What Black Fret Does
Black Fret is a social and connected community of music fans dedicated to good music, good times and the sustainable success of Austin’s local musicians. Together we do three things:
(1) We provide grants and mentoring to exceptional musicians.
Black Fret members share, nominate, review and vote for musicians living and playing in Austin through our Artist Selection Process. Nominees receive grants ranging from $5,000 to $20,000.
We don’t just hand the money to an artist and walk-away. Through our Black Fret Artist Program the artist is compensated based on achieving specific milestones (writing and recording new songs, touring, etc.) and providing community service (such as playing in classrooms or at fundraisers for other charities). During the course of an artist’s residency, Black Fret will work with our Advisory Board and the local music community to provide those artists with educational and mentoring opportunities to help advance their professional careers and empower them to produce outstanding new music.
(2) We gather to see our Nominees perform in intimate locations.
Black Fret members will have access to our artists in ways no true music fan would want to miss. Black Fret holds performances throughout the year in a wide range of formats from small intimate gatherings to our annual gala event The Black Ball. To ensure our members have a great time, the Black Fret financial model allocates 20% of each Member’s dues to funding performances. That equates to $300 per member spent each year on delivering first class entertainment. And, unlike many other charities, we don’t normally ask our members for additional donations. Our performances are purely about gathering with good friends to hear great music.
(3) We build an endowment that allows more grants and more performances.
Once membership grows beyond 600 members we plan to build our endowment with smaller but annual contributions from our limited membership. As the funds in the endowment accumulate the organization leverages the interest earned on the invested dollars to generate incremental grant dollars.
Over time this creates significant incremental value for our Members in terms of the impact of our charitable dollars. As the number of grants we give out annually rises we are able to provide more support for our artists and to our broader community (through the public service elements of the Black Fret Artist program). This also creates additional benefits for our members as they receive invitations to more performances each year. This generation of sustained incremental value for everyone involved lays the foundation for Black Fret to become a true Austin institution built by our dedicated and connected community of music fans.
Mission & Vision
Our mission is to empower musicians to create and perform new music.
Black Fret is an innovative evolution of the age old symphony patronage model that is focused on supporting popular local music. Together our members will build an endowed institution capable of sustaining more than a $1 million dollars a year in grants to Austin’s musicians. This will allow our members to select more than 40 artists each year to receive $25,000 grants on a sustained and ongoing basis.
Our limited group of members will constitute an amazing social network of dynamic friends dedicated to good music, good times and to seeing Austin and our city’s musicians prosper. Our members will be rewarded with unprecedented access to our city’s top artists through a broad range of intimate performances including monthly shows and the best damn annual gala event in town.
Empowered by this amazing Austin institution, Black Fret envisions building a network of chapters located in other major music cities. Together these chapters will unite thousands of music fans in supporting today’s finest musicians in their pursuit to create and perform new music.
In doing so, we will build an astonishing musical legacy while ensuring the sustained artistic, cultural and economic growth of the cities that have defined modern music and the exceptional musicians who choose to call those cities home.
For centuries both classical and opera music have had the benefit of community financial support. Nothing like that has ever existed for the music that defines the moments of our generation. Black Fret is a young and vital new model for arts patronage that addresses that need.
For those musicians we serve, we provide a critical service at a critical time. It has never been harder to make a living as a musician. As much as the digital revolution has empowered artists with falling costs to produce and distribute their music… it has taken more. Piracy, the collapse of the major record labels and a flood of starry-eyed bands willing to give their music away for free have endangered the livelihood of musicians who would otherwise be able to make a living with their art.
This challenge is compounded when you consider that cities with great local music scenes are among the most desirable places to live. They generally have growing economies driven by an excess of creative young inexpensive labor. Their success also means that the cost of living in music towns tends to rise fast. Many of these cities find themselves fighting to retain the cultural assets that made them great.
For an artist to make it these days they need to be able to attract a critical following in major markets quickly. Black Fret will empower those musicians with funds, access to leading music industry professionals, an international network of fans, facilities and staff in the best music cities in the world all at the point in their career where it matters most.
Questions About Membership
Can I bring a guest?
Yes. All Black Fret memberships include a +1 to each performance.
Why is there a one-time $100 new member fee?
Many members attend an event before joining and we have administrative costs associated with onboarding a new member.
Why is membership $1,500 annually?
We believe that full membership should be available to anyone who is a true music fan. $1,500 is a lot of money to someone who earns $30,000 a year but it is also achievable. It’s about equivalent to your monthly cable bill. Our vision is an egalitarian organization that rewards longevity as a member. We want all our members to feel respected and appreciated. After all… this is about having fun and enjoying great music together.
Can I pay monthly?
Yes. Black Fret accepts monthly membership dues.
Do you have less expensive levels of membership? Can I give less?
Black Fret is not currently offering less expensive levels of membership.
Do you accept corporate matches?
Yes. Many of our members take advantage of corporate charitable match programs including those offered by Dell, Apple, Microsoft, Google and many more. It is important to understand that many of these programs will only match the portion of the donation for which no value is received. As Black Fret allocates 20% of a member’s dues to funding performances, $300 a year out of your $1,500 donation is not eligible for match. We recommend you pay $300 in dues directly to Black Fret at “Make a Payment” (add link) or as a one-time non-matched gift via your employer’s program and then sign up for $50/month or $46.16/bi-weekly matched by your employer to fund the remaining $1,200 over the course of the year.
How do I find out if my corporation offers a charitable match?
Visit your employer’s internal website for employee benefits. Or ask your HR representative.
Why limit Membership?
For the dues Black Fret asks members to pay, we believe our members deserve a premium listening experience and the chance to meet the artists they fund. This can best be achieved in venues with limited seating capacity.
Black Fret is a community of dedicated music fans who are enriched by knowing one another. We are looking to attract life time donors… people who will value a sustained relationship with a broad network of dynamic and interesting members. At the core we want this to be an extended circle of friends who share a common passion for music and the incredible cultural assets music contributes to our town.
To that end, we aim to reward our members with benefits that are empowered by a business model based on continuous growth of an endowment and a legacy right that allows Members to pass their limited membership to their children or to a friend.
What is your limit on Membership?
Our goal is to sustain $1,000,000 a year in grants and build a cool, fun and endowed Austin institution capable of serving our community in perpetuity. We think that can best be accomplished with as few as 800 members.
Can someone donate more than $1,500?
Yes. Members are welcome to pre-pay as many years in membership dues as they like in a single donation. Additionally, Black Fret will gratefully accept larger donations and will work with individual donors and corporate sponsors to create custom giving plans and programs that meet the requirements and vision of larger donors.
Other than Membership how can I help?
Tell your friends who love music about us and help us grow! Also, Black Fret gratefully accepts donations in any amount (Make a Payment) to support our mission. If hospitality is your thing, consider becoming a Volunteer, to welcome fellow Members and ensure a great vibe.
I’m a musician. How can I help?
Here are a few ways: How Artists Can Help Black Fret
I’m a musician. Can I volunteer?
Yes, but it’s important to understand that any musician who is volunteering will be asked to resign as a Volunteer if they accept an invitation to become a Nominee. Volunteers have strict rules about ways they can lobby members for votes and violation of those rules can result in exclusion from current and future nominations.
Questions About Attendance at Events
Can I bring friends to Black Fret events?
You may as your +1. If you believe your friends might want to join you can request tickets by submitting their name and email address to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will do our best to accommodate them at an upcoming event as space allows.
Can I pass my tickets for an event to a friend if I can’t attend?
As a general rule no but. If you believe your friends might want to join you can request tickets by submitting their name and email address to email@example.com. We will do our best to accommodate them at an upcoming event as space allows.
How will you ensure performances remain intimate as you grow?
We limit membership for this reason. And as a general rule tickets are restricted to member usage and may not be passed along to others if the member is unable to attend. This allows us to keep attendance at any single event manageable. We also target events accommodating between 100 and 400 guests (with the exception of the annual Black Ball). As membership grows we will add more events rather than larger events. Example: With 1,000 members each bringing a guest and each attending one event a month we would need 24,000 seat nights in a year. With an average event seating 200 people that would require 120 nights a year of programming.
Where do you hold your events?
One of the things about Black Fret’s model that sets it apart from a traditional symphony or opera is that we move our event locations constantly. That gives us the chance to expose our members to an interesting and diverse set of locations. These range from upscale (private residences in the hills, rooftops downtown) to downbeat (the finest underground venues) to just plain cool (recording studios, private venues).
Questions About Voting, Grants and Artist Selection
How do I get to vote to select a band to receive a grant?
In order to vote you must be a member in good standing who has paid at least four full month’s dues ($500) for the year prior to the end of the voting period. If you are joining as a new member you must also pay the $100 new member fee. This policy exists to prevent gaming of the voting process.
Can I nominate or vote for an artist who is a family member?
Members, Advisors and Artists are not allowed to nominate or vote for bands that include immediate family members. You are required to testify that you are in compliance with this rule as part of placing their nominations and votes. Violation of this rule is grounds for revocation of your membership, role on the Advisory Board or revocation of your grant and status as a Black Fret Artist or Nominee.
Can I nominate or vote for an artist I have a business relationship with?
Members and Artists are not allowed to nominate or vote for bands with which they have current or pending business relationships. Trading votes or trading votes for personal favors is also a violation of this rule. Because working with bands they believe in is an essential role of our Advisors, Advisors are allowed to nominate but NOT vote for artists with which they have a business relationship but ONLY if they disclose that relationship as part of the nomination process.
You are required to testify that you are in compliance with this rule as part of placing your nominations and votes. Violation of this rule is grounds for revocation of your membership, role on the Advisory Board or revocation of your grant and status as a Black Fret Artist or Nominee.
How can I give a grant to a specific band?
Please consult your tax advisor for a professional opinion on this matter. Unfortunately our understanding is that tax law does not easily accommodate this type of giving. A directed grant to an individual or a band is considered a gift and is generally not tax deductible.
That being said donor’s may direct grants in other ways including specifying genres or other criteria for selection of the artist but the selection of the specific artist must be subject to an equitable defined selection process managed by an independent selection body. The donor may be part of that selection process but must not have a ruling authority in selecting the specific artist. Black Fret has and is willing to engage in discussions with donors so inclined and with guidance from appropriate tax professionals to define a process that meets the requirements of tax law.
How do I get a grant?
Consideration for a grant from Black Fret is by invitation only. There is no unsolicited application process. If you would like to be considered… play your music with every ounce of passion as often as you can. The fans will find you… and so will we.
You may however submit your band for consideration by Black Fret staff and volunteers here: Band for Consideration. Submission here does NOT provide visibility to your band to those members of Black Fret with the ability to nominate or vote for your band. It does NOT increase our chance of getting a grant nor of being invited to play at a Black Fret event. It only ensures the staff and volunteers who work for Black Fret have you on their radar.
What are the requirements to be a Nominee?
Eligible artists are bands or individual musicians that (1) have at least 50% of band members claiming their primary residence on their personal tax returns as being within 50 miles of Austin, (2) would qualify as a Small Business according to the US Small Business Administration standards for Musical Groups and Artists, and (3) are not immediate family members of the Black Fret Board of Directors.
Why use the Austin Music Awards as a source for nominations?
We want the voice of our community to be reflected in our pool of Nominees. We believe a popular vote is one means of measuring the ability of any given piece of art to impact people. The Austin Chronicle runs the annual Austin Music Awards. The Chronicle is widely recognized as our city’s leading expert on the local music scene and as such draws readers invested in learning about our city’s vibrant live music culture. Their Austin Music Awards are an annual reader’s choice award based upon popular vote. Artists who win have demonstrated the talent, drive and hustle necessary to motivate people to vote for them. The Austin Chronicle’s Music Awards have a long history of identifying many of our city’s top musicians before they rocketed on to national fame (ie Stevie Ray Vaughn, Spoon, Patty Griffin and many many more). To overcome the limitations of relying on any one source for nominees Black Fret also allows our members, advisors and prior Black Fret Artist to bring forward Nominees.
How do you ensure only the best musicians are selected?
Our goal is to fund exceptional musicians. Austin has thousands of them. No process can guarantee we find the absolute best. And there is no good way to give away money. Someone worthy is always left out. We do believe our process works to ensure we recognize and reward great bands. And we allocate our resources to provide meaningful funding to as many bands as we can. Our selection process incorporates a wide variety of educated voices. It asks those voices to invest resources, time and energy into making their selections over a year-long process. And it appears to be working. In 2016 six of ten of the “Best Bands in Austin” according to the Austin Music Awards were bands Black Fret had funded in the preceding three years.
Questions about Business Membership or Sponsorship
Can my business join as a Member?
No. Businesses may become sponsors but not members. Sponsorship can include tickets to all events but not voting rights. This is essential to ensure the integrity of the Artist Selection Process.
What can my business sponsor?
Black Fret offers a host of annual sponsorship opportunities. Cash sponsorships start at $5,000. Inquiries from food, beverage and other in-kind sponsors for a similar value of goods or services are welcome as well. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like additional information.
Questions about the Black Fret Model
Why build an Endowment?
Typical non-profits spend an inordinate amount of time raising money each year with little strategic vision for sustained financial growth. Fundraising costs frequently exceed 25% of an organization’s budget. Building an endowment early, consistently and as a transparent organizational goal should give our donors assurances for our future and for the long term sustained impact we can deliver with your valued personal charitable dollars. It allows us to limit our fundraising costs to less than 5% annually ensuring we make efficient use of your donation.