Letter to the Editor: Concerts committee in need of better understanding

As a committee operating under USC Program Board, Concerts Committee was created to serve the programming needs of the undergraduate student body. Concerts Committee firmly believes in access to live music being a programming need of undergraduate students, which is why we work so hard to bring students the best live music we possibly can. USC explains that the programming fee, which funds Concerts Committee, “allows Program Board to plan multiple social, political, and educational events for the USC community.” For the $60 students pay each semester in their tuition and fees, funding is split between the Executive Cabinet, Senate and Program Board. Program Board is given the responsibility for planning programming to benefit those same students — that includes programming and events by various committees and assemblies. To clarify, each student’s $60 is split between each of the three branches and then further divided among the Program Board committees and assemblies, leaving only a limited amount for each to work with. The task is daunting; by paying this fee, USC students have the completely warranted expectation that their programming fees will be spent to benefit them and their peers.

And so each year, Concerts Committee resolves to do the nearly impossible: to book the best talent for the best price to satisfy the music tastes of each and every USC student.

The annual budget of Concerts Committee is not used only on talent costs, however. Most USC students do not know that it costs $42.90 to turn off sprinklers in McCarthy Quad and $66 to turn Doheny Fountain on and off. Sunk costs like these FMS fees, artist riders and CSC hourly rates are also derived from this same annual budget, consequently leaving fewer and fewer dollars remaining to book artists. And when it comes to booking other acts, we run into issues like radius clauses. These clauses prevent artists from playing shows for a certain amount of time before and after an existing festival performance and within a specified physical radius from the venue. The logic behind this stems from wanting to prevent the cannibalism of an artist’s audience.

But when Concerts Committee actually begins to seek artists for shows, we consistently run into various roadblocks from outside the University’s purview. For transparency’s sake, our booking process is roughly the following: 1) Concerts Committee’s executive board and general committee compile a master list of artists; 2) we cross-reference those artists and eliminate impossibilities (derived from touring conflicts, radius clauses, etc.); 3) booking agents are contacted, and Concerts Committee receives artist quotes; 4) we consult our annual budget to determine feasibility; 5) we confirm that these artists align with our constituency’s wants and values; 6) we submit artist proposals to the University’s administration; 7) upon approval, we submit a formal, time-sensitive offer letter to the artist and wait for a response and 8) we negotiate back and forth with the artist and management. If at any point in these 8 steps we encounter disapproval of terms or a legal impasse, Concerts Committee goes back to square one.

One of the most common issues Concerts Committee faces in securing talent is artist quotes surging to unaffordable heights. In October 2013, Dan Morgan-Russell for the Daily Trojan reported that USC’s student government had “a budget of almost $1.89 million. Berkeley has a budget of $1.64 million, Stanford a budget of $3 million, and UCLA a budget of $5.54 million. The Pac-12 average is $2.03 million.” Artists and their management make the assumption that USC’s budget for artists is astronomically higher than it actually is. Because of this delusion, we often receive quotes that are two or three times higher than quotes for other schools.

This all leads to the question of what the undergraduate student body can do to help. It’s simple: get involved in USG and support the motions for nominal increases in the programming fee that appropriately adjust for inflation.

Despite all the hurdles in our way, Concerts Committee is steadfastly committed to bringing only the best live music to USC, and we’ll see you on April 4 for Springfest!

Judah Joseph 

Public Relations Director of Concerts Committee