As the music industry has changed so much in recent years, many artists now run their own record labels and need help with marketing and distribution and how to best realize their artistic vision. That's where a label services company like Thirty Tigers can step in. Thirty Tigers also has a management division that has helped artists including Jason Isbell, Patty Griffin, and Steelism. Thirty Tigers co-founder David Macias leads his company with passion, respect, and integrity.
Bill Frater: What got you started in the music business and when and why?
David Macias: I've loved music as long as I can remember, and I started working at a record store at age 15, mostly to get discounts on records. I've done nothing other than work in music since. I'm not a musician at all, and (perhaps) the worst singer you'll ever hear. I got my first label job at 20 in A&M Records' paid intern program, and my first full-time job with Arista Records at 21.
What do you do now and how do you describe your business?
I run Thirty Tigers, a company I co-founded almost 17 years ago. I started Thirty Tigers to help acts who wanted to own their own work have an infrastructure that was affordable. We started out as a consultancy, but switched over to our current model the year after. We are a label services company, whose service is essentially to be the back end label staff for artists who own their own work, or for smaller companies who are strong A&R sources. We try to help artists think through all aspects of their releases, from crafting a salient narrative around their work to helping think through how to take translate that narrative through all the mediums their music is relevant in.
What was the first artist or album that got you into Americana music?
Emmylou Harris was my point of entry. I went through a bit of a country phase in the early 1980s, and when I would listen to WSUN, which was a great AM station that programmed country until the mid 1980s. One of the songs that I loved the most was Emmylou Harris' duet (with Don Williams) of Townes Van Zandt's "If You Needed Me." I bought her Cimarron album and then a few others of hers as well. That led me to Gram Parsons' Grievous Angel album, and so on and so on ... .
Who are your favorite artists of all time?
Fleetwood Mac and Nick Drake are the two that I always come back to. Mid-period Fleetwood Mac is about as perfect as music can be. Tusk is my favorite record ever. It's brave, atmospheric, and I've listened to it so much, it's part of my DNA. Rumors and Fleetwood Mac are both fairly perfect albums as well. Nick Drake is melancholy personified, especially his last album, Pink Moon. I love everything he ever recorded, but that album in particular is one that I revisit often. So raw, so intimate, and it's a good friend to me when I am anywhere near melancholic.
How do you define what Americana music is?
To paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart, you know it when you hear it. In my mind, it's any type of music that has uses one of the great American musical genres that came from the common people – country, folk, New Orleans jazz to name a few – and fuses it with other genres to create something new and fresh.
Where do you see Americana radio, or radio in general, going in the future?
Hard to say. But with the discussions with the car companies going toward smart dashboards, delivering information and entertainment digitally, it's going to create space for a wider variety of non-interactive listening experiences. A lot of people are already using, for example, Spotify playlists on shuffle as a stand-in for radio. And once cars are self-driving, people will be able to partake in entertainment that will allow them to take their eyes off the road. Podcasting has the chance to do radio what Netflix has done to broadcast television, which has not made it irrelevant, but made it adapt in how networks reach people. You're already seeing great stations like WXPN and The Current getting listeners from all over the country through streaming, and I think more and more, you'll see the best radio stations develop listener bases that are not confined to the specific market that they are in. What that means in terms of advertising, sponsorship revenues, etc. is anyone's guess. But I think radio in five or ten years will be a very different thing than it is today.
What recent albums or artists are you excited about?
I almost hate to answer this for fear of offending any of our new artists that I'm excited about but don't mention. Within the family, some of the newer artists that I'm flipping out about are Colter Wall, Tyler Childers, Charley Crockett, and an artist named Priscilla Renea, who has dropped me in my tracks. She's a hybrid of country and modern R&B, but her songs are the thing. She has a song called "Family Tree" that is one the best songs I've heard in years, and I'm not being hyperbolic. Other newer artists that I'm a fan of who I don't work with are Kacy & Clayton, Julie Byrne, Courtney Marie Andrews. There are some amazing new artists out there for sure.
What are your most memorable experiences or memories from working in the music industry?
Having Anais Mitchell drive me back to the airport in Vermont, and sing a new song that she wrote ("He Did") full throated from the drivers seat. Sitting on the stage at Royal Albert Hall watching Seasick Steve with my friend Amy LaVere, both of us wondering how in the world we had gotten there. The moment Patty Griffin gave me the immense honor of letting me manage her. Winning the Grammy with my friends Steve Fishell and Tamara Saviano for Beautiful Dreamer, the Stephen Foster record that we did together. Sitting with my team in my office as Dave Cobb and Traci Thomas played us Jason Isbell's Southeastern for the first time, and watching it dawn on everyone just what we were hearing.
What projects are you working on next?
We put out around 50 records a year, so on the musical front, too many to mention. We are also starting a podcast division, and I'm excited about that.
What inspires you or what keeps you going?
I love what I do, I love the people that I get to do it with, and I'm proud that we do what we do in a way that allows artists to own their work and make a lot more money. There are hard slogs in any job, but it really does make it a joy to go to "keep going," as you put it.
What are your most proud accomplishments?
Thirty Tigers, the Grammy, and the many great relationships that I have in this business.
Do you have any other interesting hobbies or interests or anything else you wish to share?
Baseball is a great love, and I spend a ton of time thinking about it. I am interested in public policy, and read and think about that a lot as well.
How do you want to be remembered?
As a loving person who worked hard. But the truth is, 100 years from now, which is not that long, when you think of it, no one will remember anything that I've done or built. Who are the music business executives from 1918? The vice president then? Even the most popular singers of 1918? Everything we do is ephemeral, so I try to be as peaceful and loving as I can in the now.