On Thursday, Concert Committee Members Sky Stallbaumver ’12 and Mickey Capper ’13 led an open forum for students to discuss the process of booking concerts on campus. Debate about the booking process heated up last week, after accusations that Concert Committee funding for Tuesday’s Matisyahu Concert was not allotted in accordance with committee protocol.
“People’s frustrations throughout the year have been simmering,” Capper said. “Especially people who [proposed] relatively inexpensive shows compared with the Matisyahu concert [and were] shot down, felt that the system was unfair because they see tens of thousands of dollars spent on this really big show and they individually were trying to put together shows for only a few thousand dollars.”
The Concert Committee is responsible for allocating a set portion of the Student Activities Fee annually to student groups for booking concerts on campus. They were allotted $84,000 for the 2010-2011 year. According to Capper, students who wish to book shows contact bands for price estimates and bring their proposals to the committee’s weekly meeting. At the meeting, committee members determine whether or not to grant funding and provide assistance with organizing the show. Approval for funding requires a majority vote from the five-member committee, Stallbaumer said.
According to Capper and Stallbaumer, the Concert Committee’s $7500 contribution to the Matisyahu show was never voted on by the committee. Capper said that the show, which cost approximately $55,000 and was spearheaded by an anonymous student group called WesUnity, used Concert Committee Chair Donovan Arthen ’11 as their contact.
According to Capper, the identity of the members of WesUnity was not revealed to the Concert Committee. The all-campus announcing the Matisyahu show was sent out under a WSA email address listed under the name “Douglas Cannon.” WesUnity was also responsible for booking the 2008 Girl Talk concert said Stallbaumer.
“[WesUnity] asked Donovan to take the public hand in organizing it,” Capper said. “Throughout last semester, he mentioned a big show that they were working on. It was always sort of in passing, and never as an official vote, and then the money was just transferred over so they could plan the show.”
According to Stallbaumer, Arthen did not alert the other committee members about the show until contract negotiations were already underway.
“This show was not mentioned once to us until it was too late to say yes or no,” he said.
Arthen did not respond to requests for comment.
While the committee bylaws stipulate the chair and members “vote on requests made to the committee for concerts to be held on campus,” they do not specify grounds for the approval or denial of funding for any given show.
Capper said that the organizers of the show, some of whom were “higher up than the committee,” and were involved with WSA in other capacities, did not technically need to present it to the Concert Committee according to the by-laws.
“Basically, they presented it to the SBC and sort of assumed that it would be okay with the Concert Committee, which is where the controversy originated,” Capper said.
According to the SBC, in addition to the $7,500 that was provided by the Concert Committee, $30,000 was provided from the Campus Initiatives Fund (CIF), and $12,500 was provided from the SBC directly. The CIF was established in 2010 with the $50,000 Student Activity Fee surplus from the previous year, and is managed by WSA President Micah Feiring ’11, Vice-President Ben Firke ’12, Treasurer and Student Budget Committee Chair Andrew Huyhn ’11, and Finance and Facilities Committee Chair Zachary Malter ’13.
According to Huynh, in order to obtain funding from the CIF, groups must submit a written proposal that provides a breakdown of costs, the purpose of the event, and a justification of the expenses. $4,500 of the committee’s initial $50,000 currently remains.
“The CIF acted like the SBC in that it vetted the proposal, spoke with the event organizers, and kept an eye on the nature of the request throughout its planning phases,” Huynh wrote in an email to The Argus. “The goal of the CIF is to either fund long-lasting capital purchases or wide-reaching, on-campus events for this academic year. This [Matisyahu] event was a clear example of the latter, and we were proud to contribute to it.”
The remainder of costs were subsidized by ticket sales. Tickets cost $10 each and sold out the first day of going on sale.
The Concert Committee was founded two years ago and took over responsibility for allocating funds for shows from the Student Budget Committee (SBC), though the SBC still maintains veto power on all decisions. Director of Student Activities and Leadership Development (SALD) Tim Shiner, who is responsible for overseeing event logistics and negotiating contracts, said that he thinks the structure of the current process is largely effective.
“The process, on paper, is good,” he said. “I don’t think there are any major issues with how it is supposed to work. The biggest issues are that the way that the music scene on campus is, is that many people book artists very last minute and so we’re scrambling a lot of times to get their contracts done.”
Huynh said that he sees the creation of the Concert Committee as an improvement over the previous system, in which the SBC allocated concert funds.
“The Concert Committee has been invaluable overall for booking shows,” he wrote. “Because of its specialization, they are able to assign experienced people to those booking shows to help them through the funding and organization process.”
However, he added that, since the committee is so new, there is still some room for improvement in its bylaws.
“I do think that they deserve a modified set of funding guidelines to be drawn up, different from those of the SBC’s,” he wrote. “I’d say that is the primary area that deserves attention, because of the special needs that concerts have compared to most regular groups.”
According to Shiner, most universities do not permit students to participate in the booking process to the extent that they are able to at Wesleyan.
“On any other campus, my corollary position would make those decisions and decide who is coming, so it’s pretty awesome that students have that autonomy and that power,” he said. “The other side of it though is that students don’t always have the experience, not just in booking people, but in making difficult decisions, so sometimes decisions are made that people aren’t happy about.”
Capper said that one of the primary goals for Thursday’s forum was to educate students on the booking procedure. He said he hopes to see a required educational forum at the beginning of each semester for students who plan on booking shows and added that former Concert Committee member Will Schargis ’12 proposed the idea of weekly Concert Committee “office hours” to guide students through the process.
“Booking agents can be really vicious,” Capper said. “Most people who deal with booking agents are professional bookers for venues. That’s their job. When you’re pitting them against students who are working on papers and trying to respond to emails in their spare time—it’s different.”
According to Stallbaumer, while concert booking is not a difficult process, certain knowledge is necessary to navigate the system.
“The problem this year is that people who are incredibly proficient at dealing with school bureaucracy are the only ones who are putting shows through,” he said. “Other people who want to be putting shows through are getting derailed by the intricacies of that same system.”
Stallbaumer said he hopes to address the fact that Concert Committee meetings take place on Sundays, which often proves problematic when communicating with booking agents who work during the week.
“Most shows are proposed and booked within the same week,” he said. “Negotiations don’t usually take this long. We have to stretch them out over the course of a week at least. If you can’t communicate with bands effectively and quickly, you’re going to lose those shows.”
Social Committee member Zain Alam ’13 criticized the fact that the Concert Committee does not meet during the first few weeks of each semester, a time that many artists’ schedules begin to fill up.
“There were some definite cases where shows fell through because we were waiting for the concert committee to meet,” Alam said. “The SBC meets then, and if the SBC is the umbrella organization for the Concert Committee, then why is the Concert Committee not meeting every week as well?”
Students at the meeting also discussed the possibility of instituting a mechanism that would allow students to book concerts over the summer. Concert Committee members also expressed support for an amendment to the bylaws that would require an official vote by Concert Committee members to approve every show.
Capper said that he hopes to focus the discussion on the booking process, rather than a heated and personalized debate.
“I’m just glad that the general tone of the discussion has shifted from personal indignation at people who are just trying to do what they think is right for the school, to thoughtful consideration for the system that will probably be more effective in preventing serious controversy in the future,” he said.