Last week, the newly created Spring Fling talent search committee held its inaugural meeting. As a former two-term representative of the Yale Student Activities Committee (YSAC), the committee ultimately responsible for Spring Fling, I am all too familiar with the lengthy and stressful talent selection process. With this year’s process still in the early stage, I would like to discuss the process so as to inform others, caution the new committee and encourage reform.
Starting in 2005, with the introduction of the Student Activities Fee, the budget for Spring Fling has been approximately $50,000 larger than it was the year before the fee’s introduction (it now costs about $140,000 total). The additional charge and the event’s larger budget were meant to allow the committee to choose from a wider range of talent, thus improving the concert. In the past three years, the results, however, have failed to live up to many people’s expectations.
While it is reasonable to blame only the representatives and the Yale College Council Executive Board, almost all of the students involved did try earnestly to achieve the goal of a successful Spring Fling. Unfortunately, a successful Spring Fling that satisfies much of the student body is highly sought-after but nearly impossible to realize.
Every year, before any substantive discussion of talent selection can begin, the committee must first send out its annual Spring Fling survey, the committee’s only objective tool for understanding the heterogeneous music genre preferences of Yale students. It is especially important in gauging students’ opinions of specific artists. Despite the survey’s importance, survey design and data analysis often proves to be a major hurdle for most of the committee.
Despite their many failings, past surveys have been moderately successful in characterizing the student body’s genre preferences for Spring Fling. According to the surveys, students favor classic rock, ’90s rock, alternative rock, indie rock, hip-hop and rap relatively equally. But it is usually not possible to have more than three acts at Spring Fling, thus ensuring the dissatisfaction of a significant fraction of the student body. The only “metric” of success is what committee members hear from friends. For an event that costs $140,000, a lack of post-event evaluation is unacceptable. In addition to keeping track of attendance figures, I propose a simple, one-question survey directed to those who attend: “The cost of Spring Fling for each person in attendance was $31 (in the example; for 2008, a reasonable, likely conservative, estimate is $60). Had you had to purchase a ticket in that amount to attend Spring Fling, would you have attended?” I believe the answer to that question would be a resounding “no.”
What can be done to make Spring Fling a success? While I would lament the passing of another Yale tradition, I argue Spring Fling, in its current form, cannot continue.
Unless it can sharply reduce production costs and find external funding sources to increase the talent budget, YSAC should, instead, hold concerts at various times during the year in indoor venues that have much lower production costs than Old Campus. By making events more manageable, YSAC could reduce costs further by holding events without the help of a production company.
By reducing costs and focusing on satisfying one segment of the student population at a time, YSAC can greatly increase overall student satisfaction. Without needing to commit $140,000 to a single event, YSAC would have greater flexibility in spending its budget to maximize benefits to students.
Michael Chao is a rising junior in Pierson College currently on a leave of absence.