This time, it was the baby goats that really sent them over the edge. For University Program Board’s (UPB) Center Stage Committee, 9pm Monday meetings always begin with icebreakers to get the creative juices flowing. And by “icebreakers” they mean 15 or so Vines that leave everyone breathless with laughter. But then it’s down to business as usual.
Voices lower, the door closes, and the shroud of secrecy descends as the discussion of highly classified material begins. The committee plots months in advance to execute their mission without a single leak before the big public reveal – sign the best possible musical artists for the spring concert at JMU’s Convocation Center.
“Everyone loves music and live shows so I don’t think anyone considers what we do “work” at all,” says Center Stage Committee Administrative Chair Joanna Rose, despite the man hours that go into making the show a reality. The junior hospitality management major also acknowledges that “the hardest part of booking concerts at JMU is realizing that we can’t please everyone … and satisfy 20,000+ different opinions.” But that doesn’t mean they don’t try.
Committee director Julia Pettis and her team conduct extensive research on genres and artists beginning in the prior semester, compiling their findings on one giant, color-coded spreadsheet. Each genre, hip-hop/rap, pop, alternative/ rock, country, and electric/ EDM, tops a list of roughly ten artists.
For every artist, the google doc includes their price or price range, their social media, YouTube, and SoundCloud following, clips of their music, and comprehensive observations about their momentum. This last category looks at recent successes, upticks in popularity, who the artist has collaborated with, if an album is in the works or was dropped recently, if songs are getting radio play or making it on the billboard charts, critical acclaim on artist watch lists and in articles, and much more.
By the beginning of December, they present potential options in the form of a survey to the JMU students.
“They may not realize it, but we take the survey results incredibly seriously,” says Pettis, who began to focus more on rap and hip-hop artists due to the genre’s overwhelming domination in the survey.
At this stage in the game, “once Center Stage picks our ‘wish list’ of artists, Julia [Pettis] sends that to our middle agent at Babco Entertainment and she contacts each artist’s booking agent or management team to finalize details and information needed to fill out our contract,” says Rose. After an official offer is extended, the artist’s team has a week to accept or reject the offer.
Unfortunately, it’s not all smooth sailing, though “we always try to cater to as many students as we can,” Pettis promises.
As the list and choices get narrowed down, Pettis and her team have other things to consider – the date for the concert, ticket prices, and the availability of both the convocation center and the potential opener and headliner. The spreadsheet must also be constantly updated, as several artists soar out of UPB’s price range by the time offers are extended, which happened with popular choices Chainsmokers and G-Eazy.
“If there’s budget or availability issue, then as a committee we re-evaluate our ‘wish list’ for the upcoming show, looking at the survey results of similar artists or introducing someone new to the mix,” says Pettis.
The committee also has to consider the cost of the potential opener or the possibility of a co-headliner and how well their music would pair with some of their top choices. A pricier headliner means there will be less money to spend on an artist to open the show.
The annual budget is dependent on the revenue made from the school year’s films, comedians, and concerts. The projected budget for each concert includes artist fees, middle agent fees, the cost for stage lighting and sound, and the cost to rent out the venue itself. If ticket sales from the spring concert don’t reach a certain percentage of the show’s cost to host, this impacts UPB’s ability to host programming for the rest of the semester.
In fact, UPB used to host two concerts at the Convocation Center per year, but had to drop to one per year in 2013 due to the exponential spike in artist prices.
In 2011, two concerts were projected to cost $108,000 but in 2012, the ballpark price climbed to $120,000. The decision to only host one artist in 2013 enabled UPB to bring Macklemore & Ryan Lewis to JMU, the total concert cost for which UPB approximated would be $96,500. For both Juicy J. featuring Sage the Gemini in 2014 and Big Sean in 2015, UPB’s projected budget was $80,000.
This year UPB estimated they would need around $85,000 in their budget for the spring concert, and the Center Stage Committee worked hard to make every dollar count in their choice for an artist. After months of hard work and exhaustive research, contract negotiations and bumps in the road, it all came down to an anonymous vote.
And this year, the artist for the spring convocation center concert is…