Sound & Vision: Black Fret Comes to Seattle Next Year, Promising a New Way to Support Artists

Sound and Vision
Emily Fox

KEXP's Sound & Vision airs every Saturday morning from 7-9 AM PT, featuring interviews, artistry, commentary, insight, and conversation to that tell broader stories through music, and illustrate why music and art matter. You can also hear more stories in the new Sound & Vision Podcast. New episodes are out every Tuesday. Subscribe now.

Black Fret is coming to Seattle in January 2020. The service is membership based – people pay an annual fee for intimate live performances and, at the end of the year, money from those membership fees are given out to musicians. Last year, Black Fret gave out $20,000 grants to 10 musicians and smaller $5,000 grants to another 10 musicians in the nonprofit’s hometown of Austin, TX. Sound & Vision host Emily Fox spoke with the executive director of Black Fret Seattle, Ben London, about the service and why it’s expanding into Seattle.

On the idea behind Black Fret:

The premise was that [Black Fret] felt local music should be supported the same way that the opera, the symphony, the ballet have been historically. So, they created this entity that created experiences, live music experiences for donors that then, in turn, get aggregated out in grant form to musicians to support things like making records, going on tour or the sort of professional development that is atrophying in the current musical landscape. 

On bringing Black Fret to Seattle:

Music is such an essential part of the culture of our city. But, at the same time, our city is going through unprecedented growth. There are economic factors that are making it harder for musicians to survive. And, when the cost of living hits parity with places like Los Angeles or San Francisco, we're seeing more of our musicians head to these places because there’s the perception or the reality that there's more opportunity for them. And personally, I don't want to live in a city where music is not a big part of it. 

On the financial value of a service like Black Fret in the contemporary music industry:

I see younger musicians, or musicians in general – the challenges they are facing in a world. The sort of triple threat of the rising cost of living, the democratization of recorded music where streaming revenue was not caught up and the changes in the concert business where local artists aren't really put on national tours the way they once were to support acts. So, it's sort of how do you build a career when all your doing is putting money out and there's really not much money coming in?

On what success for Black Fret looks like:

I think Black Fret can be successful if we can engage the entire community to come together and realize that we can't wait for a perfect solution to drop from the sky, that if we all invest a little bit, we can ensure that this continues to be a vital region for music and arts and culture and that it's incumbent on us if we live here. We pay taxes for the streets. We pay taxes for fire and police. This isn't a tax. But if we support our arts and culture, then that's increasing our quality of life.


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