Think Out Loud

Echo Fund fosters independent music in Oregon

By Elizabeth Castillo (OPB)
Dec. 18, 2023 5:32 p.m.

Broadcast: Monday, Dec. 18

The Echo Fund, meant for working musicians in Oregon, can help pay for creative, nonperformance projects. These projects can range from music production and promotion, to distribution of physical albums. The fund is intended to help independent musicians with career development. The winners were recently announced, and 18 recipients in Oregon were awarded funding for their projects. The program is a part of MusicOregon, a nonprofit that supports independent and contemporary music in the state. We learn more about the fund from Meara McLaughlin, the executive director of the organization. Vicco González, the creator of the band Caicedo and a Portland-based musician, is one of the fund’s recipients. They join us with details.


Note: The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. For the second year in a row, MusicOregon nonprofit has given out grants to musicians in Portland through its Echo Fund. The money can be used for creative nonperformance projects like recording an album or promoting or distributing one. 18 winners were announced recently: they include the band Caicedo, which was created by the Guadalajaran-born Portland based musician Vicco González. He joins us now along with Mary McLaughlin. She is the executive director of MusicOregon. Welcome to you both.

Meara McLaughlin: Thanks.

Vicco González: Hi, Dave. Thank you.

Miller: It’s great to have you both on. Vicco, first. How do you describe Caicedo?

González: Well, it’s a mix of many genres from anywhere, like dream pop tropicalia music to my roots from Mexico. So it’s a mix, like putting different genres in a blender, I guess that’s the best way to put it.

Miller: Why did you apply for money from this grant?

González: So I made the band here in Portland with my friends and we’ve been recording in our houses or my friend’s studio and we wanted to experience in a more professional way, a different approach of recording. And, well, it’s challenging, the day to day living at times and we found out through the internet that the Echo Fund was a thing. I applied to see if that would be a possibility, and luckily, I was granted with some money to make this record happen.

Miller: Well, let’s listen to a track that you recorded on your own so folks can get a sense for at least some aspects of your sound. We’re going to hear part of “Curiosidad.” What is this song about?

González: This is more of an existentialist trip that I’m afraid of not knowing what’s going to happen, but I’ll still go through it. Sometimes I don’t know how to translate stuff in English, but it’s a very melancholic nostalgic theme.

Miller: Let’s have a listen.

[Music playing]

Tengo miedo

Soy tan frágil que no

Puedo cavilar

Ese vértigo constante

De viajar sin rumbo

De no saber a donde voy

Y no es que me interese

Tan solo es curiosidad.


[Music ends]

Miller: That is the song “Curiosidad” by the Portland band Caicedo, created by Vicco González who is with us. Meara McLaughlin is with us as well, the executive director of MusicPortland and MusicOregon, which is behind this Echo Fund. Meara, what’s the idea behind this fund?

McLaughlin: Well, our music culture in greater Portland is massive. It’s far bigger than people know. CD Baby confirmed that more than 11,000 unique bands distributed, recorded music and released it through their platform alone, in the few years prior to COVID. And we did an economic impact study. It’s a $4.1 billion industry, and yet it hasn’t been acknowledged as such. And the changes in the music industry have really left musicians behind, and it’s harder and harder for them to sustain themselves in a city that has boomed in part because of their amazing creations. But it’s become increasingly unaffordable and they can’t sell their recorded music anymore in the same way. So that it really leaves them in a gap because they’re seen as too commercial to get cultural grants and too creative to get business grants. So we really identified the need for a different approach. And we created the Echo Fund.

Miller: It’s such an interesting position to be in because I gotta say, when I think about grants for musicians or some version of contributed money or public money more broadly from music, I do think about nonprofit institutions like the Oregon Symphony. Where does that leave, say, a rock band or other folks making commercial pop music?

McLaughlin: “S-O-L,”  pretty much. The challenge is that I think cultural funding was developed at a time when what is unfortunately called commercial music or for-profit music had ways to sustain itself. You could record music, sell the media, do gigs, get paid. And so those systems for cultural support weren’t designed with these kinds of musicians and creators in mind.

Miller: Some of those things are still happening, right? I mean, there are shows, people are still buying tickets. Recorded music and streaming seems like a completely different landscape. But I guess I would have thought that some version of people going to clubs and bars still exists.

McLaughlin: Absolutely. Although I will say that our locally-owned independent venues, of which we have more than Austin and Nashville, that are active venues presenting live music more than a couple of times a week…

Miller:  …more per capita, or literally more than Nashville?

McLaughlin: More, by number. Yeah.


Miller: That’s an unbelievable statistic.

McLaughlin: It is pretty amazing. And just prior to COVID, we had assessed 330 music venues, and this is everything from bars and restaurants and dedicated ticketed venues, the whole span. But those that had music more than twice a week in Portland, there were 330. In the early part of the 2000s, when Austin declared itself the live music capital of the world, they had 313, and now they’re down to 176 that they report.

So we have this incredibly rich community where, yes, people do go out. But these locally operated venues are operating with 40% to 100% increase in costs and music-goers are not necessarily willing to pay more to see music than they were before. They’ll pay more for their artichokes and their gasoline and everything else. But there seems to be this real inelasticity in fans’ willingness to support music. So it leaves the musicians out and then that, in combination with high prices and streaming, having eaten their lunch, it’s a hard place.

Portland will lose its music center, it will lose its heart, if we don’t create cultural change from fans and businesses and governments and everybody. It’s not a refrigerator light, it’s not gonna be there when you want it, and you’re $8 spent on a ticket to see an amazing band and your $40 worth of cocktails is not supporting music. We really need to change the idea that this is culture and it’s worthy and we need to create new methods to make sure that it remains in Portland.

Miller: What you’re talking about is a lot bigger than giving out grants to a relatively small number of bands – you’re talking about a cultural shift in the way music lovers think about what live music is worth in a sense. It sounds like that’s the biggest project.

McLaughlin: MusicPortland and MusicOregon were created because of this increasing dissonance between Portland saying, “Oh, we love music,” and Portland not supporting music or not stepping up in the way it needed to. Nashville is “Music City,” because they decided to be. The government and the tourism sector really leaned into it. And Austin is the “live music capital of the world” because they branded themselves so and then invested in it. And I think we need, as a city, to acknowledge that music built this city and everybody’s talking about, “How do we have a renaissance?” How do we come back from our bruised state and music is working its way onto the table, but it’s still not really welcome there.

We really tried to be a part of the downtown task force to revitalize the downtown because we make city streets safer. We bring people out, we activate other businesses, we do all these things and yet we continue to be excluded from business conversations and cultural conversations. So there’s a lot of work to be done.

Miller: Vicco, I wanna go back to you. What are you going to be doing with this money? What is the plan for the new album?

González: As of right now, we’ve wrote eight songs and we’re going into the studio… Falcon Studios here in Portland. And we are going to record mid-February, late February. The grant is paying for the studio time, it’s paying for the mixing process and the mastering altogether.

Miller: Is there a theme for the album?

González: It is. Well, it’s a lot of my personal experience moving from Mexico to the United States. Also, my father passing earlier this year. And we are writing it together too. As in the past, I used to write and record everything. And this album is a first album or a couple of songs that we record together as a group of people. We all live in Portland. It’s a very diverse group of people from Venezuela, Guadalajara, Los Angeles and Oregonian too. So I think it’s going to be really fun.

Miller: We’re going to hear a part of another song, “Certeza.” What prompted this song?

González: This is actually about moving from Mexico to America the very first time, five years ago. It was the first shock, I guess.

Miller: Let’s have a listen.

[Music plays]

Dónde estaba no imaginaba

Que me encontraría tan lejos de casa

Es la distancia o fue la agonía

De no tener cerca lo que conocía

Y quiero tener la certeza

De no saber lo que pasa

[Music ends]

Miller: That’s “Certeza” by Portland band Caicedo. Meara, to go back to your big goal, some bands are going to somehow hit it with audiences, some are not. Some are going to get a following, some are not. Some are gonna fold, some are not. So, what’s your goal? How will you know that you’ve achieved what you want to achieve? It’s always gonna be messy out there.

McLaughlin: Yeah, I think that the music industry is in a moment of real change, globally, because even big stars – Taylor Swift excluded – are not making it. You hear from artists like Santigold and Dessa who were talking about the fact that their well funded, late career tours pay everybody but them. It’s just, it’s a real model. So I think in Portland, in my view, we’re the largest independent music ecology in the country and we’re independent because we’re known as pacemakers and kind of incubators of the next big thing. Not everybody is trying to become Beyoncé.

We’re also part of the Cascadia Music Corridor Project with allies around the Pacific Northwest to create more regional tourism. I think the model of what music success looks like is changing. And I think Portland has always been a town that is less market-driven and more driven by creation and innovation. And it’s the reason that our music brand, should we care to accept, is not that we’re weird, but that we are a standard bearer for everything about Portland that is creative and entrepreneurial and disruptive and risk-taking and marvelous. And in a time when we need to celebrate what’s incredible, music is an easy one to step to and we hope in Portland Music Month, which is coming up, that people will.

Miller: Vicco, we have just about a minute left. But what does the Portland music scene mean to you?

González: It means a lot. I mean, it’s very, very welcoming coming from a different town. It’s getting to know people that are actually devoted to music and to their craft. Being involved with this community is very humbling and beautiful. And I’m really grateful to be part of it.

I would also like to publicly thank Meara and all the people involved [in] making the grant program possible because it’s definitely, at least in our career, gonna make a difference.

Miller: Vicco and Meara, thanks very much.

McLaughlin: Absolutely. Thank you.

González: Thank you.

Miller: Vicco González is the creator of Caicedo, a Portland-based band. Meara McLaughlin is the executive director of MusicPortland and MusicOregon.

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