Profiles of Innovation
Marsha Milam makes the Texas music business sing
When your Dad's a wildcatter in Texas, your path can be set for you quite early in life.
"My father was in the oil business, so I was brought up by a person who was self-employed. I never wanted to work for anybody, I knew that," says Marsha Milam.
But what Milam also knew that the oil business was not for her. But music? Well, that got her heart racing.
"The music business is a business, and that’s the thing I stress because there’s so many young people saying 'Oh, I want to be in the music business.' I tell them it is a business, it’s not all fun. But I always wanted to be in the music business. I just did."
And she is. Marsha created Marsha Milam Music and produces some of the most successful and critically-acclaimed music series in Texas. It all started here in Austin back in 1994 when she and Barbara Morgan began the Austin Film Festival.
"I started KGSR’s Unplugged at the Grove that year, and I started the festival that year — so ’94 was a big creative year for me. [Unplugged at the Grove] was such a critically-acclaimed and fun and respected series that I did with KGSR, and that helped," Milam explains. "People realized the quality and the commitment to making a good production, so that helped me build that reputation with the bands and the agents and the managers."
Her reputation is sterling. Milam is trusted by musicians, agents and venues. It's not easy to have that triumvirate of Texas music all working with you, but Milam's record of successful projects allowed her to expand the Unplugged model.
"I took the KGSR Unplugged at the Grove model and I did that in Fort Worth, Belton, Austin, San Antonio and El Paso. So we have series going on in five different markets that run April through September."
Milam may be the envy of many living and working in Austin — more specifically, those living for music. But she is quick to remind them that getting to where she is today took guts and confidence — and it was more than scary.
"To start your own business you have to have a vision of what you want it to be. You have to have determination, you have to be relentless. You have to be fearless and sometimes it’s terrifying, and you have to be able to find in that terror the energy to get you over the hump."
Success in music takes a particular kind of energy; Milam suggests young entrepreneurs might have to work for free in order to build a trusted reputation.
"Find your favorite band and go up to them and say, 'Hey, I love you. I want to be a publicist. Can I do your PR? Can I do it for you for free?' Put a plan together."
"An entrepreneur is crazy," she laughs, "and I tell people to do it, just do it!"