The Yale College Council and Yale Student Activities Committee will likely not rehire Pretty Polly Productions — the agency that for years has been hired to book professional acts — to put together this year’s Spring Fling show.
In a break with tradition intended to make the most of the event’s budget, members of the Spring Fling Selection Committee began approaching artists’ agents themselves last week and will meet late this week to finalize a short list of performers to pursue for the event. But if the students’ efforts to book artists independently fail or if Pretty Polly ends up offering the better deal even with a service charge, Yale College Council President Rich Tao ’10 said the group will consider using Pretty Polly’s services.
“Given the size of our budget, we have an obligation to be financially prudent,” Tao said. “It’s hard for me to justify seeking their services — services we have been imitating successfully without great burden.”
In addition to acting as a middle man between universities and artists’ primary agents, Pretty Polly Productions also books a set number of concerts with popular artists and then acts as those artists’ primary agent. If the selection committee decides on artists who use Pretty Polly as a primary agent, the committee would go through Pretty Polly — but without the middleman fees.
For instance, Yale Student Activities Committee Chair Colin Leatherbury ’09 said the committee is strongly considering approaching the indie rock band Gym Class Heroes, for whom Pretty Polly acts as a primary agent. If the students decide to book Gym Class Heroes, they will do so through Pretty Polly without being charged a booking fee and will not be required to use Pretty Polly to book the other acts or organize the logistics of the event, Chris Barber, a senior agent at Pretty Polly, said.
Other acts with Pretty Polly contracts under consideration include Jason Mraz and T-Pain, although Leatherbury said Mraz is already booked on the day of Spring Fling and that the committee is not interested in T-Pain.
In an interview Monday, Barber argued that his company has an advantage over students who approach agents and production companies.
“We buy millions of dollars of talent from every major agency every year,” he said. “We have better long-standing relationships so we’re going to get better pricing, better priority over other competing buyers on the same date.”
Tao has begun calling artists to assess whether he can talk them into lowering their standard fees to perform at Yale, pitching the University’s reputation as a big player in the arts as a way to get buzz for the artist.
“Of course a Yale student is going to be better at pitching Yale than an agent,” Tao said.
But Tao added that he is not categorically against using middle agents. If firing Pretty Polly leads to a bidding war with another middleman, he said, he would be open to hiring the company with the lowest fees.
Based on conversations with students at other schools that book artists themselves, notably at Northwestern and Brown universities, Tao said he thinks Yale will be able to use the Spring Fling budget more effectively to hire bigger names.
Diana Richter — this year’s “Dillo Day” planner at Northwestern, an event at the end of the academic year similar to Spring Fling — said she advised Tao about how to approach agents and what price to begin negotiating at based on the artist’s asking price.
“You get a lot better bang for your buck,” she said of working without middlemen. “And generally middle agents are a little out of touch with what students are interested in. They’ll propose ideas that aren’t necessarily popular on campus, so the best people to do the booking are students themselves.”
She added that a school’s leverage in bargaining lowers significantly as the event grows closer and pressure to book an act grows. Northwestern usually secures a headliner as early as January.
If the committee is successful in booking acts for Spring Fling without Pretty Polly’s aid, the students will encounter yet another difficulty: putting on a show.
Barber noted that beyond booking acts, Pretty Polly helps Yale negotiate legal contracts through Yale’s Office of the Vice President and General Counsel, as well as hire staging and lighting companies and arrange travel logistics. Barber touted Pretty Polly’s long-standing relationships with many of the companies that provide these services.
But Tao said without Pretty Polly, students will again approach these types of companies themselves. He has asked Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee Chair Bryan Twarek ’10 to work out logistics of putting on the show. YSAC plans to approach the Yale College Dean’s Office to consider sharing a rental stage with the Commencement ceremony or purchasing a sound system that can be used from year to year, Leatherbury said.
YSAC also has used Pretty Polly to book several of its Fall Shows, including 2008 show featuring Dat Phan and Corey Cahaney and the 2005 show with Horatio Sanz and Ed Helms. This year’s Spring Fling will take place on April 28.