We had the good fortune of connecting with Michael Clay and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Michael, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
My influences started with family, friends and local characters I met growing up in a small town in South Texas. Everyone knew each other and generally were friendly and engaged with the community. I think of most city neighborhoods in the Dallas area as having all the elements of a small town. It’s easy to see which ones take pride in working and living together.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m proud of my work with Texas Music Project (TMP), a music charity I co-founded in 2003 to promote the benefits of music education for underprivileged youth. The organization is now 18 years old and our efforts have reached over 1.5M kids, raised $2M in funding and provided over $5M in media awareness for music education. As the current Executive Director, I want to make sure we continue to support the benefits of music education to disadvantaged youth and to the community on a statewide basis.
We work closely with the Texas Music Office, Texas Commission on the Arts, Texas Music Educator Association and many other organizations to stay viable and current. We have three programs: 1) Music Therapy, 2) Tips, Tricks and Licks (online learning), and 3) Classroom to Stage (live performances). Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, on July 4, 2020 we launched a new interactive “virtual stage” to focus on music and technology.
As a professional musician, talent agent and promoter, I’m able to use my experience and relationships in the music industry to help me with TMP’s initiatives. I co- produced 4 CD’s with over 80 Texas artists that included Texas legends such as Willie Nelson, Beyonce, George Strait and honorary guests Bonnie Raitt and Eric Clapton. The series is called “Don’t Mess with Texas Music.” I would also like to acknowledge hundreds of labels, producers, writers and musicians who gave TMP gratis use of their songs and support. The CD series, merchandise, and donations have been the reason TMP has been able to keep the doors open.
Texas Music Project is the only music charity ever signed to a House Bill by the Governor of Texas. Currently, Grammy winner Maren Morris and rising star Hayley Orrantia (The Goldbergs) continue to be Ambassadors for TMP. There is always a challenge and major effort to make a not-for-profit organization stay alive through fundraising. We have shifted our programs to adapt to these funding challenges, while also staying true to our mission statement.
Currently we are working with the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston (TCH ) to create a music therapy program of live streaming performances for over 400 kids under 18 years of age. Support from the George A. Robinson IV Foundation has made this possible. We have donated over $100K to upgrade video and audio systems for live streaming, and to purchase instruments for the kids and music therapists at the TCH. The kids get the exciting opportunity to learn to play an instrument, write songs and be entertained with live performances from dozens of artists.
Our first effort to promote the benefits of music therapy started in 2013 through mentoring a music program for 1800 families of fallen soldiers (Snowball Express). It’s an amazing and humbling experience to see how much music touches and heals kids that have been traumatized by losing a parent in war. We continue to raise funds for these efforts and welcome all the help we can get. Visit us at: Texasmusicproject.org. Donate. You’ll make a big difference in someone’s life.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
DFW is a huge entertainment hub with a talent pool that rivals anywhere on the planet. I love Austin, but it has nothing on North Texas when it comes to music. In 2016, I was hired by the City of Dallas and Dallas Love Field to design and build a permanent music stage in the food court of the airport. Because 18M travelers a year pass through Love Field, it’s a great venue to promote Texas music. This stage continues to be the crown jewel for other airports around the country to imitate by using the latest technology to enhance live performances.
For those that want to take to the streets, I always recommend live venues such as the Kessler Theater, the Sundown at Granada, The Bomb Factory and a variety of small venues in Deep Ellum, on Lower Greenville Avenue, and on Southside. The Goat and Louie Louie’s never disappoints if you want to hear the best blues and jazz musicians in the city. Of course, there are many city parks that have a variety of cool things happening – my favorites are Klyde Warren Park and White Rock Lake.
I recently worked with The Producers (www.theproducersusa.com) to open YardBird in Downtown Dallas. This venue is a great hanging out spot for people-watching and to enjoy gourmet food and beverages. Bishop Arts District and Trinity Grove are a few more favorites I’d recommend to friends visiting the area. Bass Hall and the Meyerson Hall are stellar for concerts. There are just too many to name in the DFW area so I suggest trying them all!!! Personally, I love venues that offer Mexican food and a good margarita!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My current career started in my early 30s when I was hired by the Freeman Companies in the event, meeting and trade show industry. This was a game changer for me and I learned from the best. Every event had a unique challenge and every
client had a different personality and agenda. In the “live event” industry, you are only as good as your last show because if something can go wrong it will. Thirty plus years of management has taught me how to plan according to expectations, always have a failsafe in place, and understand the importance of having the right tools and team to do the job. A good sense of humor also comes in handy.
Other: please go to Texasmusicproject.org and donate