Earlier this month, Billboard announced the five nominees for the second annual Chip Hooper Award, honoring the memory of the beloved talent agent who helped build Paradigm's music department and served as a mentor to countless young executives in the music industry.
The 2019 nominees represent a broad cross-section of the music industry, including Paradigm talent agent Sara Bollwinkel, who worked with Hooper shortly after joining the Monterey office in 2007. Three years ago, Bollwinkel signed Billie Eilish as a client to Paradigm with help from senior executive Tom Windish, working closely with Eilish and helping her develop into one of the biggest artists in the world. Earlier this month, reps for Eilish announced that the "Bad Guy" singer had completely sold out her 2020 arena tour.
Bollwinkel grew up in a musical family in Central California — her father is a pianist and her mother played guitar. During the holidays, they sang five-part harmonies around the piano, followed by solo a capella performance in the bathroom, she tells Billboard. "This was a way of life, and no matter what I decided to do, I needed music to be accessible."
Bollwinkel caught up with Billboard in advance of the Nov. 5 awards to talk about her journey into music business and answer five questions about her 1963 Chevy Nova convertible, her custom cocktail inpired by Ricki Lake and what it's like to help set the course for one of music's most talented artists.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like?
I grew up in a small, agriculture, livestock-heavy village in central California known as Visalia. There was a church on every corner and only three highly competitive public high schools. Growing up there, we rode our bikes in the streets and played outside until the street lamps turned on. When Mighty Ducks came out, street hockey became very popular; we couldn’t afford hockey sticks until Christmas, so we made do with 2x4s. My dad was a school teacher (still is) and my mom worked for the county. As teenagers, my brother and I always worked in the same establishments, so we could hang out together as often as possible. In the summer we floated down the St. Johns River, cliff jumped at the Kaweah River and hung out in the Jack in the Box parking lot with whichever friend had a car that weekend.
What song most impacted you as an adolescent?
"Paranoid Android" by Radiohead is the first song that comes to mind. It perfectly encapsulates the overall mood of being a young person in a small town daydreaming of leaving one day.
Who was your first mentor in the music business and what was one thing they taught you?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a number of great mentors, including Lynn Cingari and Corrie Christopher Martin. But my very first mentor was Chip Hooper. He taught me if the music was good and it spoke to me, not to worry about the money — just book the act. He also taught me you can be a nice person and a very good agent at the same time.
What's one goal you want to accomplish in the next five years?
I want to find the hidden gems of the agency who keep their heads down and maybe aren’t the loudest in the bunch — but work hard, have great ears and good instincts — and help build their confidence to succeed. I was definitely that kid in the office for many years, and I am thankful someone saw me as the hidden gem.
When you're not representing a superstar artist, what is your life like outside of work?
I am currently learning how to build a car engine, and my house looks like it’s owned by a 90-year-old woman with a lot of razzmatazz. I drive a black ‘63 Chevy Nova convertible that sets off car alarms in parking garages. I also have a Yale license plate frame, and I didn’t even have to go to school there — who is the genius now? I like inventing cocktails and naming them after '90s talk show hosts (you haven’t lived until I’ve made you a proper Ricki Lake).
The winner of the 2019 Chip Hooper award will be announced Nov. 5 in Los Angeles at the Billboard Live Music Awards. Click here to learn more and register today.