Concert Planners Face Range of Hurdles

When the Harvard Concert Commission (HCC) tried to bring rapper Snoop Dogg to last year’s Springfest, obstacles ranging from budgetary constraints to security concerns thwarted the efforts.

The Boston Police Department demanded that the University foot the bill for all artist security costs, and the HCC found that its budget could not handle the extra $15,000. Snoop Dogg, who had all but signed on the dotted line, had to be let go.

A tight budget is only one aspect of a three-fold problem confronting concert organizers at Harvard, according to HCC Director Jack P. McCambridge ’06.

Harvard also lacks an appropriate venue, McCambridge said, and has not conquered what he calls a problem with “campus attitude.”

In the past, McCambridge said, “People were reticent to go to [concerts], unnecessarily pessimistic, and critical of [organizers’] efforts.”

As the HCC works to attack the problem from all three angles and bring another high-profile musician to campus this fall, other schools on the eastern seaboard are using a variety of effective tactics—from termbill fees to corporate sponsorships—to make their concerts happen.

When Howie Day performs at the University of Pennsylvania’s (UPenn) fall concert this year, his tour’s corporate sponsor, Verizon Wireless, will save UPenn thousands of dollars and ease the logistical burden of putting on a large-scale concert, according to Sam Huntington, co-chair of the concert division of UPenn’s Social Planning and Events Commission.

“Verizon contacted us over the summer about doing a promotion,” said Huntington. “They provide all the production and a lot of the promotion, and we take care of hospitality and sell the tickets.”

“It’s a lot less time consuming because we don’t have to deal with the details—from porta-potties to stage production,” Huntington said.

According to The Daily Pennsylvanian, while last year’s Spring Fling concert, featuring Sonic Youth, drew no more than 300 audience members, students had already bought almost 800 tickets as of Sept. 28.

Though corporate sponsorship seems to have its benefits, McCambridge explained that Harvard opposes the idea of advocating corporate sponsors.

“The issue there is that if you bring in ‘Verizon Wireless Music Unleashed Presents Howie Day,’ you’re implicitly promoting the Verizon corporate label,” McCambridge said.

The University of Virginia (UVa) is dipping into its events budget of approximately $250,000 to bring singer-songwriter Jason Mraz to Charlottesville next Friday.

“The Mraz show has been great in terms of getting students excited and selling tickets,” said Amir E. Khoddami, the head of PK German, UVa’s student committee in charge of organizing large-scale concerts.

According to Khoddami, 1,800 tickets to the concert were purchased in the first 24 hours of the sale. Khoddami attributed the show’s popularity in part to a special student-only pre-sale and to a special promotion in which the first 500 students to buy tickets were entered to win a chance to meet Mraz himself.

While UVA’s $14-per-semester termbill fee helped pay for the Mraz concert, at Harvard, $5 of the UC’s $60 termbill fee is devoted to concert production. Combined with a much smaller student body than UVa’s, this amounts to a far smaller student contribution to the budget for concerts.

Kicking off the semester, Princeton’s Quadrangle Club—one of the school’s twelve eating clubs, or co-ed social groups—put on a concert featuring Jurassic 5.

While the eating club received financial and logistical support from the student government for the show, much of the approximately $50,000 production, including an artist fee of $37,000 was funded by the club itself, according to Jamal M. Motlagh, President of Quadrangle Club.

To get further funding, Quadrangle Club made the concert alcohol-free in exchange for financial support from Princeton’s Alcohol Initiative (AI), said Motalgh.

Harvard’s final clubs, not officially recognized by Harvard, are in a different position.

As McCambridge explained, “There is no way [Harvard] would let final clubs throw concerts on [University] property,” McCambridge said.

As Harvard’s fall concert approaches, the HCC will be using some similar techniques to try to ensure that the upcoming show is a success.

McCambridge said the HCC has taken steps to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

“We’ve spent more time, further in advance, clearing artists with various police departments.”