Wakefield’s Soundwaves reverberating in Lockhart￼
By Kyle Mooty
Tim Wakefield made the move from England to Texas, but his art is universal so he’s hardly out of his element.
Walking around the Lockhart square on a recent afternoon, he asked his son, “How did we get here? We’re from a small town in England and suddenly we’re strolling around Texas, and we treat it like it’s home.”
Wakefield came up with the revolutionary idea to put the art of music on canvas. It began with what he thought would be a short-term project in 2007 in London, and now he has Soundwaves Art Foundation studios in both England and Texas, deciding to open in Lockhart last year. A formal opening, delayed by COVID, is planned sometime around April 1.
“It was almost like organic,” Wakefield said of the growth of his business. “There wasn’t a plan. I certainly didn’t envision I’d be living in Lockhart.”
Wakefield married a girl from upstate New York, but she attended the University of Texas, therefore he moved to Austin in 2014. While deciding to open another studio, he visited Lockhart one day.
“I came down, looked around, and said this is where I want to be,” Wakefield said. “Someone asked me ‘Why Lockhart?’ I love it. It’s such a welcoming town. Everyone is so friendly. I had a guy in this morning that said, ‘You know, I’m seventh generation Lockhart. We’ve gone to the same church for generations.’ And he said, ‘I love this. This is what Lockhart needs.’ That’s so refreshing that people embrace good change.”
Soundwaves Art Foundation is a non-profit business that donates 100 percent of its profits to a variety of charities. Hundreds of artists have participated in raising monies for charities, whether those chosen by Soundswaves or the artists. Those artists include, among hundreds more, Willie Nelson, George Strait, Jerry Jeff Walker, Eric Clapton LL Cool J, Bon Jovi, Carly Simon, Alice Cooper, Emmylou Harris, Steve Miller, Peter Frampton, Ray Wyllie Hubbard, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dwight Yoakam, Sting, Vince Gill, Pat Benatar, Jamey Johnson, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, John Prine, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, Cyndi Lauper, Billy Joel, Celine Dion, Elvis Costello, Phil Collins, Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Darius Rucker, Steve Earle, Box Skaggs, Peter Gabriel, Stephen Tyler of Aerosmith, Jason Isbell, Melissa Etheridge, Iggy Pop, Annie Lennox, Norah Jones, Natalie Merchant, Hall & Oates, members of the Beach Boys, Pearl Jam, Guns & Roses, the Dave Matthews Band, Queen, The Kinks, The Black Keys, Talking Heads, Asleep at the Wheel, and ZZ Top.
Wakefield started Soundwaves in London in 2007.
“I was into fundraising, so I had this idea to create artwork that actually came out of a song,” he said. “Any noise will give you an image. You could do the sound of your child’s first words. It’s what doctors use to check your life. It’s the heartbeat. I like to think it’s the heartbeat of a song. It’s a living thing, really. With any noise you can create imagery from. I capture those in a piece of propriety software. They’re very dull, very straight. That’s when I customize it. That’s how I see it.”
A studio engineer captures the soundwave, blows it up, then changes its colors. They can also shape the soundwave.
Wakefield figured he’d do two or three of the song soundwaves and move on to something else.
“But the musicians really liked it, so it just carried on,” he said. “In the end it became full time. I certainly think the music industry knows who we are. And, it’s for good causes.”
As with his art, Wakefield sees a variety of charities that benefit from the fundraising efforts.
“We have our core charities, but we fundraise for any cause where we feel where there’s an element of injustice, whether it’s property, or abuse, or kids with autism,” Wakefield said. “A lot of times, musicians will have their own cause and provided it fits in with what I do we’ll help their own cause. Some musicians will fundraise locally for their hometown. Willie wants Farm-Aid to support small independent farms around the USA. We passionately believe in that. We believe in healthy food being grown properly. It’s the lifeblood of the country. Small farmers — that was where I grew up in England, in a small farming community, so I do understand the pressure on those people. They are hard at work. A cause like that definitely fits into what we want to do.”
Soundwaves Art Foundation is a non-profit business, which means that after expenses – such as canvas, ink, staff, rent, etc. – everything remaining goes to charitable causes.
“It’s not a farewell for some people,” Wakefield said. “Sometimes, the way you’re born defines the life you lead. We’ve also helped musicians who suffered through COVID and were not able to play. We’re not talking about multimillionaires. We’re talking about hard-working musicians who haven’t been able to work for two years. We’ve fundraised for refugee children in various parts of the world to give them safe spaces; refugee camps where they receive counseling, education, food. We do music therapy for children in London with autism, stroke victims, veterans with PTSD and use music to help them recover.
“If you’re autistic, or maybe have PTSD from serving your country, you can have an episode — flashing lights, too much noise — so we provide sensory rooms where people can go and calm down. Maybe they want to go to the Aquarium or a Braves game, but they can’t. This gives them a chance to be included.”
To date, more than $5 million has been raised for charities through Soundwaves Art Foundation.
Wakefield said he fell in love with Lockhart soon after visiting, just as he had with Texas after meeting his wife. He moved to Texas in 2014. Between the two, the Wakefields have five children, his oldest son running the Soundwaves studio in London.
“I’m a guest here,” he said. “I’m gonna be here for as long as I can, but I want to fit in. I love Lockhart and how it is now. If it just grows a little bit and it becomes a vibrant town and everybody is happy with it, that’s great. I love the attitude here.”
Soundwaves Art Foundation had soft launch in December at its 115 Main Street location. Due to setbacks caused by COVID, Wakefield is planning a more formal opening around April 1.
“Our doors will be open though (before April 1) if people want to come in and take a look,” he said.
Wakefield said he began going to concerts when he was 14 or 15.
“I loved it when the lights went on and the strobes went on,” Wakefield said. “Somewhere in there was a relationship between color, imagery, and music. I saw The Who at Wimbley (Stadium) and I saw lasers for the first time. I was just blown away. So, I think there’s a part of me that sees music in color.”
Soundwaves is not limited to working with musicians. It is currently working on a basketball project in Atlanta with former Hawks’ star Dominique Wilkins.
“We’ve just released seven basketball images where the figures are painted into the soundwave, which is really cool,” Wakefield said.
He previously worked with soccer star David Beckham in England.
Also, the business has worked with Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda on that musical, as well as his latest project, the Disney film Encanto, as well as the San Francisco Symphony.
When Soundwaves worked with Curb Your Enthusiasm creator Larry David and a fundraiser with the show’s theme song, the artwork sold out in about an hour.
There was also work with Tenacious D and Jack Black.
“There’s never a dull moment, Wakefield said. “We don’t have any dull moments.”
Musician-wise, Soundwaves is currently working with Melissa Ethridge again. She’ll be coming to Austin for its rodeo in March. The business likes to catch performers as they come to either Austin, Dallas, Houston or San Antonio.
Soundwaves also dealt recently with Metallica about one of its songs.
“I knew immediately how I wanted it to look,” Wakefield said. “It’s a song for their charity. That’s come over time. When I first started it was difficult to kinda get my head around what I thought the musician wanted. Now, I just create what I think is right. They seem to like it.”
Soundwaves is not bound by a genre, working with artists across the board from classic country to classic rock, hip hop to modern pop.
“If a musician will work with us, then we’re on it, regardless,” Wakefield said. “The whole point of it is we all have different tastes. It’d be very boring if we all liked the same thing. I’m as happy when a young, 18-year-old pop star wants to sign with us as I am with Elton John. It all helps the cause.”
Meeting “stars” is the nature of his business, but Wakefield said there have been some extra special occasions.
“When it first started, I was in awe of everybody,” he said. “George Jones signed some artwork for me before I moved here, before I understood the significance of George and ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today.’ Now I know what an important song that is. When you work with someone like Willie Nelson and understand what he means to Texas, that’s one of the highlights. The fact that so many of these musicians have my artwork in their house is amazing. Dolly (Parton) asked for a piece. Brian May, from Queen, has a piece in his house. That’s kind of pinch yourself stuff. That’s really pretty cool. That’s all the endorsement I need. I’ve had the encouragement from musicians to carry on doing it, and it’s raising money for causes I care about.”
In all, Soundwaves has worked with well over 500 musicians.
Maybe his most treasured moment was meeting Steven Tyler of Aerosmith in a Las Vegas hotel room.
“He was one of the funniest guys,” Wakefield said. “Just a lovely man. He was signing on the floor. He was joking and laughing. Just a great guy. It’s nice when somebody of that stature puts you at ease and you feel comfortable.
“We’ve been backstage at festivals, venues, recording studios. It’s something you never get used to when the musicians are kind of your heroes. I feel very privileged. I feel like I have the best job in the world, and the fact that we’re fundraising and giving money to people, it’s great.”