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The Globe and Mail

My ‘real jobs’ couldn’t hold a candle to this one

Spencer Brown is the booking agent/entertainment manager at the Palomino Smokehouse in Calgary. He says he needs to be able to handle ‘anything that can go wrong,’ from van breakdowns to customs problems, in a calm, collected manner.

What is your full name and title? And how long have you been in this role?

My name is Spencer Brown, and I'm the booking agent/entertainment manager at the Palomino Smokehouse in Calgary. I've been in the job a little more than six years.

What exactly do you do?

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I ensure that everything leading up to a show is locked down. Then, at the end of the night, everyone involved in every aspect of the production leaves happy having witnessed or been involved in a great day or evening of live music.

Describe what you do on any given day.

Everything from answering e-mails and phone calls at all hours of the day, to reviewing contracts, dealing with immigration and customs, booking hotels, arranging gear rental and ground transportation, stage management, writing press releases, arranging media interviews with bands, working with my design team on concert poster content, picking up and dropping off tickets, scheduling sound checks, and handling settlement at the end of a show with the artists or their management.

What's your background and education?

I have an English BA from the University of Calgary. The analytical thinking skills coupled with the command of language help, not to mention being able to communicate clearly. Plus, all those years writing and researching essays gave me the ability to singularly concentrate on a subject, which is great when you have to go through multiple music magazines, blogs, radio stations and the like to stay on top of current bands and trends.

How did you get to your position?

As a teen, I was a member of an all-ages concert promotion collective, since there were few places for my friends and bands to play. We rented community halls that were legendary in their time, like the Calgary Multicultural Centre, but they're mostly condos or repurposed now. Following that, I had my first bar stint at Broken City in Calgary. I just couldn't believe that someone would actually pay me to do this. After that I was briefly with Mount Royal University's Liberty Lounge and then I received a call from the Palomino, saying they needed a booking agent, and that was that.

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It's funny, because I always thought I'd get out of university and get a "real" job. As it turns out, most of the real jobs I've had haven't held a candle to this one. Not to mention the good real jobs are tough to find out of university. No one realizes how lucky I've been more than me, which is why I've worked hard.

What's the best part of your job?

I get paid to live, breathe and dream live music. Due to our status as a destination for local, national and international bands, I get to experience new bands, or their new albums, on a regular basis, so it keeps things fresh. You make friends and connections from all over, and so you already have a built-in base when you travel out of town for a festival or conference like Canadian Music Week, SXSW, NXNW and the like. So, one of the best parts is you get to work with your friends all the time.

What's the worst part of your job?

You won't really have a weekend per se, unless you have a night off. But you have to remember, your job is better than most people's weekends anyway. You also have to endure turning down bands, politely, because you'll always have more bands than you have space for. Not everyone takes this career as seriously as they should, so there are always horror stories of bad promoters who didn't do any promos, made off with half the ticket money and the like, so you'll find some bands may lump you in with those types until you change their mind. Finally, because you're working with friends all the time, you may find your boundaries can get pushed, where in a more conventional environment, they wouldn't.

What are your strengths in this role?

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You need to be able to handle anything that can go wrong (van breakdowns, equipment malfunctions, a jaywalking ticket extending to a customs entrance interview, bands that don't check e-mail) in a calm, collected manner and be able to have the solution as quickly as possible. Being aware of what people are listening to beyond your own musical tastes is also a vital aspect. As good as your iPod playlist may be, you'll need to have people in seats for different reasons. Customer service plays a big role as you need to be able to make people feel comfortable and welcome regardless of how hip they are, or aren't. Your communication skills, both written and oral, need to be sharp so as to make everything concise and clear between yourself, the artists, their agents/management and the audience. Being diplomatic also comes in very, very handy.

What are your weaknesses?

My sense of humour can get me in trouble with people I don't know. So I need to remind myself to hold my tongue in certain situations.

What has been your best career move?

My best career move has been staying in Calgary. There's a real sense of vitality, creativity and opportunity here when it comes to arts and culture, as much as some people think that only extends to the Stampede. I honestly don't think I'd be able to do this in many places in Canada, let alone North America. It's been fantastic to be here to witness the city grow and mature artistically. Not to mention a ton of fun.

What has been your worst career move?

Being young and treating the job like a license to party. That and trying to please everyone all the time will lead to surefire failures.

What's your next big job goal?

Calgary's my home, so anything involved in keeping this city in its current cultural arc would be a requirement.

What's your best advice to others who might want to follow in your footsteps?

This isn't a standardized career/industry in the traditional sense. There's no specific degree that can teach you everything. If there's no one to train you, find peers and watch what they do. Even look at bad examples to see where they make their mistakes so you don't.

Don't focus on social aspects too much, even though your social life and career will become inexorably linked. You need to remember you have to please music lovers who may not be in your social circle and that's good, because you're running a business and a not a top-secret tree house.

Remember, you're not just building your room and your brand. You're building shows and events that will have a lasting effect on developing the community you're involved in.

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