For years now, UCLA students have been complaining about their on-campus concerts.
After all, tuition is an arm and a leg, and a portion of student fees — totaling about $150,000 each year — go toward speaking events, film screenings, and shows.
So you'd think they'd be able to get some big names. And they have, from time to time, including Macklemore, LMFAO, and Kendrick Lamar. And they also get big names for concerts that are open to the public.
But, generally, the shows for students, which are put on by the student-run Campus Events Commission, tend to be underwhelming.
This past spring, for example, they hosted four free shows, which featured the bands Basecamp, RAC, and Goldroom, and rapper YG.
Critically-respected acts, to be sure, but none of them have broken out into the mainstream in a big way.
Keep in mind that, in the same spring term, UC Davis hosted Phoenix, The Postal Service, Vampire Weekend, Porter Robinson, Wolfgang Gartner, and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. These are main-stage-at-Coachella caliber acts.
In May, the small Pitzer College in Claremont celebrated its 50th anniversary to the tunes of Earth, Wind & Fire, while UCSD was having its annual Sun God festival featuring artists including Diplo, Young the Giant, Juicy J, and New Politics.
So what gives?
Jessica Kim, the former Campus Events Commission commissioner, blames it on a lack of big, viable performance spaces. “Our main venues are Kerckhoff Grand Salon, which has a capacity of about 100, and Ackerman Grand Ballroom, which can hold about 1500 students,” she says. Considering UCLA has 28,000 undergrads, that isn't going to cut it.
Sure, the larger Royce Hall and Pauley Pavilion are also options, but Royce rents for about $15,000 and Pauley for up to $80,000 or more, which starts to make bringing in big acts for a free show prohibitively expensive.
Of course, if you simply charged students a nominal entry fee — as is done at plenty of other schools — that could help defray the cost.
The problem with that, says Ken Heller, former Campus Events Commission faculty advisor, is that when an event is ticketed, artists charge more than for a free event. And because there's a higher incentive to sneak in, ticketed events also need extra security.
But these roadblocks don't stop for-profit promoters from hosting big shows in L.A., right? Unfortunately, L.A.'s status as a major market for big shows actually hurts the school.
What's known as a “60 day, 60 mile” clause is often included in artists’ contracts with venues, says Heller. The idea is that promoters want to make sure the artist doesn't play too close, too soon, so as not to draw business away from their event.
When the concert is only open to students, and free, the 60/60 rule generally doesn't apply. Unfortunately, for the reasons mentioned above, this limits the sizes of the shows.
It's a sort of catch-22.
There may be some changes in store, however. Because of a campus referendum passed last year mandating a $4 per year tuition fee increase per student, the school's fall concert, Bruin Bash, has more money to draw from.
This went into effect last fall, and the first show tapping this new funding source wasn't a smashing success — the headliner was Tyga. But we'll see what happens as the event gets increasingly well-organized.
For UCLA music fans, hope springs eternal.