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What happens to the live music capital of the world when there’s no live music?

How to get money into the hands of Austin musicians, outside of being fans and going to shows

Jonathan "Chaka" Mahone stands on a stage with a microphone and is wearing a hat that says "DAWA."
Renee Dominguez
/
KUT
Jonathan "Chaka" Mahone is the founder of DAWA, a nonprofit that gives grants to artists, creatives and essential workers in Austin.

In the latest season of the Pause/Play podcast, hosts Miles Bloxson and Elizabeth McQueen have been looking at different forms of financial support for Austin musicians, including government and corporate assistance.

But how can everyday people provide financial support for the Austin music scene, aside from attending shows and buying merch?

There are a lot of music nonprofits in Austin that people can donate to. Many of them, like HAAM, SIMS Foundation and the Austin Music Foundation, provide services to musicians, like health care or professional development.

But there are two nonprofits that actually give musicians money — Sonic Guild, formerly known as Black Fret, and DAWA.

Sonic Guild was started in 2014 by Matt Ott and Colin Kendrick. The two had previously founded the Austin Music Foundation in 2002, a nonprofit that provides education and professional development for artists.

A couple years later, MP3s came along, and Ott and Kendrick watched as musicians' abilities to make money on physical sales shrunk. The two were inspired by Impact Austin, a women’s organization that pools money to give grants to nonprofits.

“We thought, what if we took that model, added an experiential layer, and allowed our members to pick the bands that they love and ultimately throw a bunch of concerts and give money away?” Ott said.

Sonic Guild is membership-based. Anyone can become a member by paying $750 a year. Each year, the members nominate 20 Austin bands to receive grants, and Sonic Guild throws events where members can see these bands play. Then at the end of the year, the nonprofit throws a big show, where it gives away the grants. In the past, it was called the Black Fret Ball.

“It's a pretty singular event,” Ott said. “We put 20 bands on stage in the space of about four hours and hand out a quarter million dollars in grants.”

This year 10 bands received grants of $10,000, nine bands received grants of $15,000 and one band received a grant of $20,000.

You don't have to be a member to contribute. People can make smaller, one-time donations to Sonic Guild.

“And we will thank you by inviting you out to an event,” Ott said.

The nonprofit now has chapters in Seattle and Colorado, and will soon open a chapter in the Ozarks. Ott and Kendrick hope to someday have the organization in 50 cities.

Another nonprofit that provides financial assistance to musicians is DAWA, which was founded in 2019 by Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone. DAWA means “medicine” in Swahili.

DAWA provides $200 grants to people of color in Austin who are social workers, teachers, artists, creatives, health care providers and service industry workers.

“Those are the essential workers in our community,” Mahone said. “We see you, we value you. You don't have to explain yourself. You don't have to feel ashamed.”

The idea for DAWA initially came from Mahone’s experience as a musician in Austin. He and his wife, Qi, perform as the hip-hop duo Riders Against the Storm. The couple moved here from Rhode Island in 2010

“There wasn't a lot of acceptance of hip-hop when we first got here,” Mahone said.

After years of struggle, they were able to establish themselves in Austin, eventually becoming the first hip-hop group to win “Band of the Year” at The Austin Chronicle Music Awards.

Mahone credits their success to the help they received from their community.

“We couldn't have done it without people seeing us, without people valuing us, without people witnessing who we were before some article was written or before some type of stamp was put on our name,” Mahone said.

Around 2018, Mahone started putting $200 a month aside to help people in his community.

”I knew people were, you know, going through things just like I had been only a few years prior,” he said.

At the time, Riders Against the Storm and another artist, DJ Chorizo Funk, were throwing a successful monthly party called Body Rock. Mahone decided he wanted to use these parties as a way to raise money for those in need, so he started a fund through Austin Community Foundation. They held the first of these fundraising parties in 2019.

“A couple of hundred friends came out,” he said. “We raised $3,000 and that was the beginning of DAWA.”

Chaka didn’t promote DAWA much, but after the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd, the organization started getting more attention. In June 2020, DAWA released its first round of funding, $50,000. Recipients had filled out a short application on DAWA’s website and received a $200 Visa gift card.

Since then, DAWA has given out $153,000. The largest group of recipients are musicians, and 71% of recipients are Black.

Recently, DAWA launched DAWA Studios, a program that offers audio and video recording, plus livestreaming capabilities for free to creators of color.

Looking into the future, Mahone said he hopes that DAWA will become an Austin institution.

“We want to be a part of bringing Black and Brown people back to the city, creating sustainability and a real infrastructure where people can actually thrive here,” he said.

If you want to learn more about Sonic Guild and  DAWA you can listen to the latest episode of the Pause/Play podcast.

Disclaimer: Elizabeth McQueen is a 2014 Black Fret grant recipient and a current Sonic Guild Advisory Board member. 

Elizabeth McQueen is an audio producer and podcast host at KUTX 98.9, Austin’s NPR music station.
Miles Bloxson is a producer and host for KUT 90.5 and KUTX 98.9.
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