Concert prep a year-long process for programming board

by Lorraine Liu | 5/17/19 2:40am

Green Key weekend is a hectic time of year for members of the Programming Board. During the Friday of the Gold Coast Mainstage concert, if students are not drowned by the music and the crowd, one might catch a glimpse of PB members dashing down the Tuck Drive or hopping between Streeter Hall and Fahey Hall. Someone is always on-call that Friday, according to Programming Board executive director Carlos Tifa ’19.

“I’m planning on losing weight on Friday, because we’re going to run so much,” Tifa said.

The planning for Green Key spans all the way back to the fall term of 2018. According to concert director Monica Lee ’19, Programming Board leadership starts to consider artists for Green Key as they look at artists for Fallapalooza in September.

“We start a spreadsheet and put down a bunch of artists that we find interesting and fit within the price range [and] the music genre that we typically like to represent at Green Key,” Lee said. “We have columns that keep track of their availability and updated price quotes.”

During the early stages of coming up with potential artists, PB members listen to songs on Spotify and watch live performances to evaluate popularity and stage presentation. Lee added that sometimes artists produce popular songs on Spotify because they create good sound effects in studio, but their live performances are comparatively mediocre.

“We listen to live performances to get a sense of the energy that [artists] bring to the concerts because we don’t want people to fall asleep during the concerts,” Lee noted. “We want people to be up and energetic.”

Tifa, Lee and co-assistant concert director Max Fuster ’21 are three key figures involved in shaping the Green Key Mainstage concert. They provide the initial listing of artists and ultimately decide which artists to bring to Dartmouth. With such a small team of students planning a concert for the entire college, it seems inevitable that their personal music taste could affect the ultimate choice of lineups.

“People like to immediately assume that we go based on our own musical preferences,” Lee acknowledged.

However, according to Tifa the PB leadership worked to incorporate students’ voices in the process. Tifa that he was at first “very opinionated” on bringing Lizzo — a R&B, hip hop and hop singer — to campus despite the comparatively high budget of booking the artist. When PB leadership members proposed to invite Lizzo to campus and students barely knew the artist, Tifa and his team moved on to look at other potential artists.

“Sometimes, you have to put [the artists selection process] into the perspective of campus and think of what the campus wants,” Tifa said. “I’m not going to be the only one at Green Key dancing.”

According to Lee, after the PB leadership members identified the pool of potential artists, they held an open-campus Green Key meeting this past fall as “[a] space to crowdsource ideas” which provided the PB leadership with more potential headliners to look at.

The PB leadership also sent out a survey on the Green Key to campus to gather information on students’ preferred genres of music afterward, according to Tifa. Building on that survey, the PB leadership was able to “make conscious decisions based on what campus told [them].” Then in the spring, the PB leadership members organized another open-campus Green Key meeting. They presented a few selected artists to students and gauged their reactions, collecting feedback on the pairings of artists the dynamics of the concert.

According to Fuster, after the meetings the PB leadership team sent out offers to potential artists and negotiated prices with them once they knew of the artists’ price ranges, availability and popularity on campus. After reaching a mutual agreement, associate director of student involvement David Pack helped with signing the contracts, symbolizing the end of the artist selection process, he said. This year, the PB leadership team decided to invite rapper Waka Flocka Flame, DJ/Producer duo Two Friends and singer-songwriter MAX.

Fuster pointed out that the artists’ past conduct was an important criterion that the PB leadership members examined. Lee echoed Fuster’s opinion and emphasized that artists with criminal records for conduct such as domestic violence or sexual assault were not invited to Dartmouth, no matter how popular they were.

“Programming Board prides itself on the artists that we bring, and we would not want to associate ourselves with any problematic acts.” Lee added.

This year, the PB allocated $75,000 in total for booking the artists and putting on the production for the mainstage concert. This budget is a part of the overall funding that the PB receives from the Undergraduate Finance Committee, a campus organization that distributes the student activity fee collected from students’ termly billing to other student programs. According to Tifa, who is also involved in the Undergraduate Finance Committee, the source of funding for the concert is an important reason that it is free to students. 

“Everyone gets charged that activity fee, so that’s why we want to make sure that the concert appeals to everyone,” Tifa explained.

Tifa also said that from a practical perspective, charging for the Green Key mainstage concert would include additional logistical work. Due to the Gold Coast lawn’s outdoor location, it would be difficult for the PB to prevent freeriders from watching the concert.

“There is a potential logistical stuff that we have to do if we were to charge for the concert,” he said. “We wouldn’t have been able to put it on the Gold Coast lawn because we couldn’t stop someone from seeing the concert on Baker-Berry steps, even though they’re not in the vicinity of the concert.”

Lee added that charging students for Green Key mainstage concert would discourage certain students from coming to the event.

“I feel like as soon as we put a price tag on tickets, it just adds so many branches into the mix,” she said. “Ultimately, some students will be excluded.”

Co-assistant concert director Trevor Glasgow ‘20 shared the same view on pricing for another concert program during Green Key — the Green Key @ Collis concert series that features music “underrepresented in the Gold Coast lawn mainstage concert.” The committee for this concert series, comprised of 10 to 15 people on average, is not limited to people involved with the concert: it welcomes students on campus to contribute their opinions on the artists’ selection.

“There shouldn’t be a price barrier between someone seeing the artists they want and [reality].” Glasgow said. “You shouldn’t be able to be limited of what you can do at Dartmouth by your financial needs.”

In addition to rising production costs, inviting artists to the campus has also become increasingly expensive in recent years, according to Lee.

“It feels like the artists’ prices are just continuing to go up,” Lee said. “This year we were able to make things work. [But] the 75k, it is continuing to feel tight for us.”

Tifa noted that the implementation of the wristband system has been another underlying factor that increases the cost of putting on the Green Key Mainstage concert. Now in its second year of practice, the security measure was adopted to prevent local middle and high school students from attending the concert.

“We talked to the town because they have a lot of input on what we do at the concerts,” He said. “A lot of the security measures have [added] up the cost because the town wants to implement those security changes to make sure that the concert is a safe concert.”

While this year’s Gold Coast lawn mainstage concert will take place on Friday night, Green Key @ Collis will first kick off on Thursday and continues into Saturday, featuring WILD RIVERS, the Arcadian Wild, Cole Davidson, Andy Suzuki & the Method, student singer Caitlin Wanic ‘21, Animal Years, Handsome Ghost, PHONY PPL, and Elley Duhé. Collis, however, is not the only organization bringing concerts to Dartmouth. Some Greek Houses, including Gamma Delta Chi, Chi Gamma Epsilon and Kappa Delta Epsilon are hosting their own concerts, featuring Codeko, Avtsin James and Kream respectively.