R & B and hip hop. I think it was a seminal moment when we were able to bring in someone like Kendrick Lamar or Run the Jewel and show that Austin City Limits has adapted to feature all kinds of music. I want to continue to push the boundaries of genre diversity.
And you’re able to do that in a way that isn’t necessarily possible with commercial entertainment.
The fact that we’re in a non-commercial environment allows the producers to have full integrity when booking the show. It doesn't matter if performers don't have a high chart position or they're not getting a ton of airplay or they're not getting a ton of press. There's not really another show out there that has that luxury.
How does being part of PBS contribute to that freedom?
Austin PBS receives a very small percentage of our annual operating budget from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. All PBS stations are members. They pay into the national system for the programming that is delivered by PBS. PBS does not actively fund Austin City Limits. They don't provide money or own the show. PBS gives us the platform to reach people. And then we've got our national underwriters and our friends program that supports the show.
We recognize that Austin City Limits is a valuable asset. So part of my role, not only as the general manager for Austin City Limits, but as CEO of ACL enterprises—which is a for-profit subsidiary—is to look for revenue opportunities around Austin City Limits.
Live music entities really struggled over the past year, and relief like the Shutters Venue Operators Grants have been slow to arrive. Did ACL get any help from the relief bills?
I'm not privy to those conversations as far the MoodyTheater is concerned. Austin PBS did receive some PPP funds, as many [stations] did. That ultimately supports the people who make Austin City Limits.
The thing that was most incredible was the Friends of Austin City Limits members. In a year when they couldn't attend the tapings, it was incredible how many continued their financial support. Had they not done that, we would have been in a much more difficult situation than we're in today.
Salient statements from this week’s news.
Electronic music continues to soundtrack the march towards a decentralized future as the genre’s largest retailer will start accepting BTC for WAV. Beatport will also offer a music and visual compilation as an NFT, making it the first we’re aware of to shuffle all those ones and zeroes in that particular order.
Takeaway: All 10 tracks [on the NFT] will be packaged with bonus material as a 10-of-10 auction, priced $303 each, and will include the bonus track, four guest passes to one show for each artist and extra visual content. A portion of the proceeds will be contributed to charity, including a carbon offset donation from Beatport.
WMG has struck a deal with Spotify to create podcast content around the label’s artists, songwriters and music catalog.
Takeaway: Warner Music's deal with Spotify is unique among the major record labels, but Sony Music Group and Universal Music Group are gaining a foothold in the podcasting industry, too.
The streaming giant takes a chance on the highly-influential niche music scene with a co-sign from Issa Rae and Deniese Davis.
Takeaway: The musical documentary was directed and executive produced by rapper and visual artist TT the Artist. It marks her debut foray into feature film direction.
Detroit analog daddy Jack White has caught the digital fever, officially releasing the long-beloved Glitch Mob remix of “Seven Nation Army,” along with an NFT to commemorate the occasion.
Takeaway: The collection features six unique pieces of art, including a one-of-one full song visualizer as well as the seven-inch vinyl test pressing of the remix.
Conferences & Clubhouse
The academically-adventurous Pop Convergence conference is running Apr. 22-Apr. for free online.
Miami might be open, but Winter Music Conference is sticking with a virtual format.
Check out Music Industry Insight’s weekly Speakeasy event on Clubhouse.
Viola auteur Christina Lien hosts daily talks and performances out on her Cosmic Balcony.