Kirk McDow wanted to make a living doing something he loves: playing drums. To make that work, he also does some nonmusic-related jobs.
To his own beat Standard job wasn't for musician, so he picked 10 odd ones By Ricardo Gándara AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF Tuesday, December 18, 2007 A lot of Austin musicians have two or three jobs to make ends meet. Drummer Kirk McDow takes it to a whole new level. He has 10. How he got from being a business consultant two years ago and an executive recruiter before that, to an entrepreneur in several enterprises is a story driven by a passion for music. He's determined to keep playing, even if it means getting creative to pay the bills. Kirk McDow wanted to make a living doing something he loves: playing drums. To make that work, he also does some nonmusical-related jobs. Kirk McDow pats his knees to show student Jake Pankratz a rhythm for the drums. Teaching is just one of McDow's many jobs.
This is how he did it.
Though McDow has always loved music, it had never been a vocation. He held jobs in construction and sales. Two years ago, he had a consulting firm that helped small businesses market themselves. Even then, he had one side business: www.candybouncer.com, which sold 1950s retro metal lawn chairs. "Basically, I was doing work that paid me. I had to do it," he says. Then, at age 44, he decided it was time to give music a shot. He set out to re-create himself and define his own job, driven by his passion for music. So he closed his consulting business and began looking for work. He saw a job advertisement on Craig list for a booking agent at www.bookaband.com, an Austin Internet business where people can find bands to play at their parties and events. It changed everything. He started mingling with people who played music and those willing to pay for it. So began a momentum that carried him to new ventures. He says the sequence of what happened next is kind of fuzzy, but business ideas inspired by his surroundings just kept flourishing. "All I know is that once I became a booking agent, several doors began to open," he says. He became a drummer for hire (www.kirkmcdow.com) offering his services to bands that needed a drummer on an emergency basis. He followed by starting his own band, Austin Hot Trax, a variety band for hire at weddings and corporate events. One day, he saw British-made Traps drum sets in a magazine. He liked that they were portable and quieter. Thus, www.monkeydrums.com was born. McDow found the lone American distributor for the drums and began marketing them online. He started Austin's Best Bands, a consulting and band management service to form "high end" bands for weddings. galas and private and corporate parties. He helped form Air Wave 80s, an Austin band specializing in 1980s music that he now manages. Next, he and two partners — including girlfriend Carrie Altemus, who is also a member of Hot Trax — converted an old nursing home on South First Street into Austin Music Rooms, a 24-hour facility that rents out space to bands for rehearsal and storing their equipment . "We call it a musician's community center," says McDow. "It's hopping from 6 p.m. till midnight every weekday evening." Wanting to pass on what he knows about drums, he started offering private lessons, taking on students late at night in his studio at Austin Music rooms. The next venture was www.austinsoundmachine.com, a DJ service for weddings and private parties. And finally, two months ago, he became the property manager at Guadalupe Studios near the University of Texas. "That just came up. A friend was talking to the owners there and they'd lost their property manager. My friend recommended me. It's a place for students and musicians," he says.
What's a typical day? McDow wakes up about 9 or 10 because he's been up until 1 a.m. or so. After a jog in the neighborhood, it's on to the computer where, on and off, he spends at least half of his day. On some days, his work shift won't end until 2 in the morning if he happens to have a gig at a wedding. Craig list is his baby. "I market just about every day. I have to," he says, about his business selling metal chairs and drum sets. And he's constantly looking for tenants at the rehearsal studio and apartment complex. Often, it means posting ads in as many as 30 cities. "It's critical to update because, as you know, on Craig list, you have to stay above the fold; that is, every time you post your ad goes to the top of the listings. When the next person posts an ad, you move down." The hustle continues, and the paperwork piles up. There are rent checks to collect and deposit. On this day, he's been back and forth with a client wanting to rent space at
Austin Music Rooms, and that afternoon he meets him there to show a room. He would stay at the studios because he wasn't finished soundproofing one of the rooms. He hasn't met a wall he can't tear down and replace. This afternoon, he meets with a woman who has hired him to be the DJ at a Christmas party. Then it is on to Flipnotics on Barton Springs Road for his treat of the day, "the best cinnamon rolls in town" and a large decaf. He's the type you see with a laptop hanging out for hours. But he's working. He's putting together the music for the Christmas party. "This one is for six hours. I have to select 20 songs per hour, never a repeat. They all go into a folder on the laptop. It's actually a luxury to go to Flipnotics." McDow's enthusiasm and energy surprise those around him. Dave Seideman, owner of www.bookaband.com, says, "He's certainly has a lot of irons in all kinds of fires. Besides booking bands on my site, he's helping me launch a couple of new services — booking a band or DJ directly online,' he says. Jake Pankratz, 22, who takes drum lessons from McDow, says his best attribute is the passion for what he does. "You can see it. He's dedicated and it's definitely an encouraging thing for a student. He's a good teacher," he says. McDow says he doesn't know how to approach his jobs any other way. "And I'm having fun creating the possibility for people to make a living of doing what they love. Music," he says. Just last week, he met a New Orleans guitar player for lunch. At the end of the meeting, they agreed to form a New Orleans revue band. "That's the advantage of what I do now. It's the adventure of creativity. That was absent in my previous jobs," he says. The downside? He works weekends and holidays. "And while the money is coming in right now, nothing is guaranteed. You have to keep hustling," he says. So what's next? "I have a couple of ideas but not ready to say anything yet," he says. "That's Kirk," says Seideman, "He's an ideas man." email@example.com; 445-3632
Deborah Lykins FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Kirk McDow pats his knees to show student Jake Pankratz a rhythm for the drums. Teaching is just one of McDow's many jobs.
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