Executive Profile: Amy Corbin

C3 Presents’ Amy Corbin has had year to remember, kicking off the year by being named Pollstar’s 2008 Talent Buyer of the Year and giving birth to her first child, daughter Gemma Rose, in September.

It’s been a heck of a ride for Corbin, a native Texan who parlayed her love of live music from answering phones two days a week for Charles Attal to the top of her field as a promoter in a short eight years.

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Her partnership with Attal is both personal and professional. They met when she was attending Texas State University and going to shows at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q in Austin. When Attal, who was running Stubb’s from a bedroom in his home, asked her to cover phones for him during the South By Southwest festival one year, she agreed – thinking she was just helping out a friend.

But after an epiphany during a graduation backpacking trip to Europe, Corbin returned to Austin and Stubb’s – only to find her job wasn’t waiting for her.

When she told Attal she was leaving for six, he said, “if you’re going to be gone longer than four weeks, you’re not going to have a job here anymore.” Corbin told Pollstar. “And I was like, yeah, whatever. So I was only gone for about 4-1/2 weeks and when I got back, he’d hired somebody else.”

Her determination and a work ethic learned from a childhood working her family’s peach and apple orchards in Princeton, Texas, prepared her to put her nose to the grindstone and take back her job.

“I worked some days from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., working in the office and going to shows,” she said. “I would do anything to learn.”

Not only did she win back her job, she won Attal’s heart. The two of them share a home in Austin as well as parenting duties on top of overseeing the rise of the company they built into one of the top independent promoters in the country.

C3 Presents now books and promotes two of the most highly-regarded festivals in the country – Lollapalooza in Chicago and the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Texas. The company’s experience with Lollapalooza in Chicago’s Grant Park led to C3 Presents being chosen to produce the election-night victory celebration for President-elect Barack Obama.

In addition to booking Stubb’s and its 2,200-seat Waller Amphitheatre, the company, Corbin produces shows throughout the Lone Star State and beyond.

Even though she’s gone from booking 100-seat club shows to standing on the stage with a future President, her most important production came Sept. 12 with the birth of Gemma Rose Corbin Attal.

But don’t think that motherhood is slowing Amy down any. She’s set up an office in her home and is in constant contact with her staff, thanks to the wonders of modern technology.

First, we want to congratulate you for becoming a new mom. How are you juggling motherhood and work?

Thank you. It is amazing.

Right now, I have a staff of six to eight that I directly oversee in talent buying, marketing and production. The thought of not being in the office for three months on maternity leave was a little scary so I talked to women in the business I know who have kids to see what they did.

Some of them said they took the full three months off and just checked out. Others, who are independent agents or managers, said they couldn’t afford to do that and went back to work in two weeks. Some worked for only a few hours a day. And some worked from home.

I was able to adapt what these other women did and how they managed. It was a big help.

That’s the cool thing about our job. We rely on the phone and e-mail, so no one really knows where you are – at home or at the office.

I can be breast feeding and checking my BlackBerry or building offers at the same time! I’m the ultimate multi-tasker right now. If only people on the other end knew what I was doing, if I could turn on that video chat, somebody would be surprised.

I made my own schedule. Once I came out of the closet, as it were, I had about six months to prepare – getting people to step in and move up into position, enabling them to start making decisions on their own, letting people I had contracted with know not to worry.

All of a sudden, it was “ready, set, go.” It came up so fast. Charles kept saying, “You’ve got to turn in your plan. I want your plan by June.” The next thing I knew, it was July. By then, I knew that I wasn’t going to take maternity leave but work from home.

I’m responsible for a couple of hours a day but, other than that, I’m on my e-mail all day long. I haven’t been totally absent but I have been enjoying a lot of time with the baby.

We’re fascinated to know there’s a ‘mommy network’ within the industry.

It exists! The ones I tend to look up to and who have really helped me sort it out include Marsha Vlasic, Sam Kirby, Jackie Nalpant and Ali Hedrick.

I remember when Sam was pregnant. I was fascinated with how she could be booking tours and was still booking tours after she had the baby. But with her job, she was able to adapt. She was able to have somebody who helped her from the Los Angeles office.

One day, while I was pregnant, she sent me an e-mail at 9 p.m. I asked, “Why are you emailing me at 9 o’clock; why aren’t you playing with your son?” And she said, “I came home, I made dinner, I put him down to bed, I hung out with my husband, and now I’m back at work!”

That’s the thing about our jobs, too. It doesn’t need to be 9-to-5. You can work on things at any time. That’s what I’m trying to gear myself toward. Those women are people who are doing it every day. And without them, I would have been clueless how to work this.

One of the mixed blessings of technology is that electronic leash to the office. You can work in your pajamas and be in touch.

This is a serious challenge, though, because some days I don’t even get out of my pajamas and I’m just working, working, working. I work longer than my two to three hours a day, pretty much full-time at the house with the baby.

This is going to really be fun when I actually have to get up, brush my teeth and report to the office. Luckily, I work with people who trust that as long as I’m getting my stuff done they don’t get on to me much about not being present.

But the reality is that this business is really a 24-hour one. Especially from my end with booking the show, putting the show on sale, everything in between that, to the day of show and whatever is going on with my production manager. He may need to discuss something with me at show’s end.

By the time the show is over and settled it’s 2 a.m. and hopefully there aren’t any problems.


But with a new baby, you’re probably up at 2 a.m. anyway.

Now, I am! I’m sending e-mails to everybody. “Hey, is anybody awake out there?” Don’t you wish you could be me right now?

But fall is starting to wrap up and everything is starting to come to a close. It’s nice. E-mails are starting to die down a little bit and we can now focus on booking next year’s Austin City Limits festival.


Tell us about the first show you booked.

The first show I booked lost $12,000. I called Charles up that weekend, because he was gone, and I was so proud about booking my first show. It was a Texas run, doing Dallas and Austin, and both markets lost $6,000 apiece. And we didn’t have that kind of money to lose.

We were covering the money, not Stubb’s. It was Charles’s money I was playing with, and I knew it. So when I called him, I was crying.

Dallas was a disaster. That night I didn’t even stay in Dallas. I got in my car and drove home that night to Austin. When I got home I thought it’s got to be better in my hometown. I know people and I promoted it really well. When even fewer people showed up in Austin, and I lost even more money, I called him up crying and told him I lost $12,000.

I’ll never forget this, and the best thing that somebody that doesn’t have any money can say, is “I don’t ever want to hear you cry about this again. If we lose on 50, and we win on 51, we’re all right.”

I told him, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I can’t do this any more. I can’t take losing your money. It personally affects me.” It was my first show. And my first show to lose that kind of money.

But I thought, he’s right. If we’re doing even a little bit better than breaking even, then we’re doing all right. We weren’t making any money at that time but it was a really encouraging thing for him to say.

Afterwards, he told me after he got off the phone with me, he was thinking, “Holy shit, what am I going to do?” But he didn’t show it to me. He’s always had that positive reinforcement that he’ll always back me no matter what, from a friendship level to a business level.

That’s why we’ve always stuck by each other’s side. Not taking the personal relationship out, but just between friend to manager. And I really appreciated that because otherwise I would have quit right then and there.


So eight years on, you’re among the top talent buyers in the country and C3 Presents one of the top independent promoters.

I redirected my focus to scale back and focus on the little shows that I can’t get that beat up on. I changed my focus to the smaller shows, the club acts, until I got my chops and experience to move up and up and up.

I finally got the whole Austin market and the whole Texas market and finally moved up to arenas. Charles still oversees the festivals. He is the brain of the festival as far as talent goes.

I still have a lot of input. I do most of the offers and, since I’m here on the ground doing all the clubs and doing well on the touring side, I can fill in a lot of the guts on the festivals. But he’s still very much in control of that.

Charles has always given me the opportunity to do whatever I want. If I don’t want to do marketing, I don’t have to. But if I want to do tour marketing or venue management, I can do that, too.

But I kept falling back to promoter, which is what I’m good at. But it’s nice that I can try to do all these things.


C3 Presents has its own inhouse ticketing system. Are you involved with that?

I helped to develop Front Gate Tickets. And that came out of Charles’s frustration with the ticket company that we were using at Stubb’s. We just knew that there was an easier way.

Austin, being sort of a Silicon Valley of sorts with all these web people right at our fingertips, made it easy to find someone who is Web savvy.

Mellie Price sat down with me and we worked on that for three or four months straight before we launched it.

I can’t emphasize enough that being able to get my hands in all these little parts of the industry has been nice and makes me more well rounded as a promoter.


Having worked in so many facets of the business, is there anything you haven’t done?

The one thing I haven’t done is be an agent. I haven’t seen that side yet but I certainly work on the other side. I’ve seen what it’s like to be on the road as a band and what they have to go through, being away from their families and homes, and showing up in these venues.

I always make sure we greet these bands with a smile and they have a good show day when they’re working with us. They’ve been on the bus or they’ve been in a van all day, cramped up, who knows what they’re missing out on or the flights they’re having to deal with. Maybe they haven’t had a shower or a good meal. What can we do to make their day pleasant?

Before, I hadn’t really thought of their side. I don’t know how they do it. It’s the love of music, but I like my job because I’m always home. When I leave the venue, I’m going home. You have to give them props for that.

The things I’ve most recently been working on are outside of Texas. I’m starting to book shows in arenas and starting to reach out to theatres I’ve been working really closely with, including SMG and their theater group. And they’ve welcomed me to the point where I’ve established a really good relationship.

Knowing I can call different rooms in different markets and be able to produce concerts is pretty cool. I’m starting to see myself branching out beyond Texas.


Were you involved in the Barack Obama election night production in Chicago?

Me, personally, no. But C3 Presents was. I went up there because I didn’t want to miss it. I knew how historic this event would be.

We packed the baby up and Charles and I took her for her first plane ride at age seven weeks. Charles and I took Gemma to Grant Park that afternoon. It was 70 degrees outside. It was just beautiful.

We went to the site the night before without Gemma to get our passes and see where we needed to go. They had the podium and the stage already set up and were putting the flags in.

Charlie talked to Obama’s production manager to see if we could get pictures taken up on the stage. Charles and I were like two little kids – we were taking pictures on their podium!

We took a small number of staff and Huston Powell (head of our Casino Division and Lollapalooza) volunteered to go up there because he wanted to be a part of this historic event.

He handled the media check/load in which, as you can imagine, was a nightmare. He had 40 satellite trucks that he somehow had to park on this bitty stretch of Columbus (Drive, near Grant Park). Then we had to get through the Secret Service with all their cameras, the patdowns and the wanding.

The press tent was huge. I don’t know how large it was, but it had table after table for each writer to have their own the DSL and phone lines. They had a huge Jumbotron set up in the tent so everyone could see what was going on while they write and then upload their stories. There were also a lot of smaller, individual tents for all of Obama’s people and family.

We took Gemma down there to Grant Park to show her, “This is where we have Lollapalooza! It’s where we do our big show!” and there’s this huge historic event.

When Charles and I came back to the park for election evening, it was just amazing. Some of the buildings had red, white and blue lights going on the top. I’ve never felt so American and proud. It was just magical. And then (Obama) wins.


How did it feel to be involved in watching history made?

Charles and I watched about 20 yards away from him when he gave his speech. You couldn’t help but feel it and just scream. I felt like I was at a rock concert!

Our staff did a great job of getting it all together and lining it all up. They didn’t have much time to prepare and plan involving street closures and all the things that take months that they did in a week. It was pretty spectacular.

We would have been kicking ourselves if we’d been at home just watching it. Obama’s staff, from what I hear, was really nice and it was a pleasure on both ends. We’d done one of his rallies here in Austin before, too, and it went really well.

People in our crew were obviously volunteering to do things they normally wouldn’t do just to be part of the event. Now I just hope he does a good job.


People often say live entertainment is recession proof. Is it?

We saw a little bit, right after 9/11, where ticket sales went into a slight decline. We just tightened up the hatches and buttoned up everything. And we made it through that period. It wasn’t a long period, but it was a season. And I kind of see that happening now.

The economic crisis didn’t hit, really, until a month ago where we could all start to feel it in our pocketbook. But before then it was like, “Oh, here’s the problem; it’s a mortgage crisis,” but now there’s this whole global economy crisis and everything’s going to shit. By that time, most of our shows were already up and onsale and doing well.

The shows that I’m seeing struggle right now weren’t sold out at the time it really hit. I think we’re going to see a little bit of a crunch but I think we’re going to come out of it pretty well. I think we just have to make smart deals, button up on our expenses and brave the storm.


Gas prices don’t seem to be as big a problem now, but does it feel like we’re moving from one crisis to another?

Gas is definitely part of the trickle-down effect. It seemed that it hurt the touring act more than it did the consumer, even though it was felt by everybody.

We found guarantees going up, production costs going up, everything going up. People had less money to spend because they were paying for their own gas.

But this thing is going to affect everybody. Gas is going down, now. It’s a difficult path but I don’t see this being some kind of four-year slump. It might be a season or two before we all get back on our feet.


Some promoters are discounting tickets to keep butts in the seats. How is the crunch affecting how you price shows?

We take a common sense approach. Obviously, we look at what’s going on in the economy and what we’re paying for an artist.

An example would be the artists we know we can get a $25 ticket for. A lot of artists would, when we say we want a $25 ticket, say they want a $30 ticket. Um, no. In this economy, we’re not looking for a higher ticket price, because people aren’t going to pay them. That’s the thing.

Charles and I have been working in Austin and Texas for so long, we know our market. We know what people are going through here and in every market we’re in. We’ve been there, we know what people can afford and what an artist is worth and what they can get out. Now is just not the time to test the waters.

Our approach is: Let’s be safe about it and make the smart deals to get through this time. The next time, when the economy has recovered, we can try to be a little more aggressive.

But now is the time to be conservative; a lot of underplays. We’re starting to see a lot of bands wanting to play smaller rooms maybe with a higher ticket. But bigger rooms with higher ticker prices? No way.

When the consumer stops putting up with it, nobody gets anything out of the pie anyway. So our focus is to develop bands and looking for ways to develop new bands.

That’s why we keep booking a 300-capacity club. Or even a 100-capacity club. We do it because we know we’re investing in them and their future. That way, maybe they’ll be the next band to play the 400-cap club, then the 700, and on to the 1,200.

We’re not here to just promote them one time and say, “See ya.” We want to be there from beginning to end and stay with them through the whole ride, from small club to arena or from small club to small club.


Austin is considered a secondary market, but has a lot of local talent and a reputation for great live music. How do you deal with that?

Austin supports these artist and live music. It is called the live music capital of the world for a good reason. It’s not just a title – people are out seeing live music seven nights a week here.

I think that comes from all the different clubs that came before Stubb’s. The Armadillo, the Backyard, Liberty Lunch. There have been a lot of good authentic venues here that really helped cultivate artists, live performance and the people that live in the city.

The Austin City Limits Festival is just amazing, from the food that we have to the music, to the people and the city itself. We’re still not considered an “A” market; we’re considered a “B” market, and that is really tough to swallow sometimes. I’m very proud of my market.

Being between Dallas and Houston we sometimes get skipped on some of the big tours. The big artists, if they only have 10 or 15 dates, skip Austin. Pop music doesn’t necessarily do well in Austin and they don’t route.

But it always kind of gets me when people tell me Austin just isn’t an “A” market. Austin is an “A” market! But then again, on the Stubb’s level, you’ll se a lot of artists who play nowhere in Texas but Stubb’s. They won’t even go to Dallas or Houston. So I guess it depends upon the type of music and where they are.

But despite the rapid growth in just eight years, you’re still based at Stubb’s?

Stubb’s is where both Charles and I got our start. I’ll always book Stubb’s, no matter what I’m doing, I’ll always book that place because it has such a special place in my heart and in this city.

We thank our lucky stars every day. We have to pinch ourselves. But we didn’t get here without working hard. It’s part of our work ethic.

I have to be honest with you, I need to have somebody telling me I had to get up and go to work, I can’t work for myself. But Charles was up every day, making coffee, getting on a plane and flying to LA, meeting with people. That’s determination.

At some point you have to get off the phone and meet people face to face and Charles has done a hell of a job in developing those relationships. It wasn’t just one day; we created this together but he is something else.

We’ve told everybody we’re breeding the next round of talent buyers and 20 years from now, you will be interviewing my daughter! Hopefully she’ll do it in half the time it took me!