The Student Union Programming Committee is responsible for bringing some of the biggest names in hip-hop, punk, jazz, and electronic music to Oberlin's campus.
While many students are currently taking a well-deserved break from most things Oberlin-related, members of the Student Union Programming Committee (SUPC) are getting no such reprieve. As the primary bookers of musical acts for the ’Sco, summer is a crucial time for contacting agents and booking artists for the upcoming year. It’s hard work, but for these students, it’s more than worth it—even if the job sometimes involves answering endless email chains, or fulfilling bizarre requests from artists such as building a shrine to Mariah Carey in the green room.
Though SUPC may not be a particularly well-known organization on campus (“We kind of sit in the shadows,” says Joe Greenberg ’17), it is vital to the music scene at Oberlin. It’s largely thanks to the organization’s efforts that the ’Sco has gained a reputation for hosting talented, exciting artists just as their careers are taking off.
Here’s just a sampling: rapper Kendrick Lamar performed at the ’Sco n 2011, about a year before his Grammy-nominated debut album good kid, m.A.A.D city (2012) was released. Chance the Rapper stopped by in 2013, just months after the release of his Acid Rap mixtape and his first performance at Lollapalooza. SZA, an alt-R&B and neo-jazz singer, sold out her performance at the ’Sco in 2014; her highly-anticipated debut album CTRL dropped last week to universal critical acclaim.
The ’Sco has also featured indie, folk, punk, and electronic standouts like Girlpool, Frankie Cosmos, and T-Rextasy (whose members include two current Oberlin students, rising fourth-years Lyris Fanon and Annie Fidoten). Not bad for a venue in the middle of northeastern Ohio with a 450-person capacity.
“It can definitely be a hard sell,” says Kate Fittinghoff, a rising third-year who primarily books punk and DIY bands. “We usually get bands from the coast, so if they don’t have a midwestern tour planned, it’s harder to get them here. The only time it really makes sense is when bands are going to Chicago for festivals.&rdquo
But the ’Sco does have its charms, especially for artists who are used to playing much bigger venues.
“You get this very different vibe and the artists also feel that, and they feed off of it,” says Greenberg, who focuses on hip-hop artists. “And they say it’s a very unique space and experience. To be in this small space, to be at this small college, but with kids who care about their music so much, they think it’s really funny to find that in rural Ohio.”
Though many students attend liberal arts schools in the hopes that they will eventually stumble upon a new passion or career path as a result of the smorgasbord of different activities and courses available, many members of SUPC already knew coming into college that booking and arts management was a path they wanted to seriously pursue.
“I came into Oberlin after working at Fort Greene Park Conservancy helping them with their free summer concert series for four summers, and I was like ‘Yeah, this is what I want to do with my life forever,’” says Rayna Holmes, a rising fourth-year who is working on an independent major in Performing Arts Management.
Greenberg and Fittinghoff were both hired as bookers during their freshman winter terms, working at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., and Aviv in Brooklyn, New York, respectively.
“[The internship] really taught me the process of booking, what to look out for, what things to include in a letter request to book, the kinds of promotion you should do to get people to come to your show, the etiquette of running a show,” says Fittinghoff. “It was all really cool information, because I had been experiencing it as an audience member for a while, and it was nice to experience it from that end.”
Students cannot apply to work for SUPC until the end of their first year, so Greenberg, Holmes, and Fittinghoff were well ahead of the curve by the time applications rolled around. Typically, new members are then selected and notified of their hiring at the beginning of the summer, and are thrown immediately into the process of booking acts for the next school year.
This can seem like a bit of trial under fire, but the advantage of such a democratic system means that anyone, regardless of class year, can begin booking shows and taking on as much responsibility as they choose. For example, in her first semester on SUPC, Holmes was responsible for booking Shamir, whose 2015 album Rachet was named one of the best albums of the year by multiple publications.
“It was an awesome show to be my first, because it was a big show, but no mess,” says Holmes. “There was no issue. And then I think it was very interesting for me to get my toes wet with such a big, sold-out show, so I think that informed what I’ve done since. I’ve felt super comfortable going either way since then.”
Students then return to campus during orientation week, working with Assistant Director of Student Activities Sean Lehlbach to learn the ins and outs of contracts and requests for payments, and attending Bystander Intervention and ’Sco staff trainings.
“It’s great because they get to work with all pieces of it, from booking to working with the artist, and so that’s definitely a great experience for them,” says Lehlbach. “I try to empower them to do everything, but in a pinch I’ll step in and help.” Lehlbach, who gained experience booking and working with musicians, comedians, and lecturers as a graduate student, says that the students assume the majority of responsibility, while he draws up the contracts, orders tickets, and cuts the checks.
Members of SUPC also frequently use their skills to produce campus events outside of the organization. Greenberg was responsible for booking Metro Boomin, a producer The Fader has called “the most trusted name in rap,” for Solarity—a performance that came together in an incredible stroke of luck. “He was going from Atlanta to Miami, but he had one extra day in between, which was Solarity,” says Greenberg.
Holmes says her experience on SUPC gave her the confidence to form her own program initiative called Femmes Artists Breaking Boundaries (FABB), which is geared toward empowering and uplifting femme and non-male artists working in parts of the music world that are stereotypically masculine. “We see it as a financial investment: bringing these artists here and paying them, while also enriching our community,” says Holmes.
Holmes created FABB with Hannah Halperin, a member of Oberlin College Hip-Hop Organization and Programming (OHOP), and stresses the importance of reaching out to different organizations and encouraging them to think critically about representation and who they bring to campus for events.
“There’s a lot of power in booking, and who we choose to bring directly impacts changes in the music industry, and we have to create what we want to see in the rest of the world in our small little bubble,” says Holmes. “If you want Oberlin to look a certain way, you have to work for that.”
Want to apply for SUPC? You can fill out an application.