The Concert Industry Consortium will include "The Lost Art of College Talent Buying" panel but the panel includes evidence the good ol’ days might be coming back.
The February 7th panel includes two agents from the majors – CAA’s Buster Phillips and William Morris Agency’s Abby Wells – who work directly with college talent buyers. That’s right: They work with the college students and not necessarily, as has been the case for the past 20 years, a regional, full-time promoter with big pockets that can bring a major act to campus.
That’s the kind of interaction that helped make yesterday’s college buyers today’s top agents and promoters. But does it indicate a shift in momentum? It’s a tough call.
"A lot of the colleges would love to get back to the art of buying talent," said Barbara Hubbard, who spent 20 years as the events director at New Mexico State University and whose nonprofit ACTS foundation raises scholarships for students who are interested in a career in the performing arts. For the most part, though, college programs still tend to work with the smaller, local artists.
"Ticket sellers as we all know are being, shall we say, purchased by the major companies such as Live Nation and AEG," Hubbard said. "Colleges can’t of course come up with the one-time buy, which certainly makes a difference if [AEG Live/Concerts West’s] John Meglen calls and buys 10 dates versus my one-off date at New Mexico State."
She hopes college talent buying will not become a lost art, because "that’s where we groom a lot of our young people that are going to enter this business."
Although some college students use a middle buyer like Live Nation to run the whole show, William Morris’ Wells said, in her experience, there’s always been a niche for buying direct.
It’s a different experience for each school, Wells said, because they each have different budgets. And each new school year brings a new director who thinks a different genre of music is the right one for the student body. She added that interacting with college students is roughly 10 percent of her full workload, which also includes booking festivals, PACs, theatres and casinos "but it’s important … to the artist and our company to have those college opportunities."
Although there are always new students and new bands to book, Marlene Hendrickson, who is the adviser for the University of Montana’s student entertainment program and a CIC panelist, said buying at the college hasn’t changed much over the years. The college has done everything from emerging comedians to The Rolling Stones.
"When The Rolling Stones or other big shows come through with a promoter attached to them, we will do all the production work and all the ground work and act as the local promoter for them, organizing all of their catering, hospitality and security and stage crews," Hendrickson said.
She added that the students also work on the budgets, sign contracts and assist in settlement.
"Everything – it’s all done in our office and every work order is all generated through us. Even ordering the ticketing."
"Sometimes we will buy a show honestly knowing that we will lose money because we are trying to fulfill a mission," Hendrickson said.
"If you have a more limited budget, you’re a lot smarter with what you buy," she added. "I do hear from other people and other schools that the student programming organizations that are led by students and that have a strong student involvement seem to be disappearing. And more and more I’m seeing smaller student organizations with bigger budgets using middle agents."
However, Hendrickson said she hopes the "pendulum is swinging back the other way."
"[Students] are going to be the first ones to hear about that artist. They have their finger to the pulse so to speak, long before mainstream does. It’s through college radio and the Internet and those other means that artists are emerging from," Hendrickson said.
"Really, who better to put in charge of buying music for college students than other college students?"