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road to rock stardom

Louis Meyers (A Funny Thing Happened On) The Road To Rock Stardom
Louis Meyers

by Tammy Moore

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…Austin is one of the coolest places in the world to live. Do we or do we not have a music scene here that rivals the best of them? Do we or do we not have some of the greatest musical talents in the world within our reach seven nights a week? And how many cities can boast that they have their own music television station to showcase all that talent? Today, I want to introduce you to the man who is making the Austin Music Network more visible than ever, despite the fact that its budget has been cut by half a million dollars in the past year. His name is Louis J. Meyers, and when you read his story, it won’t surprise you too much that AMN is holding steady on this seasoned industry veteran’s watch.

Born and raised in Austin, Texas, Meyers is a skilled player of the guitar, steel guitar and banjo. He was turned on to music as a kid in the early ‘60s when his older brother, Larry, who was considered the top lead guitar player in Austin then, and his band would rehearse at the Meyers’ home each weekend. Meyers formed his own first band at the age of 6, and here’s why: There was a guitar teacher in those days named Wayne Woods who taught everyone from Eric Johnson to, well, “everybody that grew up here in the ‘60s.” according to Meyers. And if you had a band, on Saturdays, Woods would hold a workshop where you could bring the entire band in, and he would teach the band a song. He would instruct each member on their individual part, and by the time class was over, your band walked out able to play a somewhat arranged and rehearsed song. It was an amazing feeling. When the band of youngsters staged a lunchtime concert in the elementary school cafeteria one day belting out “Gloria” and “I Fought The Law and The Law Won,” and it was well received by their classmates. Meyers knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life.

Meyers went on to play in bands all through high school. He was one of the youngest members of the ‘cosmic cowboy scare’ scene in the ‘70s where he played alongside the likes of Rusty Weir and Jerry Jeff Walker. Those artists were older than Meyers, but Weir liked him and took on the role of mentor to the young musician. After high school, he enrolled in the first commercial music program available in the States at the Thompson School of Country Music in Claremore, Oklahoma. He stayed there for three years, two as a student and one as an instructor. None other than Junior Brown took Meyers’ place when he decided it was time for a change.

Meyers left to tour with Bill and Bonnie Hearne and recorded their first album with them. His travels with the group landed him in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He fell in love with that city overnight and decided to stay. It was there that he started playing with bluegrass wonders Boy Howdy and The Other Brothers. Shortly after, he found himself on a stage in East St. Louis, Illinois. After catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror there doing a cover of Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” sporting an afro that the memory of makes the stoic Meyers smile, he decided to get out of the music business. He felt he had taken a wrong turn somewhere. By that time, he had been observing the biz for a while, and he came to the conclusion that if you weren’t a lead singer or a songwriter, you’re chances of making a living in the music business were very small.

So he came back to Austin in 1980 and got into the remodeling business. After a couple of years, though, he started doing bookings for some local bands and was able to get them gigs throughout the country. He got a call from a club owner in Shreveport one day saying that he should check out a band there called the Killer Bees. He liked what he saw and quickly moved from working as their agent to being their manager. That opened the door to the reggae world music scene. He formed Easy Money Productions, and around that same time, he started hanging out at Liberty Lunch. He first took a job as a bartender there, and within a year he and Mark Pratz formed Lunchmoney Productions, which handled the booking and promotions for the venue until the day it closed.

While working with Liberty Lunch, Meyers started forming relationships with the powers that be at The Austin Chronicle…Roland Swenson, Louis Black, and Nick Barbarro. In 1985, an idea began to take shape, and in 1987, the foursome launched a music conference called South By Southwest (SXSW). He worked running SXSW for the next seven years, and all the while continued to manage Killer Bees as they literally toured the world. He started playing again, doing session work in recording settings for bands like Mojo Nixon and Jello Biafra.

ausitn music networkAfter the 1994 SXSW, he was burnt out and sold his share of the conference to his partners. He went on to produce the Rocker Girl Women In Music Conference in Seattle in 2000. He was then hired by the Dutch Rock and Pop Institute to create a SXSW-style conference for Europe. He relocated to Amsterdam and all was set to go, but unfortunately, the launch date for the conference was October 16, 2001, just a few weeks after 9/11. Obvious complications arose, and Meyers returned to Austin and began playing with Bruce Robison, Kevin McKinney and others.

In mid-June of this year, he called Eddie Wilson who had the contract on AMN then, and asked why it wasn’t doing better than it was. Wilson’s reply was, “If you think you can do a better job, here’s the keys.” The network had been written out of the city budget by then and was scheduled to be shut down at the end of October. So Meyers came in and revamped the station from programming to changing the business and production models. Thanks to the City Manager, money was found by the City Council in the culture money budget (funds that come from hotel bed tax revenue) to keep AMN alive for the time being. This is what he had to say about AMN today.

R&R: Tell me about the Austin Music Network.
LJM: We’ve had to eliminate probably 50% of the staff because we’re trying to exist now on 20% of the funding that was there before. [But] we’re more visible. I think it’s better quality. We’re serving more of the community. We’ve launched a kids show every morning, a high school show every afternoon. We’re up to eight or ten hours of Hispanic-related programming, and up to four or five hours of independent film a week. These are all areas that will grow. The biggest problem we have now is that most of our efforts have to be focused on revenue generating.

R&R: How can unsigned artists go about getting a video made for themselves?
LJM: Right now we’re offering to create videos for artists for about fifteen hundred dollars. What we do is that the artist brings us the song that they want the video made from and they bring us a box of photos, video clips, anything from the time they were born ‘til now, anything they’ve got that’s a visual image. And then we do a one-time lip synch shoot with the band to capture a full shot of the song. We give that to one of our skilled editors and they turn that into a final product. We can compete in video making in a post-production standpoint. Our equipment and our editors are as good as anybody out there. Where we can’t compete is the capture. (That’s filming to the layman.) We don’t have $100,000 cameras, and we don’t have a million dollars worth of lighting, and we don’t have all the cranes and dollies and everything that’s required, so we’re trying to simplify the capture process and not spend the time and energy so much on that and utilize what’s already existing. The less we have to do with that, obviously, the easier it is to create a quality product with what we have to work with.

Other than that, there are video producers all over Austin now and film producers. The gear can be rented from a dozen places in town. So, anybody with an imagination and a small budget can create a video these days. They can be done, post-production wise, on your home computer.

R&R: Are there any local video producers that stand out as far as you’re concerned?
LJM: I really like the stuff that Adam Bork has done in the last six months. He did the new Kevin McKinney video and I believe a couple of others that obviously were not high budget videos but they have a quality look to them. There’s another guy, Louie Fats, here is town…he’s worked with Vallejo and quite a few of the hip-hop artists around here. There’s a guy that’s been around here for a long time named Roy Taylor who is one of the early pioneers. He was originally involved with Timbuk 3 when they first got signed, and he did all the videos for Glass Eye. And I believe he worked on some of the early Daniel Johnston stuff. Roy always had the ability to do it at a very low cost. They made one of the Glass Eye videos with one of those toy video cameras, like a kid’s toy camera…turned out great!

ausitn music networkR&R: What is the procedure here at AMN for getting a video into rotation?
LJM: You submit it and it goes in front of a jury, so to speak. It’s kind of a constantly changing jury. We don’t have a true music director right now because we don’t have the budget to have a music director. We don’t expect the quality to be MTV. It just needs to look good. It needs to sound good and look good. There’s not many local videos that we reject. Part of what we’re here for is to promote the local community so with the quality…what that really makes a big difference on is how many times a day or per week the video gets run. The better the video looks and sounds the more airplay it’s going to get.

R&R: What is your vision of the future for AMN?
LJM: My vision is outreach…it’s being able to have an economic impact on artists in the music scene. We’ve recently launched our streaming signal 24-7 on the internet so people all over the world now can see the exact same feed that’s going out over the television. Starting in January we’re launching the Austin Music Network radio station which will be a 24-7, audio only, completely different from the television signal. And that will be all styles of music but set up like a web-based radio station. Also, in January, we’ll start offering a combination of downloads in sale for local videos. We’re working with the local artists to do a profit sharing where people can download videos to their hard-drive or they can pick ten videos, and we’ll burn a DVD and mail it to them. Again, we’ll do a revenue share with the band, just like you would an MP3 download. To my knowledge, there’s nobody doing it for video. And I realize that of the hundreds and hundreds of Austin and Texas videos that we get, a very small percentage of them are ever going to get airplay anywhere else. [We’re] trying to not let this product just become history, keep it living, keep it available to people whether it was something that was done twenty years ago or whether it’s tomorrow’s video for tomorrow’s band…it’s important to me that the product be available to people.

R&R: Knowing all that you know now, what is the best piece of advice you could offer to aspiring artists in this crazy pursuit of success of music?
LJM: If one thing doesn’t work, find something else within the industry. I mean, if you want to be in the music industry, there’s a thousand different ways to be in the music industry. You don’t have to be a bass player. You don’t have to be a drummer. You don’t have to be a guitar player. You don’t have to be an agent. You don’t have to be a manager. There’s an endless number of opportunities that are available in the music industry so find the one that makes the most sense with your abilities and your personality.

Not so surprisingly, in addition to running AMN these days, Meyers also manages country music legend Willis Alan Ramsey. Can you say “a force to be reckoned with”?
Read and learn. Keep reaching for the dream.

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