For more than a few singer/songwriters/musicians, the road to success has run straight through Atlanta native Eddie Owen. He helped launch the careers of the Indigo Girls, Shawn Mullins, Sugarland, John Mayer, the Zac Brown Band and a clutch of others. Owen got his start booking acts at Trackside Tavern in Decatur and then moved over a few blocks to found the listening room known as Eddie’s Attic in 1992. He sold that venue in the early 2000s but stayed on as a talent booker until 2012. He now owns Eddie Owen Presents Red Clay Music Foundry, a performance venue and music school in Duluth.
Atlanta Senior Life contributor Mark Woolsey caught up with Owen to talk about the music business in metro Atlanta.
Q: How is Eddie Owen Presents doing?
A. It’s doing pretty poorly. Since March we have had 121 shows canceled (due to COVID). All were canceled by artists and artist agencies and management. When they have a 260-seat venue they were hoping to sell out and suddenly the venue is seating anywhere from just 30 to 100 (because of social distancing), it’s impossible to make a budget for a show that incudes artist and talent and crew. It’s just the math you have and it’s not good math. We also have the same expenses as everybody else: your electric meter, your phone, your internet. If this were an easy business, there’d be a billion promoters doing shows in America right now.
Q. So no profits at this point?
A. The fortunate thing for me is we not only have the shows we produce, we have a music school as well. We did go from 250 students to about 40. The other good thing is the municipality of Duluth, which has gone out of its way to make sure we survive. It’s not about profit or loss anymore or are we in the black or not. It’s about survival.
Q. What has the city done to help?
A. Anything I have wanted them to do. I have a contract with them to produce shows in this building and they have helped me by being lenient with my contract in terms of what I have been able to do. We didn’t have any shows in March, April or May because the governor mandated the theaters be closed. We re-opened in June with all of the stipulations and all of the protocols in place. Since we reopened, we have done probably six to eight shows a month. What has really helped us is the live stream. We had 60 people in there (on the stream ) tonight and almost all of them put money in the tip jar. (while in-person shows are ticketed, the livestream can only collect tips).
Q. What are you most proud of in your career?
A. The thing I love is the songs and the song writers. I love watching a songwriter draw an audience in, stick them on their sleeve and carry them through a story. There’s a medicinal quality to it. What I have prided myself on is being able to create as much of a sweet spot is possible. I didn’t make anybody famous. I gave a lot of different songwriters the opportunity to connect with an audience.
Q. How has the music business changed over the decades that you have been in it?
A. (laughs). How has the world changed? Multiply it by 10 and that’s how much [music] has changed. The [industry] I work in now doesn’t resemble what was in place then. There was no social networking in 1990, and now it’s key for every artist’s survival and growth. Also, in 1990 there used to be something called “the record industry.”
Q. Where do you see the music industry business going?
A. I think it is going to be vastly different. What I’m doing here tonight is talking to you while watching my own show. Livestreaming will be a large part of it.
Q. Who is a performer who has impressed you most with their ability to connect with an audience?
A. I don’t answer that question because if I booked someone and they played one of my shows, then they were awesome. If they weren’t awesome, I wouldn’t have booked them. (pauses) Three guys I shared a lot of time with (who all passed away in 2020) were Hal Ketchum, Billy Joe Shaver and Jerry Jeff Walker. I booked all three and befriended them. There are stories about all three that I could go on and on about.
Q. What’s next for you?
A. Hope to be able to enjoy the rest of my life with my wife, two sons and daughter. And the way I’ll be able to enjoy them is to keep working my ass off until I die. [My children] are all musical, and — thanks to their mother — they’re all mature adults.