The ins and outs of AB Concerts

AB Concerts co-chairs Brian Belardi and Eileen Angulo have plenty of reasons to be angry. Dealing with recent budget cuts resulting in a loss of about $10,000, not to mention continued pressure from students and the community to put on a enjoyable and flawless production, Belardi, a junior chemistry major, and Angulo, a junior psychology major, have had to grind extra hard to make this year’s Carnival concert come together. Having selected Spoon, Oakley Hall, and Weird Paul, the two hope to balance the wants of the Carnegie Mellon student body and their responsibility to Pittsburgh’s music scene — while still keeping the show free of charge. Read on to hear what Belardi and Angulo had to say about the logistics of making an AB Concert from start to finish, as well as the upcoming Carnival concert.

Tartan: Where and when do you start planning for an AB concert?

Angulo: We try to have a show booked 3 to 4 months before the actual date (this year’s show, for instance, was booked at the end of December). However, logistical issues like reserving venues for the show have to take place at least a year in advance — purely because it’s difficult to reserve space on campus.

Belardi: The first thing we do is get a group of students together who are committed to working at making a concert happen; then we start looking into the band itself, setting up the stage and other technical issues, doing publicity for the show, and getting all the appropriate contracts signed. It’s a lot of logistics that require months and months of work.

Tartan: Who decides what band to try to get?

B: In past years, it had just been the chairs of AB Concerts who had ultimate authority. This year, it’s been different; we got our committee to vote on who they think would be best for campus.

A: AB Concerts itself has a fairly large and eclectic committee — around 70 people from all years, all majors.

B: After consulting this committee, we also contact student organizations and see what they think of the bands the committee has voted for — we really try to make sure we’re booking bands that students like.

Tartan: Do you have industry contacts that help you book shows?

A: No, just a middle agent. Middle agents are the intermediaries between us, AB Concerts, and the band’s booking agent. They generally have enough power to get the foot in the door and make the initial contact, so that bands and booking agents will fairly negotiate with us.

B: These agents also assist us in determining who is available when, how much certain acts cost to bring to Carnegie Mellon, etc.

Tartan: Do you feel a responsibility to get a band that is appealing to a certain style or demographic?

A: Yes, AB Concerts has one of the largest budgets out of all student organizations; but with that comes the responsibility of having to satisfy as many members of the student body as possible. Even though Brian and I do have our own preferences, we still have to book, A) something musically accessible enough that people would want to go to and,
B) a solid live performer, regardless of whether they’ve heard of the artist before. At the end of the day, the goal we’d like to accomplish (and I feel we can achieve by year’s end) is finding acts that are college-appropriate.

Tartan: How about a responsibility to bring in acts that would be good for the city (not just the university)?

A: Yeah, for sure. It’s difficult to book a 2000-person show in Pittsburgh, which is the ideal AB Concerts crowd. This implies that the show should be a large enough draw for the community, not just Carnegie Mellon students.

B: We try to find bands that are bigger than a show you would see at Mr. Small’s or the Rex, but smaller than your Mellon Arena-sized audience. We think Spoon fits these criteria perfectly.

Tartan: How has AB’s budget cut affected AB Concerts’ booking of bands?

B: In the past, AB Concerts funded shows had typically been free to students. However, in the fall, we dedicated our efforts to appealing to a wide range of students, and subsequently brought Blackalicious, a hip-hop act and Andrew Bird, a rock/folk/orchestral act. Thus, this choice and the budget cut forced us to charge people for the fall concert. Right now, after paying for Spoon, an extremely expensive act, we’re about $6,000 in debt even after additional funding.

A: The budget cut definitely put a different spin as to how we interacted with the various levels of organizations this past spring. The early half of this semester was spent drafting budget proposals and appearing before funding bodies, in an attempt to scrape together enough money to cover production (which is money that ordinarily would have been there). We also had to look within Coffeehouse (an AB subcommittee) to help us fund openers for this spring.

Tartan: You mentioned that this fall was the first time you charged for tickets. Why do you try to keep the shows free?

A: AB Concerts does receive part of the student activities fee to present a show, so we have the philosophy of the free show. I like the idea of being able to give back to the students unconditionally, especially because several other events on campus go overboard with pricing tickets for other events.

B: We really don’t want to have to charge students unless it’s absolutely necessary. We might not be able to get U2, for instance, without charging, but student activities fees are already high. Ideally, we would like to make the most with the money allocated to us, instead of making students pay even more.

Tartan: Do you ever have bands turn you down? If so, why?

B: It really comes down to who is available on our allotted concert date, and how much money it costs to bring them to Pittsburgh. Even issues like whether or not they can physically make it to Carnegie Mellon can be a problem; Pittsburgh is an awful routing city, so bands will often go to Philly, D.C., and then skip directly to Cleveland, not leaving any room in their schedule to play a show here. In other words, there are an unfortunate number of factors that are beyond our control when we are trying to find acts.

Tartan: Some students complain that our bands aren’t big or cool enough, etc. What’s your response to criticism like that?

B: We put on two shows a year, so it’s really hard to get those big and expensive acts that everybody loves. Since we’re not charging for the concerts, we don’t make any money back, and our budget is pretty small to begin with. For the Carnival concert, we feel Spoon is something that everyone can get into — they’re pretty accessible rock music, with a blend of mainstream and indie. Oakley Hall, who are touring with Bright Eyes shortly after carnival, has a folk and country influence. Then you have Weird Paul who is kind of out there. We really tried to bring in a little bit of everything this semester to keep everybody happy.

Tartan: Eileen, you’ve now been AB Concerts chair for two years. What has changed since you started?

A: The attitude of the committee, which I attribute to Brian, has definitely progressed. So has the committee’s involvement with the process. Even though there are some things beyond the reach of our committee members, it is important that we follow up on what they offer, which hasn’t always been practiced in the past.