One of the unwelcome horsemen of the Austin music apocalypse was the permanent shuttering of ubiquitous independent concert promoter Margin Walker. Once the largest in Texas, it lost steam as concerts dried up.
Margin Walker isn’t coming back, but its three largest players — owner Graham Williams, creative director Ian Orth, and director of talent buying Rosa Madriz — are starting a grassroots venture in concert promoting and creative branding, aptly named Resound.
They’re joined by marketing manager Gab Soong, digital advertising administrator Zane Ruttenberg, and administrative bookkeeper Chanel Quinones. The new venture’s first booking is at the end of the summer, and in the meantime, the music maestros are taking their time rebuilding for sustainability.
“The world isn’t even open yet,” laughs Orth. “Let’s just pump the brakes.”
As the Austin music scene started getting its legs again, the former promoters began fielding requests from agents in their personal inboxes. Margin Walker left a void. Who could fill it better than the original team? It made most sense to start over, with a new mission informed by the catastrophe of the past year, and a better sense of how to prevent something similar from happening again.
“There’s a lot of lessons that we learned from Transmission [Events], and Fun Fun [Fun Fest], and Margin Walker,” Orth says. “We’re kind of approaching everything with a real new outlook towards not only the music industry, but creative society in general, how it can help our community.”
Orth, Williams, and Madriz have all been working in the music industry for more than 20 years, since they were in their teens. Orth was considering a pivot to graphic design, and the others were equally unsure of their futures. When lifelong agents started digging through long-past emails to reestablish communication, the solidarity motivated Orth and his partners.
They watched the community join together to help individual artists and service workers, and were especially inspired by Cody Cowan’s resilience as executive director of the Red River Cultural District. Photographers sent old photos to reminisce and express gratitude for past collaborations. Even Williams’ and Orth’s wives pushed them to start up again, if only just as an excuse to get out of the house.
Riding on the spirit of its organic origin, Resound is adopting a robust community outreach program that entails making conscious choices to work on social projects, and donating a percentage of ticket sales to a monthly cause. The team is preparing a more specific platform for accountability, but wants to remain responsive by keeping a relatively open process for selecting benefactors, from nonprofits to individual workers in the music and service industries.
Orth says the responsibility of a concert promoter, who makes a living drawing attention from the public, is to give that energy back. The role of the city, to him, is to protect this symbiotic exchange. He also points out that the health of the Austin music community rests on several small organizations, unlike the scenes on the East and West coasts that are littered with labels and massive opportunities.
Austin’s city-chosen tagline, Live Music Capital of the World, Orth says, “needs to be protected and defended, because ... it will evaporate and disappear quickly if it’s not. There’s a lot of things like HAAM and SIMS that so many other cities don’t have that I think need to be advertised more.”
Resound is an answer to these holes in the system, one Orth hopes can amplify artists to new levels of thriving. It has to be a tailored approach, he points out, as some bands and genres need more of a boost than others.
The company already has more than 40 shows booked, with sold-out dates for Arlo Parks, Beach Bunny, IDLES, and Bikini Kill. With fewer shows and venues than the late Margin Walker, Resound is assigning its expanded creative scope to tying the market to San Antonio. Hopefully, the “sister cities,” as he calls them, can work as allies and emerge together into a stronger, more unified cultural community.