Lehigh students crowd ArtsQuest as Brillz performs on Thursday evening. The event was free for all Lehigh students, and took place at ArtsQuest, a first for Lehigh's spring concerts. (Chris Barry/B&W photo)

University Productions works to book popular performers

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Brillz performs at Quest on Thursday,  April 24, 2014.  Last year's spring concert was the first to take place at ArtsQuest.  (Chris Barry/B&W photo)

Brillz performs at Quest on Thursday, April 24, 2014. Last year’s spring concert was the first to take place at ArtsQuest. (Chris Barry/B&W photo)

University Productions, a student-run club dedicated to bringing different forms of entertainment to campus, recently went through the process of booking Big Sean for this year’s spring QUEST concert series, which will be held on April 24 at ArtsQuest.

In order to get artists like Big Sean to perform at Lehigh, University Productions starts planning around November or December for the spring concert and late April to early May for the fall concert.

Matt Kitchie, an assistant director of Student Activities and a University Productions co-adviser, said while nothing is finalized yet, University Productions is planning to have the fall concert relate to Lehigh’s 150th anniversary, which is happening in 2016.

The process of planning a concert starts with creating a short list of artists. An outside agent contracted by the university provides University Productions with a list of artists in Lehigh’s price range in a variety of different genres. From there, University Productions breaks into committees and narrows down possible artists based on what they think the student body would like the most.

“We really do encourage the students to make sure they’re looking at different options and not just focusing on their particular preferences,” said Andrea Barker, an assistant director of Student Activities and a University Productions co-adviser. “Especially when it comes to music, but also with comedians. It’s the same kind of process.”

In the past, University Productions considered bringing artists of a variety of genres to perform at Lehigh. It also receives data from first-year roommate surveys about what genres of music the incoming class likes. They use this to determine the overall campus music preferences.

Barker said the University Productions staff advisers do a brief screening process to see if any of the artists may be too vulgar. However, other than that, the selection process is completely student-run.

“UP isn’t very publicly known,” said Jonathan Densa, ’16, the president of University Productions. “Most people think ‘Hey, Lehigh got Big Sean.’ But it’s actually students who are taking charge and taking on this responsibility of bringing artists on campus to perform for students.”

Barker said after an artist is decided upon, an outside agent runs negotiations between the university and the artist. Lehigh will usually submit a low offer, which the artist can counteroffer until a final price is selected and a contract is signed.

Occasionally Lehigh can use block booking, which means scheduling an artist that is already on tour in the area to play on a night where they have nothing else planned. This usually leads to lower prices for the university.

“I think my all-time favorite was (comedian) Daniel Tosh,” Kitchie said. “He came to perform at Lehigh. His going price at the time was $30,000, and University Productions got him for $10,000 because it just worked with the routing.”

Densa said the recent decision to have students pay $20 for tickets, rather than having free tickets like for past concerts, was made so that University Productions could afford to bring in bigger artists.

“We thought that a $20 ticket for Big Sean was a very good price considering his costs mainly for tickets outside of Lehigh,” Densa said. “A public concert would be anywhere from $60.”

Kitchie said ticket sales were capped at 1,000 in order to comply with ArtsQuest’s fire safety code, which limits venue capacity to 1,000.

The 1,000 tickets for the Big Sean concert have already sold out.

Densa added that although ArtsQuest’s capacity is limited, it is more cost efficient than having the concert in an on-campus facility, which ultimately allows University Productions to get better artists.

When negotiating with an artist, a section of the contract called a rider allows artists to make special requests about their accommodations. Barker said some artists make interesting requests.

“Probably my favorite part of the whole process, once we decide on an artist, is getting their rider and what ridiculous things they want,” Barker said.

According to Kitchie, some artists can also be fairly stubborn.

“One time, Ben Folds was difficult to work with,” Kitchie said, “We had to get a piano for him and the piano had to be tuned properly. This was being done outside on a kind of rainy spring day. The heat was kind of fluctuating and it was causing problems for the piano to be tuned.”

Most students have reacted positively to Big Sean being selected as the headliner.

“Big Sean I’m pretty excited about,” Bob Storer, ’16, said, “(I) love him as an artist, but I know he’s so popular and is gonna put on such a good show that it’s going to be really, really fun.”

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