Mat Hall on Working in Austin’s Music Industry
People of Austin Profile Series
Mat Hall and his self-titled agency moved to Austin about eight months ago, with two decades worth of musical expertise from Brooklyn and beyond. He’s worked with the likes of David Bowie and David Byrne and hopes to enhance the Austin music experience. He has been in the music business for almost two decades and his work spans the country — he’s spent time in Boulder, Colorado, New York City, and now Texas — under multiple independent and major labels. Now, after 17 years in the music industry, he sits with a carefully curated roster of bands under his company’s belt — Red Baraat, Delicate Steve, Saint Rich and Metal Tongues, an equally-impressive list of related consulting projects, and a light-filled, open office space in the heart of downtown Austin. And he’s just getting started. “What was true still holds true now — I work with a really diverse, really small group of artists,” he says. “On paper they might seem very strange or difficult, but in reality they’re really accessible and have enormous futures ahead of them.” This time, though, it’s not just about the tunes for Hall. Though he’s every bit as excited about further expanding his business on new turf, he’s also ready to make a home here with one very special Austin native, Mahshad Vakili. “I was in Brooklyn for 13 years, and ready for a change,” Hall says. “As inspiring as it is and can be, like anywhere else you can go into cruise control. I needed for inspiration, but also because I was in love.” Hall calls his consulting projects “organic outgrowth” from the artists themselves; often, clients emerge because of a desired or already existing connection to a band or musician he represents. Most importantly, he values the trust and inspiration that comes from working intimately with each musician, something that, in Austin, he can continue to cultivate for years to come.
WHAT ABOUT AUSTIN EXCITES YOU THE MOST?
There is a spirit of possibility here that feels tangible to me. Austin is a town filled with entrepreneurs. Right now it feels like anything is possible here. I do my best work when I’m surrounded by bright, thoughtful people working hard at something. It stimulates my own ideas and strokes my competitive nature. I’m inspired by the creative environment here.
YOU HELPED SO MANY BANDS FIND HUGE SUCCESS IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY. WHAT ABOUT A BAND GIVES IT POTENTIAL?
There is no science to this, so I can only speak to the qualities I seek out in the artists I work with. To begin, they are creating something that is objectively unique. This makes it easier to build their story and to get people’s attention. From there, it is a question of how they manage their own talent. Their work ethic is incredible. They are self-directed, intelligent, and patient. They understand that they are building a career, and take the long view. They know how to let other people help them, and how to help themselves. You can be an incredibly talented artist and working with the best people in the business but if you’re not dialed in and your attitude is shitty, you’re going to have a hard time building a sustainable career.
THERE IS SO MUCH MUSIC OUT THERE TODAY. HOW DO YOU THINK A SONG OR ALBUM CAN BETTER STAND OUT FROM THE MASSES?
All day long we work on creative ways to introduce the artists to new audiences. It helps if you’re doing something unique from the start. We build a compelling story around the artist and try to find unconventional ways to introduce that music to the world.
YOU SPENT SOME TIME AWAY FROM THE MUSIC BUSINESS A FEW YEARS BACK AND WORKED ON PRESIDENT OBAMA’S 2008 CAMPAIGN IN OHIO. HOW DID THAT FRESHEN YOUR PERSPECTIVE AND INFLUENCE YOUR RETURN TO MUSIC?
Working on the campaign was incredibly inspiring because it reinforced for me what amazing things can be accomplished when a motivated group of people work towards a common goal. The sabbatical afforded me the time to recognize a lot of the mistakes I had made while learning on the job. I’m still learning every day, but I came back to the job a different manager. I’m much happier doing the job now, and I think the people working with me are happier too.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?
I love the people and the music I work with. I’m very lucky and grateful to work with the artists I do. They’re not only extraordinary artists, they’re great people too. All the work I do is in service of them. We have shared goals. So all the victories, big and small, are shared victories. It’s hard work, but we do it together, so even the small steps are incredibly gratifying as we help build their careers.
WHO’S ON YOUR MOST-LISTENED-TO PLAYLIST RIGHT NOW?
A lot of Nils Frahm and Max Richter in the office. Freddie Hubbard and Bill Withers in the car. We’re mixing a new Delicate Steve live record now, so I’ve been walking around the office pumping my fist in the air to that a lot this past week.
WHAT OTHER PROJECTS ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
Besides the work with the artists, I’m at work on two Austin-centric projects that I’m very excited about, which I hope you’ll be hearing about soon.
WHAT’S A TYPICAL DAY-OFF LOOK LIKE FOR YOU IN AUSTIN?
I’ll take a long run through town and usually end up in Barton Springs. I was a polar bear swimmer in New York and need to be in the water often. After that, I spend as much time as I can with my partner, Mahshad Vakili, because anything I do with her is pretty much the best thing ever.