A gig's a gig

Austin musicians band together for new kind of gig amid the pandemic

Austin musicians band together for new kind of gig amid the pandemic

A member of The Handyband Collective sits on a pool deck, trimming the wood against the house with a white paint brush.
Handyband member David brings new life to a pool deck. The Handyband Collective

While venues were closed down and Austin musicians were stuck at home, houses still needed repairs.

Locals like concert and live events producer True Lawton, who had previously been a handyman, had plenty to fall back on. He started calling friends, asking for help on handyman jobs that he couldn’t conquer alone, and realized he had a unique, renewable, and spontaneous source of income for people used to a gig-based schedule.

Realizing the recent availability of so many connections in the music industry, and wanting to share the demand he found in handy work, Lawton created The Handyband Collective. After consulting with the client for each job, he adds it to a board, and anyone from the private group who has the skill and the time can claim it. In the past 233 days, the collective has received 400 job submissions, with about 14 active tradespeople in the Slack group.

To keep up with that kind of demand, the collective’s current focus is adding to its ranks. It offers gigs in carpentry, drywall, painting, and any other odd jobs a handyman would typically do. With a few higher-level contractors like Lawton supervising, the collective can accept work from experienced tradespeople, as well as just about anyone willing to learn the ropes.

“We want to be known as a trusted source to get tasks done well, as well as being a safe haven for those musicians who want to find a better financial path,” says Lawton. “We have to put them in a situation where they can’t ruin the product. We’ve got to have somebody who’s running the job who knows what they’re doing and can finish the job themselves.”

Eventually, Lawton wants to train apprentices enough so that they graduate to doing jobs on their own. The Handyband job board doesn’t demand a regular schedule, so workers can claim tasks between gigs, during cancelations, or one day, he hopes, even while on tour. Before the addition of the job board and a couple more team leads, Lawton estimates that in a given round of applicants, only about one-third ended up working with the collective.

A recent open jam and “job fair” brought in more workers for face-to-face meetings, to make the application process more abstract and easier to commit to. It also put faces and demographics to the workforce, which might encourage others to apply, particularly those who don’t see themselves as traditional “handymen.” In fact, four of them are women: two working in admin and two in the field.

Thankfully, musicians and people who know how to use tools are not disparate groups. Many musicians learn how to fix their instruments, or even make them, and bringing bands on the road is never a simple task. Learning a trade and learning an instrument similarly require coordination, attention to detail, an artistic mind, and most importantly, practice.

Lawton asked one friend if he had experience painting before a job. The musician replied, “No, but I’ve played drums for 15 years. It can’t be harder than that.”

Workers also have to be comfortable performing under pressure, with an audience. Musicians already have experience with one of the most challenging facets of working in clients’ homes: knowing someone is closely watching them work.

Hiring The Handyband is more than an act of good faith toward local musicians. Because the collective isn’t a traditional trade service flying through jobs with standardized procedures, it has an edge over others when it comes to creative jobs that require flexibility and unique thinking.

Lawton’s favorite task so far has been building a “catio”: a screened-in outdoor space where a family and their cats can relax. The Handyband consulted with the family on their budget and decided to build a modular design that could be easily upgraded when more funds become available. The workers built cat hammocks, miniature ladders, and a scratching post converted from a downed tree nearby. The team enjoyed working on something fun, and the family was thrilled their project was creatively valued.

Just by getting jobs done, The Handyband is benefiting customers and musicians, but Lawton wants to take it one step further to organize fundraising initiatives. A Christmas hoodie drive sold branded sweatshirts for $40, and for each one purchased, the group sent another to a child in the Salvation Army of Austin shelters.

The collective also had a repair drive called Deliver Some Love with Home Instead and the Central Texas Allied Health Institute, providing no-cost repairs to seniors in need. It sparked a desire to continue similar pro bono jobs for individuals and even those in city-sanctioned encampments. Lawton has started working out options to fulfill these service jobs once he has enough hands available to complete them.

To hire or join The Handyband Collective, visit handybandcollective.com.