Music industry spotlight: Rick Carney —
July 23, 2018

Music industry spotlight: Rick Carney

Rick Carney at Cavity reunion - Photo by Larry Stern

Rick Carney is a musician, songwriter, producer, engineer and educator. A veteran of the American underground music scene, Carney arrived in Austin in 1986 as a bassist with the infamous hardcore band EMG. In 1991, he switched to guitar and founded Jesus Christ Superfly, a mainstay of the Austin Punk scene. JCS was a critical and popular success, and celebrates its 28-year anniversary in June 2018. From 1997-2005, Carney also fronted Gravy Boat, a Roots Rock outfit that blended Southern Rock and Honky Tonk.

As a performer, Carney has played nearly 1000 live shows and released records in the U.S., Australia and Europe. In 2004, he won the Crossroads Guitar Competition and has received a four-star review in Guitar World magazine for his work on JCS’s Texas Toast CD.

While primarily a guitarist-vocalist, Carney also plays bass and drums. Besides his positions as national Manager of Music Education for the School of Rock and local Music Director for the Austin school, Carney serves as Vice Chair of the Austin Music Commission. The school has over 30,000 students internationally and the Austin school is the third largest branch in the system with around 350 students.

TODO Austin: What about Austin inspires you to work in the music industry?

“I am very grateful for the Austin music community and its deep roots. I moved here with my college band in 1986 and we immediately were accepted by the underground scene and soon by the established clubs. People like Brad First (SXSW, Cannibal Club, Cave Club and Club Foot) and Mark and J-net Pratz (Liberty Lunch, Continental Club) were early supporters. I employ musicians that I met over 30 years ago as well as younger players in their 20’s.  The Austin music “family” is tight knit yet still accepting of new blood.

TODO Austin: Tell us about your most recent and/or upcoming projects.

I still play regularly with Jesus Christ Superfly, we’ve been playing since 1991.  We are playing a Beto O’Roarke event at the Hole in the Wall July 4th.  I also have a Roots Rock band called Gravy Boat that still plays a few dates a year, mostly in the South East.

TODO Austin: What led you to work with the School of Rock?

Along with my wife Mary Ann, I opened the Austin school in 2005.  While we have 215 schools now, the Austin location was the 8th branch to open.  I was introduced to the founder Paul Green by a mutual acquaintance, Jake Szufnarowski, who is a NYC concert promoter and general bon vivant and adventurer. For years, Jake would come visit for SXSW and stay with us. One year he brought along Paul who was the subject of a documentary film in the festival. I asked Paul what brought him to Austin and he replied, “I am here to offer you a job” and the rest is history!

TODO Austin: Based on your experience working with students, what is the importance of training new generations to be the best musicians they can be?

We use music as a tool to teach empowerment. We are a performance-based program, we put kids on real stages to play concerts, not recitals. Teaching them an instrument and giving them the opportunity to express themselves on stage prepares them for anything that life throws at them.  Some of the kids realize that music is their calling and we prepare them to be successful in the industry.  Our Austin kids play ACL every year and get to see how the music business works.  We do around 100 performances a year, not just locally but at ACL, Lollapalooza and Summerfest in Milwaukee.

TODO Austin: How can the School of Rock connect international communities?

We have schools in Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Panama, Canada, Australia, South Africa, and the Philippines. We are hoping to establish a cultural exchange program with our Mexican schools very soon.  The Austin school will also be hosting schools from Australia and Canada alongside schools from MN and TN on July 1 at the North Door.  Music truly is an international language and Rock and Roll resonates with the world.

TODO Austin: As a musician, what are the challenges artists face today that you didn’t when you began your career?

The music business is a completely different animal now than when I was coming up. The communications and entertainment  industries have seen more changes driven by technology and are still evolving at an exponential speed. The ability to hear any song on demand essentially for free is mind blowing. The challenge is protecting the intellectual property rights of artists while satisfying the consumption preferences of the consumer. That is a major concern that I deal with both in my work at the School of Rock and on the Music Commission. As an artist myself, I am acutely aware of the challenges from all angles.

TODO Austin: From your experience working in the Music Commission, what priorities should the City have to support the industry?

We need to help working musicians monetize their efforts and help to insure that there will be always be a local culture that values music and those who make the culture possible.  If we value our culture, we need to invest in its future. I believe that our musical heritage is unique and special and should be protected as we would protect any other natural resource such as Barton Springs. Along those lines, cultural institutions such as The Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center and the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center need to be fully funded so that their communities histories can be preserved and, in turn, the shared history of Austin can be celebrated.

TODO Austin: What is the importance of equity and diversity in music?

Without diversity and equity, we aren’t able to tell the full story of what makes Austin the cultural center that it is. As our city becomes less affordable, the first communities that are adversely affected are those of color. We need to recognize the contributions of all the groups that have made Austin great: the Tejano pioneers, the African American Gospel an Blues greats as well as the many Psychedelic, Blues, Punk and Cosmic Cowboy bands that we are famous for. Going forward we want to make sure that the next generation (and beyond) have a place at the musical table.

TODO Austin: What kind of initiative or change would you like to see happen in the music industry so it can continue to live up to its reputation as the Live Music Capital of the World?

 We need to get in front of the technology that is driving innovation. Protecting the intellectual property of artists is essential for their financial survival but this is seemingly at odds with the current music business model in play. As a culture we have de-valued music to a commodity as opposed to a cultural benefit. I would love to see a real music appreciation curriculum introduced to our local school system to help develop future audiences as well as creators.

About Merideth Cox 112 Articles
Merideth is a music writer who has covered bands from her hometown in Colorado to London to Bangkok to Shanghai and finally back to Austin. Led Zeppelin changed her life. So did Dolly Parton. You can read her music reviews at smackmadness.com.

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