MAB knows its situation

By Mark Hendrickx

Much incorrect information has been printed in the campus newspaper — namely the Chicago Weekly News — over the last several weeks in regards to the Major Activities Board’s (MAB) spending habits and why we do not release to the media the booking fees we pay to artists who perform at our shows. I am writing to clarify this for you, as well as perhaps give a little insider information on how the concert industry works.

The most important aspect to understand in dealing within the concert industry is that there is never a fixed “sticker price” on an artist; instead, the industry employs the basic economic practice of price discrimination. For instance, if a corporation wants to hire a major band to play a party for their senior executives, they will be quoted a much higher price than a college or a non-profit organization, or if someone wants a band to play on a Saturday night rather than a Monday or Tuesday night, the quote will most likely be higher. Conversely, if the act is already in the area, there is a possibility a great bargain can be scored. Finally, the popularity of an act often fluctuates extremely rapidly, so if a washed-up act suddenly becomes extremely popular again, they do not want their asking price from six months prior to be public information.

The CWN mistakenly reported last week that MAB does not release artist booking fee information because this confidentiality gives MAB the upper-hand in negotiations, but as you can see, it is actually the complete opposite case. After all, a basic ingredient in price discrimination is that we (the customers) can’t know what other customers are paying. With this in mind, the concert industry operates under a universal understanding that financial matters are to be treated in a confidential matter – between the artist and the concert promoter – many artists even make this an explicit clause within the contracts; in the cases where the clause isn’t spelled out, it is certainly implied. Further evidence of this culture within the industry can be found by reading any article related to a concert. The only financial figures that are ever released are the gross ticket sales. No article, not even articles in proprietary concert industry magazines such as Pollstar, will ever break down the gross figures. The CWN attempted to portray MAB as the only college programming board which keeps artist booking fees confidential, citing IIT as a local college that freely discloses these numbers. I attended IIT’s annual bash this year, and while it was enjoyable, their entertainment consisted of a few DJ’s and a local cover band. I trust you understand the distinction between publishing the fee paid to a local rock cover band and publishing the fee paid to Eminem or Ani Difranco. After all, the local cover band is just happy to get any publicity that comes it way

While MAB may not be able to be sued in all cases for publicly disclosing this financial information, we would without question be blackballed, and this industry is much smaller than one may think. In the CWN’s editorial last week, they ignorantly claimed that “Public disclosure of MAB’s spending plans might scare away a booking agent or two, but there are hundreds more waiting to replace them.” The truth is that there are only four major talent booking agencies in the country, and these are the ones most of the artists choose to work with, since the smaller booking agencies do not wield as much clout. Moreover, an artist only works with one booking agent at a time, so if you want to book a certain artist, you must go through that agent, so if one had negative dealings with the agent in the past, which publishing artist financial information would lead to, there would be no hope of ever working with that agent again.

In summary, it is critical that MAB continue to keep confidential the booking fee we pay to the artists we bring to campus for your enjoyment. We take very seriously the responsibility — and the amount of money — we are entrusted with each year, yet at the same time we value the respect we have earned within the concert industry, as evidenced by booking major acts such as Eminem, Mos Def, and Ani Difranco, and we look forward to bringing you more great acts next year.