5 Questions with a Music Industry Professional: Event Promoter Marsha Milam

December 4, 2017

Native Texan Marsha Milam has carved out a niche when it comes to creating free live music series across Texas. Teaming with venues, radio stations and sponsors, Milam is able to present the best of live Texas-centric country, rock and pop music outdoors, in family-friendly settings, for free. Starting more than two decades ago with the “Unplugged At the Grove” music series at Shady Grove in Austin, Milam has evolved a model that benefits venues, radio stations, entertainers and music fans.

"Texas music is diverse, original, local and approachable,” Milam explained during a recent interview. “It’s compelling…and music is the one art form which can truly carry me away.”

Milam’s love of Texas music at an early age was the inspiration that motivated her not to follow in her father’s footsteps working in the oil business (her dad was a wildcatter). Milam followed her passion for the entertainment business, and pursued the business-end of that passion, turning into one of the most successful independent music promoters in the state.

In 1994, Milam’s “Marsha Milam Music” - a division of her Milam & Co. - began producing the concert series “Unplugged At the Grove” at Shady Grove in Austin, and has expanded the outdoor music series model to multiple markets in Texas, working with radio stations KJ-97 in San Antonio, KGSR, KLBJ-FM and KVET in Austin, KSCS The Twister in Dallas and 95.9 The Ranch in Fort Worth. Milam & Co. has also promoted and produced one-off music festivals: 95.9 The Ranch’s Birthday Bash, Fort Worth Music Festival (formerly Jazz By the Boulevard), Gardens By Moonlight (an annual fundraiser for the San Antonio Botanical Gardens) Kevin Fowler's Yallapalooza and Reckless Kelly’s Wild West Music Fest.

The Texas Music Office caught up with Milam last week to launch our “5 Questions with a Music Industry Professional” interview series.

Question 1: You’ve worked with some heavy hitter, big talents over the years, from Jimmie Vaughan, to Oliver Stone. What’s a common denominator amongst the successful artists that you’ve worked with?

Milam: “Hmmm, these are two very different types of personalities for sure - but there is a common denominator.

“They are extremely clear on what they want and extremely good at what they do.

“I led a Q&A with Oliver Stone for the Austin Film Festival and he was so easy to work with - because he knew exactly how he wanted to Q&A to go, what he needed (bottled water and a fan), where he wanted to sit, etc.  So it was pleasant to work with him.  

“Last year I had the honor to work with Jimmie on Stevie’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and also when Jimmie played with the UT Longhorn Band during halftime at a UT football game.  Jimmie is the same way, he knows what he wants, when he wants it, what he will do.  And to see Jimmie so naturally tell the UT Marching Band how to play "Texas Flood", so clearly and effortlessly actually blew me away.

“Artists who know themselves are the best to work with…”

Question 2: What advice do you have for music business entrepreneurs who are getting started during a time with so much change in the industry in how people consume music?

Milam: “Jump in.  Don’t wait.  Keep your day job.

“Figure out what it is you want to do in the business and do it.  

“If you want to be a manager, find a new band you like who doesn’t have a manager and tell them you will manage them for free.

“If you want to be a publicist and you’re new, find a band you love and tell them you want to be the publicist for free.

“You just have to start.  You will learn so much by doing.

“There is always change, there’s never a perfect time to do anything.  But if this is your time, it’s the best time.”

Question 3: Whether working with nonprofits, or with a private sector business, fundraising is always a difficult job, yet you’ve had great success. What are some helpful best practices for pitching a new business and/or fundraising?

Milam: “It’s all about preparation.

“In the film industry, if you’re smart, you would never pitch a romantic comedy to a production company which makes action movies.

“In applying for a grant, don’t ask a foundation which specializes in health to underwrite a songwriting contest.

“You have to know what the person/company/foundation you are approaching is interested in.

“Do your homework.

“Be very clear on what you need, and then try to figure out how someone/something else can benefit from helping you.

“Don’t waste people’s time and don’t make it about what you want, make it about them.”

Question 4: As Texas has changed, and more people move to the state, how has your job changed…and has it become easier to produce events featuring music, or more difficult?

Milam: “It has not changed my experience.

“Texas is a multi-generational music scene and it loves Texas artists and music.

“I do think we need to educate our new neighbors on what Texas is about musically, which means they are going to experience a lot of original music and a lot of live music.”

Question 5: If you could go back and tell your younger self who was just beginning in the music industry something, what would you tell your younger self not to worry about?

Milam: “I would tell my younger self to buy real estate,” she said with a knowing smile.