On a Sunday afternoon in early October, the first weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival, Amy Corbin was at one of the festival’s smallest stages, taking in a set from the Nude Party, a scrappy young rock band from Boone, North Carolina. Though she likes the band a lot, she came to their set with a mental checklist: How well did they handle the pressure of a major festival? What did the crowd seem to think of them? Is this a band that could play later in the day, on a bigger stage, a few years from now? The answers matter, because Corbin oversees the booking of the festival’s 140-plus acts, whether they’re young upstarts from the boonies (or Boone) or storied headliners like this year’s big draws, Paul McCartney and Metallica.
Working from the Austin offices of C3 Presents, the concert promoters and festival producers behind more than 1,500 live music events a year, Corbin handpicks lineups she hopes will make the festivals she’s in charge of—ACL, Atlanta’s Music Midtown, and New Orleans’s Voodoo Fest—feel special in an increasingly crowded field. “Curation is the new, fancy name for what I do,” she says. Live Nation, the concert-promotion behemoth that acquired a controlling stake in C3 in 2014, describes her as “the only female talent buyer booking a major U.S. festival.” But you don’t have to take her gender into account to recognize that she’s one of the most powerful people in the twenty-first-century music industry.
Festivals, after all, have taken on a larger role in the music industry in recent years. Outside of music service playlists, they’ve become the best place for new artists to find an audience. Radio is playing it safer and breaking fewer acts, and TV exposure—an appearance on The Late Show, say—doesn’t move the needle like it used to. Which means festivals are now one of the primary ways bands get attention. Not only do they get to play in front of audiences committed enough to buy expensive tickets, just having your name on the Coachella or Bonnaroo lineup can be even more valuable than the actual forty minutes onstage.
That means Corbin isn’t just a curator—she’s a gatekeeper who offers the sort of exposure that every band wants.
This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Programming Music Festivals in an Age When Music Festivals are King.” Subscribe today.