Have you ever wondered how we select artists for Art Attack? I sat down with Charles Boulton, our Concerts Director, as he broke down the process.
How far in advance do you start planning for Art Attack?
As far as budgeting and conceptual planning, I started May or June of last year. Once I have a better understanding of my budget (around October) I can start researching artists, surveying campus, and bidding for my “reach” artists.
Walk us through your thought process for selecting Artists.
My goal is to use the money available to select artists that have a wide appeal across campus because after all, the show is paid for by student fees. Also, the artists should fit a vision for the show, whether it be a huge headliner and small opener, two strong co-headliners, or a festival-style lineup with a bunch of names. The vision may change based on my budget, artists availability and other factors.
How do you select which genre to go for?
By polling the student body at the beginning of the year to see what UMD wants.
What do you consider when bidding out to artists?
I first make sure I can secure the artist and still have proper funds for tech, venue, security, openers and all other costs that go into the show. It’s important to start low and know where your cap is for that artist’s value. There’s a monetary point where you can compare artist quotes and know that continuing to pursue a current artist isn’t worth the cost anymore.
What are some reasons why artists fall through?
College shows typically pay up-front. Artists don’t want to be paid a percent of the ticket revenue from universities because it’s more risky for them, although they do get paid by ticket sales on tours. Many artists are also wary of taking away ticket sales from future shows in the area, especially in DC, so they require a bigger up-front fee from us that we can’t afford.
Artists are busy people, so most of the time an artist doesn’t work out because they’re simply unavailable. They could be on tour or out of the area. Also, there are radius clauses, meaning we can’t bring an artist that is performing in the general area within a month of our show (Broccoli City Festival’s timing and location is always making things difficult for us).
What is the bidding out process like?
It’s fun, but sometimes it sucks. Planning my smaller fall shows went really smoothly and I typically got my way at lower prices. Things get more complicated with the bigger artists we pursue for Art Attack. They get a lot of offers we have to compete with, and again, they are worried about taking sales revenue away from future shows in our area. It’s a lot of calculated guesswork on both sides. I’m trying to figure out the minimum it will take them to accept and they’re trying to figure out how much money I really am capable of spending on them.
Are you the only one who makes the decisions?
No. I have to get my concert budgeting and every artist approved by the SEE executive board. I’m pretty open about my process with the board so names aren’t a surprise when proposed.
What is The Cone of Silence?
Cone of Silence means that members of the board can’t talk about the artists we are working on, or who we are bringing before we announce the event.
Why do we have to abide by The Cone of Silence?
We get verbal confirmation before we get signed, negotiated contracts with all the small details agreed upon. That means we can start planning the show and promo for that artist, but that artist can still pull out until contracts are signed. When word gets out that that artist is coming, but that artist can still cancel risk-free, that can ruin things pretty badly. Also, there’s a lot of planning around the promo release and it’s a calculated affair, so rumors and leaks can ruin our promotions timeline.
Besides selecting the artist, what else do you have to consider?
Before even considering which artists I want to bring, I have to figure out the venue and the possible dates. I have to budget for security, police, hospitality, transportation, and for how much money will go into sound, lights, video etc. There’s a large amount of money that goes into this event and a surprisingly large amount goes towards costs totally unrelated to the artist.
As you can see, a lot of planning goes into making Art Attack possible every year. SEE’s primary goal is to program shows the UMD community will enjoy. Although selecting a few artists that everyone loves is impossible, there is a very specific and methodical process that the Concerts Director follows to make for the best show possible. For more information regarding Art Attack, visit the Art Attack webpage or our facebook page.