Tom Gimbel of Austin City Limits: This Is What I Want to Do

Tom Gimbel General Manager of Austin City LimitsThis is the story of a man who got what he wanted. Mix one part passionate, one part competitive, one part positive, and you get Tom Gimbel.

Throw in a few parts happenstance, and you get Tom’s life: An amazing journey from record company intern to General Manager of Austin City Limits. Where he ends up – nobody knows.


The Early Years: Amazing Records

Since the time Tom was a student at The University of Texas 25 years ago, he was a fan of music across the board. But playing in local bands wasn’t enough. In order to become more educated about music, he decided to intern at a local record company. He flipped open the phone book and Amazing Records was listed first. His offer to work for free was well-received, and Tom had his break into the record label side of the music industry.

Like many starting positions, Tom’s duties at Amazing Records were mundane at first. He recalls moving 5,000 units of Omar & the Howlers vinyls from one unconditioned warehouse to another. At the end of the day, he got to take a record home. “I thought that was the greatest thing.”

Things started moving faster for Tom when turnover occurred at Amazing Records. He soon found himself in a paid position – the first in line after paying his dues as an intern.


An Unexpected Move from Austin

Life took an unforeseen turn in 1993 when Tom returned from his honeymoon with his new wife, Carla, to find that both of them had lost their jobs due to record company shut-downs. “We could’ve washed our hands of the industry,” Tom mused, but instead they moved to Connecticut where Tom took a position with Hard Core Marketing and maintained his connections in the music industry.

In 2005, Arista Records opened its doors to Tom. Over the next few years, Tom would manage sales and marketing for music icons such as Santana, Outkast and Whitney Houston.

The desire to “get out of the music business and get back to music” brought the Gimbel family back to Austin, TX. For Tom, the label, distribution and music management company that he founded and brought to Austin, High Wire Music, was all about balancing art and commerce, career and family.

At the end of the day, Tom chose to look for opportunities outside of High Wire because physical record sales were becoming a thing of the past. Tom founded a social media marketing firm called Clatterhead. Soon afterwards, he received a phone call that would lead to the fulfillment of a life-long dream.


Austin City Limits Happened

Austin City Limits HeadquartersIt’s not difficult to see that Tom’s diverse career allowed him to see every side of the music industry and prepared him for his position as General Manager of Austin City Limits.

At ACL, Tom is responsible for managing the general operations of the show and seeking new opportunities for the brand.

Characteristically, his vision for Austin City Limits is nothing small: Create a worldwide, full-service music brand that has multiple touch-points beyond music.

Tom intends to cultivate deeper relationships with artists, in order to bring ACL’s music to the widest audience possible.


What Sets ACL Apart?

Austin City Limits has had “no commercial interruptions in 37 years.” Tom says that this slogan should be taken two ways. First, it’s true literally. Because ACL is part of public television and – by extension – viewer supported, there are no commercials. But the show is not commercialized on a higher level: It’s not programmed for ratings or to please advertisers; it’s programmed to feature music’s best. From Bluegrass to Latin guitar, it’s not about a certain genre or targeting a specific audience. It’s about quality.

Tom calls Austin City Limits “a really pure and honest show. People here really care about music and that’s ultimately what shines through.” He goes on to say that the relationship with PBS is what gives ACL the nurturing and freedom to pursue quality first.

For the curious among you, “it’s great music that gets someone an act at ACL.” For the Alabama Shakes, it was an online demo that made the magic happen and led to a record deal and – ultimately – an ACL taping. Tom says that the discovery process is very fluid, and there’s no formula. During SXSW 2012, Tom and a few other members of the ACL team went to see The Roots perform. As soon as the band walked off the stage, an invitation to appear on Austin City Limits was extended.

The Roots at SXSW 2012

The Roots perform at SXSW – Photo courtesy of Pete Mongillo

Austin City Limits doesn’t have any specific band or artist on their immediate radar right now, but Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney and Paul Simon remain a few of the big names on the staff’s wish list. In terms of contemporary artists, Tom says that they’re thrilled with those who have been taped recently and don’t feel as though there’s a gaping hole that needs to be filled. If you’re an aspiring musician, don’t let that discourage you. Just keep making music.


What’s Next for Tom Gimbel

Our interview time with Tom concluded by asking him which moment he is most proud of. His response gave me the chills. His “It” moment was during his first taping as General Manager of Austin City Limits.

Seeing that skyline, being there, knowing that now I’m a part of it was the pinnacle for me. I’m not keeping my resume current. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing. This is not a stepping stone for me; this is what I want to do as long as they’ll have me. I’m a part of this great thing that I’ve always admired.

Tom’s amazing journey ends with him getting what he wanted. What comes next is still a mystery. But whatever it is and wherever Tom goes, there will surely be music playing.


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