Arts, Culture & Entertainment

What’s up with the Concerts Committee?

Amidst budget cuts and high post-pandemic production costs, the Concerts Committee, which hosts three student concerts a year, is “trying to get creative” to pull off their highly anticipated shows.

USC students celebrate the start of the 2022-2023 school year with concerts and activities across campus

With 3,800 students registered to attend the annual Welcome Back concert, headlined by producer and rapper Pi’erre Bourne, the concert stands out as one of the most anticipated events of the school year.

Behind it all is the Concerts Committee — an organization run entirely by students who have spent the entire summer planning for the event. Welcome Back is only the first of the concerts the Committee hosts; they also plan Conquest the week of the USC-UCLA football game and SpringFest in the spring semester.

In the past, the Concerts Committee has booked headliners such as Migos, Childish Gambino and Post Malone, all huge artists who have set a precedent for how great the concerts can be.

“We try to balance what artists we think are going to be big in the next few years. That way we can get artists where they’re small,” said senior Riley Wheaton, the co-director of the Concerts Committee.

The committee is “managing our own expectations” for who they can book, said Shea Hanke, the Concerts Committee co-director.

“As far as the booking process, a lot of it is super out of our control,” Wheaton said. The committee is not only confined by their budget, which is set by the Undergraduate Student Government and supplemented by sponsors, but by which artists are available to perform.

The Concerts Committee largely books through “college agents.” Sometimes the committee has a specific artist in mind, but otherwise the agent gives them a roster of artists available to colleges for them to choose from. The committee tries to put together a lineup with artists from a variety of genres to appeal to different students.

“It was kinda like putting together a puzzle,” Wheaton said.

With so many different artists and genres students are interested in, the committee feels the pressure to put on a good show.

“It’s really nerve wracking to be the one booking the acts. It’s super exciting, but there is always that worry of like, are people going to enjoy this and be super excited about it?” Hanke said.

Ultimately, who can perform comes down to what the committee can afford, Hanke said. Despite receiving the most money of any Recognized Student Organization and accounting for 22% of USG’s total budget, money is the committee’s biggest concern.

“There’s only so much [money] to go around and we want everyone to have the funds that they deserve to have. But it’s just like when you’re working with the limited amount, it’s like, what is that going to look like?” Wheaton said.

This summer, USG cut the Concerts Committee’s budget from $574,300 to $542,000, a 5.5% decrease. At a meeting to discuss USG’s 2023-24 budget, senator Brandon Tavakoli said the Concerts Committee’s budget is “unjustifiably high” despite the cuts.

Wheaton doesn’t blame USG for the budget decrease.

“The budget that they are giving from student programing fees that goes into like the USG pool, it’s quite honestly not USG’s fault. It’s not enough proportionally for how expensive things are now,” Wheaton said.

Wheaton said most of the money doesn’t go towards booking acts, but rather all of the other costs students may take for granted, like production, infrastructure and even the signage and fliers posted around campus. For the Welcome Back concert, only reserving McCarthy Quad is free. Everything else on site, even the porta potties and the fences that enclose the venue, is paid for by the Concerts Committee. Their USG budget is supplemented by sponsors, but the executive board says it’s not enough.

“Unfortunately, sometimes it’s just still hard to get a ton of extra supplemental funds,” Hanke said.

Putting on concerts post-COVID has become much more expensive, Wheaton said. Because the live music industry suffered so much during the pandemic, many workers moved onto different industries and physical equipment, like stages, were sold for liquidity. This shortage of labor and infrastructure is at odds with the now-high demand for concerts, leading to higher prices.

Despite concerns about money, the Concerts Committee is excited for the upcoming year, particularly their newly-created community outreach subcommittee.

Jordan Rosen, a sophomore studying public relations and music industry, was hired over the summer as the director of community outreach. Rosen’s hope is to “create new events on campus that can feature both music, since we’re the Concerts Committee, and nonprofit activism and engagement as well,” he said.

The subcommittee had been in the works since the fall of last year, Rosen said. He is currently in talks with nonprofits in the hopes that they can be featured at the Concerts Committee’s events to raise awareness for their causes. While the community outreach efforts will not be featured at Welcome Back, the Concerts Committee is hoping to roll them out during Conquest and Springfest.

“I think a big overarching goal that [we] have is to really reintroduce the ethos of the Concerts Committee to campus,” Hanke said.