For the final installment of this year’s Austin City Limits Festival Buzzmeter, we decided to take our rankings - compiled using the scheduler tool on the fest’s Web site to see how many fans planning to see a particular band - to someone at the top of the whole three-day extravaganza.
That person was Amy Corbin, a lead booker for festival organizers C3 Presents and one of the biggest voices in the room when it comes to putting together the ACL lineup every year.
While combing through the numbers with us, Corbin talked about who will surprise festival audiences this year, how she goes about piecing the schedule together starting each December, and what bands she’ll make sure to see when she’s not helping to keep the whole operation at Zilker Park running.
Statesman: We’ve been using the scheduler numbers to track what acts people are excited about. On the business side, how else are they used?
Amy Corbin: Bands use them, along with Facebook mentions and things like that, as a sort of bargaining chip.
They’ll say, "Well you see how many people are jumping on us here, so we need a better slot or we should be higher in the lineup." You can argue that but we book the festival so far out and sometimes a band doesn’t get hot until after that’s all set up. Back in March before a record came out or before South By Southwest they might have been (at a certain point) and maybe now they have a bit of an argument for being moved up.
How flexible are you about that? Looking at a band like The Black Keys (no. 3), do you look at them now and think maybe 4 p.m. is a little early?
Once we set the schedule it’s really hard to move things around. We don’t have a crystal ball. The record wasn’t out at that point, but we were excited to have them back after having Dan Auerbach here last year and we always like to have them in the rotation. To their credit, they are exploding right bow but I don’t think 4 o'clock is a bad slot because the festival will be at maximum capacity at that point and everyone is going to be in front of them.
They are on that stage where you can camp out (Friday’s AMD Stage: Black Keys, Spoon, The Strokes) starting in the afternoon, not move and come away really happy, so good job on that.
I know. Today I was looking at the order with these rankings and I just went "Wow" because it’s exciting to finally have this come to fruition. We start in December, we’re done (scheduling) by March. Some of the same bands played at Lollapalooza and I put off seeing them because I knew I’d get to see them here. Temper Trap (no. 20) was one of them that I’m looking forward to.
They’ve really been moving up the chart. Lots of movement toward the bottom of that top 30. Them, Deadmau5 (no. 25), Miike Snow (no. 19). Who do you think will catch people by surprise this year, or have crowds bigger than some would expect?
Edward Shape (no. 21), definitely. The Black Keys will have a massive crowd. Miike Snow will blow the roof off. Yeasayer (no. 18) did two sold out nights at La Zona Rosa but I think they’re still going to surprise a lot of people that aren’t the type who are always out at clubs. Two Door Cinema Club is another good one. The Sword will attract a new audience, playing before Phish. Lissie, you’ll have to get there early but she’s a big buzz act. There’s also fun stuff in the tent, like Kings Go Forth. The Relatives are a ways down this list, but that’s some old gospel music that has a good party vibe. And Mayer Hawthorne, I like his indie/soul/hip-hop sound.
Are there any bands that aren’t getting the numbers you might expect?
Some of the bands might not have the type of fans who are really heavy Facebook users.
Phish (no. 15) could be in that club. That’s why we think they’re so far down. Any thoughts on that?
On why they’re so low? Austin’s pretty excited to see them and maybe their fans are a little older and not into "liking" things as actively. But I am surprised they’re down where they are. The park’s going to kind of split between Phish and The Strokes (no. 2), and it’ll be interesting to see how many people wind up at both.
Phish has always seemed a weird case as a headliner here to me.
Putting them in a two-hour slot, I didn’t think it would work since they seemed like more of a Bonnaroo band where they can play until 3 in the morning. What was the thinking with them?
We’ve had (Phish leader) Trey Anastasio before and always wanted Phish since they do really well in the northeast and different pockets all over. They packed the Coachella site on their own for a show they did out there and I think they’re totally right for what we’re trying to do here since we started with String Cheese Incident the first year of the festival. Phish haven’t been to Texas in I don’t know how many years, so I don’t see them as just a Bonnaroo band.
Does data like this help at all in the booking C3 does for the rest of the year at venues around town, as far as who you bring back and where you place them?
It’s more of a bargaining tool from the negotiating side. We have a pretty good idea of who came out of the festival with the biggest buzz and who will be the next big thing. I don’t go back afterward to look at these since I was there, I heard who people were talking about, but this does help me with, "Maybe I should check something out because 15,000 say they’re planning to go see a certain band. I should listen to that."
Looking at this I’m a little surprised to see The Eagles (no. 6) so high, since their fans are the older type you wouldn’t think to be heavy Facebook users.
Especially since they’re not scheduled against anyone else on Sunday night, so it’s not like people have to mark down The Eagles to remember to see them.
Yeah. My dad, who’s coming for The Eagles, knows nothing about Facebook and he’s not really online. Though I did go on our Web site to find his schedule and he’s got The Eagles marked down, and that’s it. There’s a lot of people who are curious, who aren’t going to pay an Eagles ticket price to see them in Dallas, but still want to see them because they grew up listening to that music.
There’s not a lot of explicitly urban music this year. There’s urban-tinged stuff and the gospel acts, but otherwise it’s kind of thin. What happened there?
I would consider M.I.A. plenty urban. I was attracted to her because she was a female hip-hop artist and thought that was appropriate to have as a headliner. Hip-hop-tinged, though...?
Stuff like Ozomatli, Vonnegutt, there’s stuff that has a few toes in those waters.
The Very Best is one, too. It’s not like we cut it out, but some of it is scheduling where either things weren’t available or nothing was really standing out to us. We don’t really do a lot of commercial hip-hop.
But there have always been artists like Common, or Spearhead last year, and Mos Def too.
Every year is different. We try to make sure we have a little something for everybody and feel like that’s what we accomplished with M.I.A., Ninjasonik, Vonnegutt and The Very Best.
Broken Bells (no. 11) is an act that it surprises me how well they’re doing.
It’s a good record! And who knows what will happen with them in the future? They’re probably going to be doing a new Shins record, so James Mercer will be tied up. Danger Mouse, I think I heard he’s going to be producing U2’s next record, so this might be your only chance to see them. Outside of South By they haven’t played, so if you’re not in the music industry you haven’t seen them since they haven’t toured.
How about Pete Yorn? Seeing him so high on the list (no. 13) is a complete surprise and I have no explanation for it. How’s he doing it?
He’s got a lot of fans. He’s been around for years.
But he’s ahead of Phish, who’s a headliner.
Great for Pete Yorn. He’s got loyal fans, most of whom are women and he’s got the whole handsome, good-looking guy thing going on. That’s the great thing about music. I might not be a fan of something, or I might not "get it" but there are lots of people who do. Just because I don’t get your art doesn’t mean it can’t sell. It’s like Lady Gaga. At Lollapalooza all the guys were like "Oh, forget that, I’ll go see The Strokes." But I said I had to go see her and then I watched her blow away people who had been "Pop music, blah!" She’s selling out stadiums, but it’s not for everybody even though she really is talented.
Were there any acts where you said to yourself that you couldn’t just go on your own taste, and what metrics do you use to decide?
I listen to a lot of people, and we have good relationships with managers, talent buyers, and even the people in my office. We have 70 employees and people are all the time dropping off a CD and telling me, "Hey, you should listen to this" "Or, I was at a show with this great band." I trust a lot of people and their intuition and we all discuss a lot since it’s not just me making the decision.
Anyone this year that someone in the office tipped you off to that you hadn’t heard about and now they’re on the festival?
Lissie. A couple people in the office were pushing that way before South By Southwest telling me how amazing this girl is. The Relatives, one of the guys in Black Joe Lewis told me about them, how they were from Dallas and haven’t played in 20 years. I listened to it and loved it immediately.
The hardest part about the festival is the bands that don’t get on. We look at over 1,000 submissions and 125 get on. It’s not easy telling somebody no. Not like there’s a wait list, but some bands have put in their time and it’s nice when you can tell them it’s their year, but it’s never easy to tell somebody no. Sometimes it’s like this year doesn’t make sense since you’ve played the market two times, or you don’t have anything new out so we should wait until the new record comes. You have to keep it exciting and attractive for the fans who are coming and figuring that out is the hardest part of the job.
How do you determine what band is a headliner or not? The Flaming Lips seem like a band that straddles that line this year and could’ve made it as a headliner.
Amy Corbin: I consider headliners as the closing stage and the slot prior, so I play with it on who would be cool going into who, what’s going to be a killer way to end the night in terms of visually and musically stimulating the crowd. For people who are camping, maybe there’s a better way to give different artists a better look because of what the traffic flow will be. Vampire Weekend is playing on a side stage into Phish, and they requested that because they were huge Phish fans and they wanted to play at night. There are lots of variables. This year it’s pretty telling, and why, like I’m not going to put Phish early in the day. I think Flaming Lips is a fun way to end their stage on Sunday. All stages don’t have to make sense. I like it to be a little odd so people migrate and find some new things, like a Mayer Hawthorne or Local Natives. Earlier in the day the Monsters of Folk have got a two hour slot, which no non-headliner would get, because it’s a tip of the hat to Jim James and Conor Oberst and what they’ve done.
Buzzmeter top 30
Muse - 16945
The Strokes - 16735
The Black Keys - 16532
Vampire Weekend - 16111
Spoon - 15790
The Eagles - 13990
Flaming Lips - 13818
Band of Horses - 12136
M.I.A. - 11805
LCD Soundsystem - 11674
Broken Bells - 10795
Norah Jones - 9315
Pete Yorn - 9131
The xx - 9059
Phish - 9042
Blues Traveler - 8979
The National - 8459
Yeasayer - 8438
Miike Snow - 8016
The Temper Trap - 7896
Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros - 7860
Matt and Kim - 7727
Sonic Youth - 7572
Monsters of Folk - 7441
Deadmau5 - 7219
Silversun Pickups - 7092
Cage The Elephant - 6649
Beach House - 6455
Manchester Orchestra - 6342
Slightly Stoopid - 6155