Maya’s Young Person’s Guide To Running A College Concert Series
By day, I’m the guide intern for 2013 Fringe Festival, but in my leisure time I’m a student at Haverford College, a small liberal arts college just outside of Philadelphia with a strong Quaker heritage. Haverford affords its students amazing freedom to start up autonomous initiatives with classic acronyms—SECS (Special Events Committee for Students), SHAC (Student Health Advisory Committee), and my own, FUCS. FUCS stands for Federation United Concert Series and since its start in 2002, it’s Haverford’s concert planning organization. It’s been responsible for bringing acts like Gil Scott-Heron, Diplo, Animal Collective, Mykki Blanco, Vampire Weekend, and 100-plus bands no one has ever heard of (here’s a complete list of past shows).
Not everyone approves of our choices:
“I’ve never been to a show I’ve hated . . . ” – Overheard at Haverford
FUCS members are responsible for bringing diverse musical acts on the rise to our college community nearly every weekend of the school year. FUCS applicants are asked to list research and price about ten acts they would theoretically book. I was rejected initially as a naïve first year student who arrived at my interview clad in linty plaid green pajama pants at the egregious hour of 11am on a Sunday, surprised to find that the committee didn’t want some idiot who immediately confessed how “super duper unorganized” she was. I tried again the next year—a seasoned, cleanly sophomore and made the cut. None of us come from a long line of polished music agents, but anyone with ambition, dedication, and a little guidance can book great events. To assist budding event planners, FUCS presents a step-by-step guide on booking shows:
We book months in advance, usually during school breaks when we’re available for the longest blocks of time. We start out by researching acts within our price range and we can usually gage that by their Facebook or Last.fm stats. 8,000 to 9,000 likes on Facebook would probably mean a $1,000 show and 3,000 likes could translate to a $500 booking. On Last.fm, 40,000 listeners and 100,000 plays would be within our $1,000 range. The price of a performance could also be affected by how much press an artist has been getting from Pitchfork or Complex Magazine. Artists/agents could be willing to negotiate, but most likely we would risk going over budget.
Once we’ve found an act within range, we begin the offering process. Normally, artists/agents like to communicate over email, and it helps us to see all negotiating recorded in print. It has happened that an agency will try to charge a fee if we have to cancel a show, so print records can be crucial. I start by emailing something fairly simple, like this:
Hi [Artist or Agent]
I’m responsible for booking shows at Haverford College, a school about 20 minutes outside of Philly, and it would be great if [Artist/s] would come up to campus to perform this fall.
Let me know if you’re interested,
Within a couple of minutes to days, someone responds asking for an official price/ offer form. After a fair bit of bargaining and once the price is locked in, we look at the available dates. We are primarily a collaborative effort, so looking at the schedule assists in coordinating a full show with individual acts other FUCS members have booked. We suggest a handful of dates to the artist/agent, and once we’ve all agreed, it’s contract time.
Contracts should only be sent when we’re absolutely sure we’ve got an act down since we’re officially binding the college and ourselves to a performance. The college supplies us with the contract form and we fill out all the information such as venue, times for set and sound check, and the final performance fee exactly as we discussed in negotiations.
The next step involves another Haverford student organization called BLAST (Badass Light and Sound Team). We ask the artist/s for what technology they’ll need for the performance (tech riders) and forward that to BLAST so they can prepare and control the right tech specifications during the show. If you don’t have something like BLAST at your disposal, make sure you have the necessary equipment to accommodate the artists you book.
If there’s no space booked, there’s no show booked. We have to make sure we’ve actually reserved a space. We file a booking request with the college and hear back within the week whether or not there’s an opening where we’ve requested. There’s heavy competition to snag venues on the weekend, so we try to do this months in advance when we’re negotiating the acts.
Then we advertise. We post on student message boards, post on Tumblr, make a Facebook event bothering everyone in the Haverford community who has accepted us as a “friend,” and make posters. Often, we’re booking people who aren’t widely recognized, so we use eye catching images that will make students stop and say, “What the fuck is that? Oh, there’s a FUCS show.”
The final advertising effort comes the night of the show. Since most Haverford kids all eat in one dining hall, we set up a table in the lobby and literally yell information about the show the entirety of dinner. If you have a similar set up, this technique comes highly recommended.
Finally, THE DAY OF SHOW CHECKLIST:
- Contact info: One time, a drummer from New York forgot his drums. You should probably have all of the artist contact info in case a last minute snafu comes up and you need to birth a drum kit.
- Directions: For whatever reason, musicians are terrible at navigating college arboretums. If your venue is not The Verizon Center and is obscured by the slightest shrub, you’ll probably be giving directions.
- Food and drink: Musicians sound better if they are not dying of starvation. Make sure you’ve talked about hospitality with the act and they know if you can’t provide or that there will be food for them at the show.
- $$$: You have to pay the acts or they will get super angry!! Make sure you have complied with whatever payment method the artist wants by the time of the show!
- Stay calm: Do not have a melt down if the event is not packed at 10:01 for your 10:00 show. Concert attendees are very Ke$ha-esque; “The party don’t start till [they] walk in,” and they will be late. However, someone will show up. The most important thing is to be confident and enjoy the show you’ve curated.
YOU DID IT!!!!
The FUCS family