All The Puzzle's Pieces

With Deadlines Looming, Russ Hallauer Discusses How The AthFest Comp Comes Together

Chris Hassiotis, Flagpole, Jan. 2007

Every year for the past nine years, Russ Hallauer has captained the assembly of the AthFest compilation CD, released in the summer to coincide with the annual arts and music festival.

A collection of wide-ranging local tunes, the compilation CDs have included bigger names like R.E.M., Vic Chesnutt and Elf Power and smaller acts known only locally. Submission of songs for consideration is free and open to any and all local acts, with the deadline coming up on Jan. 31.

"When we first started doing it, we kind of had to talk people in to it. Now that we've been doing it for 10 years, I'd like to think it's a known entity," says Hallauer, whose label Ghostmeat Records issues the compilation CD. He says he thinks there are two main reasons that submitting a song for consideration should appeal to local acts. "One, it's promotion for them. Every year we do more and more with [the album], get it to more stores and to more ears. So that's of course a big plus for independent artists. Secondly - and this is a reason that I like to think people do it - is because they want to support AthFest and music in Athens. Bigger bands that have given us songs, that's their way of supporting us, particularly when they don't need the publicity. We get a lot of mileage outside of town out of an R.E.M. song, for instance."

As to what sort of song Hallauer thinks local artists should submit, he says "I think they should offer up their most representative song. It's been hard in the past when a band has submitted a song that's really odd, maybe a knock-off song that's not going to be on the album. That can be special in a way, but it can be also a little misleading for listeners unfamiliar with the band. So it should be the one that's most true to them." Unreleased tracks, live takes and rarer songs have been highlights of past compilations. Hallauer also discourages cover songs, because that way AthFest can avoid the entangling issues of royalty payments.

"Depending on the number of submissions that come in," says Hallauer, describing the actual process of listening to songs, "I have a de facto CD committee that consists of the core AthFest people, like Jeff [Montgomery], Troy [Aubrey] and also Jared [Bailey], to offer some feedback. But ultimately, every CD is listened to by me. By far, for instance, the most submissions we got was in 2002, and with all the different ears on it, we ended up doing a double album."

Though it's now an independent non-profit entity, AthFest used to exist under the purview of the Athens Downtown Development Authority; accordingly, it was meant to bring people to downtown and promote downtown businesses. Earlier AthFest compilation CDs focused primarily on acts with a visible presence performing in downtown clubs in a given year, says Hallauer, explaining why established performing groups usually win out over more underground and studio-focused projects. Hallauer says those goals remain powerful in the selection process.

"Ultimately, I make decisions trying to find bands that represent the club scene of any given year. That's something we try to stress," says Hallauer. "We hear a lot of great submissions that come in, but they're not from working bands, and part of AthFest's mission has been to promote downtown. That's ingrained in what we did since from before AthFest was its own corporation.

"I don't want to be that narrow and tell people not to submit if they're not playing out over the past year, but I do want to focus on people who are… I don't know that 'working band' is the right title per se, but we're not as interested in someone who's just recording in their bedroom, as good as that may be. And I've gotten things before that were really great from that kind of artist, but they're not from someone active in the community, so maybe that's the best way to describe it: active in the community. I don't want to discourage people from submitting, because a band could just be starting up and could be big over the coming year, but putting something together like this, we can only look back. I would like to think that I've taken a chance on younger acts and put them on the comp only to see them go on and grow. It's by no means a perfect process, but it's what we've found works best for our goals."

Hallauer also says he's cognizant of criticisms, frequently from writers for this paper, that the AthFest compilations have been limited in scope and under-representative of the diversity of the Athens music scene. "I know one of the things that always comes up is representation of different genres," he says, "but we want to make our decision based on the proportion in the submissions. When we get only six submissions from female vocalists out of the entire batch, and two make it on the comp, that's disproportional. So that's something we struggle with. We get very little jazz, very little rap - although I think that might change this year - and very little from female artists. But it's hard to deny the rock bands when they're 90 percent of the submissions. We want to represent Athens' musical diversity, but we also don't want to be arbitrary and put a jazz song on the compilation just because it's a jazz song." So the submission process becomes even more important for less populous genres; according to Hallauer, there could be dozens of active reggae bands in town, but if none submits a song, the CD will reflect the submission pool rather than the "actual" makeup of the scene.

Artists, the onus of proactivity is on you, so hop to it. The deadline for submissions is coming up fast, and though Hallauer says he hasn't received as many submissions as he'd like yet, he's confident, based on how past years have gone, that he'll have much to choose from come February. "Someone will tell me, 'Yeah, we'll submit something in a couple of days,' and then a month later I'm still waiting nervously," laughs Hallauer. "Ninety percent of bands end up turning in submissions in the last week or so. I've been in bands, so I've been there, but I'm always worried up until the end that we won't have enough submissions. Athens always comes through, though."

Submission forms for the AthFest compilation are available at Multiple submissions are allowed, but each song must be submitted with its own separate CD and form. The deadline for submissions is Wednesday, Jan. 31.

Ghostmeat Records - Athens - Georgia - USA -
All contents © Ghostmeat, Inc.