Artists rarely start their careers by reading “get rich quick” books or investing tens of thousands of dollars in a Master’s in Business Administration – simply put, their currency is one often based on social, cultural, and emotional capital.

Yet as San Antonio begins to redefine its musical economy, a new business has emerged to help artists discover what they’re truly “worth,” in dollars and cents, thereby establishing new professionalism and transparency between artists and venue owners.

Manifesting itself amid the burgeoning Tech Bloc boom and entrepreneurial sensibilities that have swept our city, the website Event Escrow was designed by Chief Executive Officer Ben Hodges to standardize the business relationship and processes that often give bands and talent buyers headaches.

“My main goal is to decrease barriers to entry and provide equal access to opportunity,” Hodges said from his post at San Antonio Sound Garden, where you can often find him chugging away on his Macbook Air. “Event Escrow is a community to provide you with tools so that you can be successful.”

Not necessarily thrown around in musical jargon, “escrow” refers to the practice of a third party holding money on behalf of transacting parties, often used in real-estate settings. Hodges developed the concept for many reasons, one of them being to make the bidding process for bands and talent buyers a more comfortable and efficient process.

“People are willing to say and do things online that they’re not willing to do in person,” Hodges said, referring to artists’ tendency to be taciturn in negotiations, wanting to share their art but not talk shop. “This hurts the artist, but our system can help you understand what you’re worth, get you more gigs so that your price point can grow.”

Conversations around how San Antonio measures the musical economy have started to take place more often in the city, from political discussions by Councilman Cris Medina (D7), to forums hosted by Centro San Antonio and San Antonio Sound Garden.

“What musicians create is very valuable, and we need to get artists in the business mindset that their art is an investment, and then they can properly succeed,” Hodges said. “I don’t want artists to look at their art as less than what they deserve, and Escrow helps make sure that it’s fair, maximizing opportunity and growth.”

Event Escrow Chief Executive Officer Ben Hodges. Photo courtesy of Cafe Commerce
Event Escrow Chief Executive Officer Ben Hodges. Photo courtesy of Cafe Commerce Credit: Courtesy / Café Commerce

When artists first enters the Event Escrow portal they’ll have the opportunity to set up a profile for themselves or their band, similar to creating an electronic press kit (EPK) or any social media page for music. The platform allows them to categorize their work into particular categories such as “jazz,” “rock,” “reggae,” with qualifiers such as “funk,” “electro,” and “lounge,” so they can tag their music in a way that produces a more accurate search when individuals seek to hire them.

Booking agents – either external or at the venues themselves – will then make a bid for the artist for a particular event, and the negotiation process begins.

“The main reason we are providing a bidding model is so that you can interact directly,” Hodges said. “Artists can also start the bidding to participate in an event, or create an event and begin looking for talent.”

The platform currently boasts more than 150 local partners and 30 outside of Texas, allowing artists and venues ample opportunity to seek out the ideal band or business, and do so in a competitive environment.

“Working with artists is like working with a small business – some have a tone of acumen, others are not so sure,” Hodges said. “When it comes down to explaining things to artists in terms of investment we have to honestly ask – ‘Is that band worth $400?’”

The word “worth” gets tossed around a lot, with venues having nothing but ticket sales and ancillary revenue streams such as merchandise, food and drink, and parking to measure return on investment for business purposes with. That being said, it’s a lot more accessible in the information age for a self-described Steve Urkel of metrics in this business, and Hodges has worked with his team to develop complex algorithms and methods that create a rating system for the artists using Event Escrow.

“We have a formula to help with booking, to say, for example, if you book this person they have a 45% chance of being successful,” Hodges said. “Success” defined in this sense is the business receiving its money back on the investment. “If your stuff is on Spotify we can pull information from that, as well as websites like Echno Nest. When you update your social media and marketing we can track that and help you see your value.”

The final “rating” comes from a combination of these social media and online tools, as well as the actual numbers produced at the shows.

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“We had a guy charging $150 for his set, but he brought out over 400 people so he really undersold himself,” Hodges said. “We want to help artists understand more investment-wise.”

While Event Escrow has been doing business since February 2016 and has developed a solid list of partners, one of its more significant allies is Hemisfair.

“We believe in what they’re doing, building a 90-acre super block from Yanaguana Gardens to Alamo Plaza,” Hodges said. “They want to build a full-on amphitheater, making it a place where local vendors can come and where people of all demographics can meet.”

Escrow will offer its booking support at this weekend’s Harvest Fest at Hemisfair. The event, a showcase of the fall season that just swept into San Antonio and a celebration of the transformation happening at Hemisfair, will take place from from 12-6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22.

“This is a locally-sourced festival, and this is their second year to put on this event,” Hodges said of the afternoon filled with food, fun, and of course live music that Escrow tapped for the occasion.

“We want to put you in front of a group where your music can grow and be introduced to a new population.”

Adam Tutor

Adam Tutor is a Trinity University graduate, a saxophonist who performs with local bands Soulzzafying, Odie & the Digs, and Volcan, and a freelance music contributor to the Rivard Report.