This past year has been especially exciting for the Davis music scene with prominent artists like Ke$ha, LMFAO, Cake, Drake, Bon Iver, The Shins and Steve Aoki gracing the stage and wowing the crowds at UC Davis venues.
Getting these artists to perform on campus is no small deal, however. From poster printing to the final act, the entire process involves serious finances.
The Entertainment Council, ASUCD’s student-run programming board, is responsible for bringing these big name acts to campus and is currently in the business of making sure students can foot the bill.
Several months before the actual performance, Entertainment Council undergoes extensive research to ensure that large performances would be good investments that would be financially feasible to the students.
“Checking out artist’s fan pages is actually a really great way to get an idea of how big the artist is because it says how many fans, or ‘likes,’ they have,” said Henry Chatfield, senior psychology major and director of Entertainment Council. “So Radiohead has almost 8 million likes so we probably won’t be able to afford them on our own, but Portugal The Man has 160,000 likes — that’s more doable.”
In order to move forward with a proposal for a large show, the ASUCD president, the Business and Finance Chair and the Controller must give a unanimous approval for the endeavor. Their main concern is whether a large show would be financially advantageous to justify access to Entertainment Council’s $100,000 large-show reserve.
For any show requiring access to the reserves, Entertainment Council must prove that it can break even after selling 75 percent of the tickets. A vast majority of shows do meet this threshold, so it means that even a show generating only a small profit, like Steve Aoki, is considered a huge success.
“Even though $60 doesn’t seem like much, it was a win-win situation for both the promoters and the students,” said senior Chinese and economics double major and Entertainment Council Financial Coordinator Leticia Cheng.
When shows do generate profit, the money is deposited back into the reserves and rolls over to the next academic year to be used for future concerts.
Entertainment Council would not share specific costs and profits for past shows.
According to Tim Chin, senior technocultural studies major and assistant director of Entertainment Council, Entertainment Council also pays to drive down ticket prices for students. Entertainment Council paid $1,250 for The Shins show in April to reduce student ticket prices from $40 to $30.
“I don’t want students to say that they couldn’t have a great time because they didn’t have $35,” Chin said.
At $160,000, Entertainment Council has the third-largest operating budget of all of the subsidized ASUCD units, behind only the ASUCD Coffee House and Unitrans. This total is comprised of the $100,000 large show reserves and $60,000 for promotions and other activities.
According to the 2011-2012 ASUCD Budget Summary, Entertainment Council was subsidized by the student government with $67,148, an amount that has decreased by more than $20,000 since 2010.
“A large scale show can easily cost over $100,000, so as you can see our entire operating budget can’t even handle one show of this magnitude,” Chatfield said.
In order to navigate around these fiscal limitations, Entertainment Council has recently been negotiating with promoters rather than hosting its own shows, as it has traditionally done.
“[The promoters] handle a lot of the organizational aspects of the event like booking the artist, and Entertainment Council just handles promoting the event and connecting the students to it,” Chatfield said. “Given the constraints of the budget, I believe that working more with promoters is the best way to ensure that we can bring more large shows to UC Davis.”
According to Cheng, Entertainment Council spends only a few hundred dollars on promotional materials such as flyers and Facebook advertisements for shows that are fully hosted by promoters. For the Cake performance last October, Entertainment Council had little financial involvement and was only responsible for getting the word out to students.
The shift toward greater promotional activities, instead of organizing shows, represents a transition in the role of Entertainment Council.
“Entertainment Council is essentially a liaison between the students and the promoters,” Cheng said. “We hesitate to move into fully promotional activities because Entertainment Council is still able to put on great films and host smaller shows.”
Cheng is hoping to see shows fully backed by Entertainment Council despite further ASUCD budget cuts and high prices for top artists.
“I’d like to see Entertainment Council go back to our roots of putting on our own shows,” she said. “Promoter shows are cheaper, but we want to be able to say that we, the students, organized this event and brought great entertainment to the community.”
While Entertainment Council-promoted shows can turn a profit, Chatfield does not want Entertainment Council to focus solely on making money.
“I think large-scale concerts are a very memorable experience that UC Davis students will remember when they get older and will reflect on when thinking of their time in college,” Chatfield said. “I want to help create that and bring the most relevant and memorable shows possible to UC Davis.”
JUSTIN ABRAHAM can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.