Musician-in-Residence nominee Jarin Humphrey performs at Wax Myrtle’s Bayberry Hall (Photo by Jana Birchum)
I felt very bad on April 5 when my landlord pointed out to me that I had forgotten to pay the rent. I felt a lot worse than I would have felt when I moved in five years ago because my rental is worth so much more now. According to the apartment agency ZumperAccording to March data, the median monthly cost of a one-bedroom residence in Austin is now $1,570, an increase of more than 30% from last year.
In the price desperation, I’ve heard a few musicians express hope that a more expensive city might provide lucrative opportunities, like last week when Elon Musk guest Gary Clark Jr. and other deeds to be performed under an air-suspended Tesla at the opening of its gigafactory. The question drew me to a competition to solve the affordability crisis of a single artist, as the musician-in-residence at the Downtown luxury apartment complex. Siena at the Thompson. For a year of free rent, the winner would pay their way in songs, performed 25 hours a month throughout the block-scale development off Fifth and Brazos.
On the fourth floor, in neutral tones Bayberry Room Last Saturday afternoon, emotional displays and a generic party atmosphere would have made for solid reality TV in the background. Radio host Anne Hudson told the building’s crowd of residents to think hard and take notes on their ballots, who they’d like to hear playing around the building’s pool, hotel and many restaurants. Each contestant submitted two songs, all solo on acoustic guitar. While one played, the other three swayed for support on a rather squashed couch.
Surveillance, vanessa casciano of Magellan Development Group said she selected the four finalists from one-minute videos submitted via social media or email, of which she received about 35 in total. Builders first rolled out the new program to Chicago and Nashville apartments in 2017, easily enough to make a promotional video with artist testimonials. In an odd development for its local launch, the first contestant was actually a Thompson building worker.
Jarin Humphrey, an aspiring pastry chef and musician with six weeks remaining of culinary school, works downstairs in the bar and market downstairs. “I’m truly blessed and privileged to have a family of people to work with and grow with,” she said, before covering cold game and Adele. I voted for Humphrey by default, thinking she deserved it the most.
More residents, well-dressed for working out or relaxing by the pool, poured in during Humphrey’s set, which seemed a little unfair to vote for. There were about 50 adults there, voluntarily spending their weekends at an event hosted by their apartment building for the promise of two-piece drinks, free sliders and unknown entertainment. Their fiery camaraderie surprised me. Some said they met last week in the elevator or logged onto the residents-only social media platform.
Siena at the Thompson (Photo by Jana Birchum)
In their narrative, the new building had a magnetism, making the move a long-sought achievement. Some had temporarily lived in other units, awaiting construction on their own, and others had briefly lived outside the hotel. Others had extended their leases in Clarksville. One of them had already moved from an apartment on the north side of the building to the south, bothered by the noise from Sixth Street.
The final and most interesting performer, who started with “I’m very nervous”, ultimately won. Presented at the competition under his full name of Cameron Rafatithe very great half-persian performer actually carried a terrific industry history under the pseudonym of solo Rafferty. Titled with the investment dream on a Apple commercial, his 2016 track “Apple Pie” accompanied the rollout of the iPhone 6S. And after being fired from a record label, he started entering contests like The voice. His strong, soft then gritty croon appeared in 2020 on the NBC song writing contest Songland – which Rafati told the crowd that he had in fact won but was then traded with another contestant in the TV edit.
Downtown, he sang the country tune “Tennessee Whiskey” before a false start for the Amy Winehouse– popularized “Valérie”, which another finalist had already covered. He told the sound engineer to turn up his voice and went for an original track called “Nobody Loves You”, as if Michel Buble went through a bad breakup. During our chat, Rafati was quick to get the contact details of the other hopefuls – JoAnna Lee and Jared Masucci – promising to make them pay for gigs with him during his residency.
A friend who lives at the Sienna had suggested he enter. He showed me pictures in a hard hat at his last job, earning $15 an hour at an industrial bitcoin mining facility in Rockdale, Texas. With the charming confidence of someone completely smart or crazy, he said he had traveled to the competition straight from a crypto conference in Miami, where he had been networking in hopes of a new job. “I don’t give a damn about Rockdale,” he said, describing his current residence as a small trailer.
A 500 square foot studio in Sienna at the Thompson starts at $2,349 per month. As part of a resident group I heard about industry disruption, the in-house musician will basically earn $30,000 a year in covered rental costs. The man said, personally, that he would not accept the case. On the other side of the coffee table, his friend/neighbor pleaded for the value of the building itself, beyond the free rent and amenities. In an impassioned business-speak monologue, he broke down the incentives — proximity to music venues, impressive space for meetings, and access to high-end clientele.
“A financial adviser is setting up dates in the richest coffee shop in her best outfit to say, ‘I make the most money,'” he explained. “This gentleman now has the ability to play character by performing here. He just increased his stock value as a musician. And while you’re doing that 25 hours [a month], who are you surrounded by? Anyone in this building will have money. The benefits are starting to get seismic.”
Before an encore of “Many Rivers to Cross” by jim cliff, Rafati choked up during his acceptance speech. Summarizing his exit from the music industry, he told the audience, “I was like, ‘I’m never going to do that again.’ I became a crypto brother, forget it. Because that’s what you do when you’re done with something. You become a crypto brother.”
Residents cheered from the many sofas in the living room. “You live here now!” Another soon followed – “You’re family!”