Making Music Work for Business
From Birthday to Big Time
Mark Epstein’s love for making music started about the same time as most in his early teenage years. His first paying gig came shortly after. His bandmate’s sister’s birthday party needed some live music and he was called in as the bassist. The payment? A few albums – including the just released double LP Roadwork by Edgar Winter and White Trash. Also on the album was Johnny Winter – the legendary albino guitarist from Beaumont. It was in the early 70s when Mark started playing along to that album. A few decades later he was playing on stage beside them.
Mark Epstein is a full stack musical developer who produces incredibly high quality tracks. His songs have been heard across the country and in many movies. Mark resides in Austin after cutting his teeth in NYC. His home studio is strewn with high quality guitars, a tie-dye dipped bass, speakers, a Macbook Pro and an 88-key keyboard. It’s clean and simple – just the basics required to merge his lifelong passion for music with the tools and technology needed to produce it.
Austin Blues Revue – Music & Business
Mark performs across the city in a variety of groups, teaches lessons and production for musicians and is co-founder of the Austin Blues Revue with Pete Monfre. It’s a mix of live music, business, networking event and epic blues supergroup. “Music has a lot to offer to the business community – and the city recognizes that. The city’s tagline – the Live Music Capital of the World – is built on the back of thousands of musicians,” Mark stated as we listened to Little Feat’s “Waiting for Columbus”.
But when he looked at the Music Census he saw a growing problem. It verified what he had been seeing for decades – a steady increase in the cost of living paired with no increase in gig pay. He like many others started looking for a solution. The Austin Blues Revue is a solution.
The Austin Blues Revue is a quarterly event that hosts some of the greatest talent in the Austin area. Legends like Soul Man Sam and Marcia Ball have been previous members and Guy Forsyth and Jacqui Walker often show up to showcase Austin’s own talent. It set out to make the business case for music along with organizations like Black Fret and the Artist Development Program.
What exactly does the Blues Revue offer? The most compelling networking event the live music capital of the world can. It’s a high class production held at Antone’s, a historic venue, with catered dinners, great music and an art show upstairs. The showcase brings together amazing talent, a great location and generally a lot of new people into the venue. It’s a win-win-win and it generates not just individual interest but sponsor interests. Companies know how important music is to the city’s economic and cultural life.
Beyond the Austin Blues Revue and live music experiences Mark sees a clear alignment between the music and the rapidly growing business and tech sectors across Texas. “Artists are all self starters and entrepreneurs,” Mark said, “but they live constantly in the creative space.” Mark’s latest company aims to fully integrate the two.
Musical Bonding and Business Team Building
Gary Keller, one of Texas’ most successful businessmen and an avid supporter of local music, uses learning guitar as a metaphor for learning and succeeding at everything in his book The One Thing (fittingly, his mentor on guitar Eric Johnson, recommends starting learning with the blues scale). Music and the skills required to make it are deeply similar to the tools required for business.
Mark has built a way to capture that skill building. Enter BuildSong – songwriting and recording workshops for business team building. Mark has taken his years of experience recording, writing and performing music and systematically turned it into a half day process that 5-20 people can actively build a song in. From lyrics, to instrumentation and even mixing. Mark walks the group through the creative process of the music making process. But he also takes teams through the discriminating part of deciding what does and doesn’t get placed in the song. The results are then permanently preserved in the song. And it serves as a powerful reminder what can be made in an open and safe creative environment. “That’s the product,” Mark says, “The by-product is the song. it’s the safe creative environment that makes music possible.”
It’s not unreasonable to say music has a unique ability to build bonds and speak to creativity. There is clear data that music interacts with us at a different level than text on a page or words on a screen. People associate feelings and memories with music – it speaks directly to our limbic system. Music bonds people together emotionally.
That’s the power that Mark sees in BuildSong. It creates a safe environment for people to bond but it leaves an emotionally compelling remnant that brings up the experience and the people with a few notes. It leaves an artifact that is tangible but that hits us at an emotional level. And that’s something that most team building activities can’t do.
I can personally attest to the power Mark sees here. The week before leaving study abroad my roommates and I put together a rap about our favorite memories and experiences. Some we hadn’t even captured pictures of. But putting on that poorly produced song brings back memories and emotions and visuals that none of us could recollect. And I can’t prove it- but I think that one artifact is a big reason why most of us are still close friends years later.
To conclude our talk Mark and I listened to the song I’m the Change. It’s the by-product of the Creative Mornings International Summit held in town at Vuka Collective last year. In it you’ll see a dozen people who had never met before working together to create a song that they still listen to to this day. Pretty powerful. “People walk in and don’t think they can do it. They don’t think they can make a song… and then they do, It’s not that you can’t do something, it’s that you don’t know how.” Mark said. That’s what’s magical. “When we do these sessions we’re having fun but we’re not goofing around… we’re not doing this just as an activity to get out of the office… we’re making a real song with a real producer.”
BuildSong and efforts like it to bridge work and art are really important. Music and art forms the culture that we live in as the businesses shape its development. Pairing creativity and discernment, so needed in both, have led to Mark’s success so far. And it’s a formula that we all can learn from and model.
Mark Epstein, Jackrabbit Mobile, and MediaTech Ventures collaborated to produce SXSessions vol. 1. You can see the trailer here.
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