Records requests reveal price of contracted performers

Contracted speakers and performers through Student Life and Leadership can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $40,000 per speaker and $100 to $165,000 for music artists or groups.

The Northern Light used public record requests to collect data on performers contracted through Student Life and Leadership over the past three years. Those contracts showed the flat fees big-name performers were paid: Bill Nye ($41,500), Alabama Shakes ($165,000), and Garfunkel and Oates ($12,500).

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Student Life and Leadership tends to contract four types of performers. Musicians and bands are the most common artists hired, speakers are second, comedians are third, and spoken word poets are fourth.

UAA Concert Board is responsible for bringing musicians and comedians to campus with the use of their student-fee funded budget. Concert Board projects an annual budget with around $200,000 in student fees plus projected revenues from their ticketed shows. Student Boards Coordinator and Media Adviser Zac Clark, said bringing performers to Alaska is always more expensive than in the Lower 48.

“The problem we have in Alaska, what makes us unique for universities and other concert venues in the Lower 48, you can get there by bus...If you are coming to Alaska you have to fly and you also lose two potential show days,” Clark said. “The day before and the day after. So when you're looking at these artists you instantly have to pay more than like someone in Washington because you have to pay to fly them up and they lose those dates. You have to factor in that you are probably going to pay 15, 20 percent more just on average, and that you are going to have a hard time when you are trying to book someone as part of a national tour.”

Clark said some big name artists can cost a million dollars and it’s hard to recoup that flat fee in ticket sales. Alaskan arenas can only fit around 4,000 seats, and artists like Beyoncé are used to performing in 20,000+ seat arenas.

“People forget for a lot of these people, this is their job,” Clark said. “So there’s always like just thoughts of ‘Why does this person cost so much?’ Because that's what people would pay to get them here... When you just look and see the price of some these artists, you don’t always get the full price and context for why that is.”

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Student Life and Leadership also contracts speakers to come and give workshops or lectures at the university. In the past year Student Life and Leadership hosted civil rights activist Shaun King ($21,000), sex educator and YouTube personality Laci Green ($16,000) for the USUAA event Little Black Dress Doesn’t Mean Yes, founding-editor of The Onion Scott Dikkers ($12,000) and activist and scholar Dr. Marc Lamont Hill ($20,000).

Demry Mebane, political science major, has become the informal emcee for Student Life and Leadership lectures since his role as a Student Activities programer. Mebane is the individual who introduced Bill Nye, Shaun King and Scott Dikkers, among others.

“Being able to be a student at the University of Alaska Anchorage one would not expect to be able to have that type of opportunity, right,” Mebane said. “I felt really graced and lucky to be in the presence of someone so famous in Anchorage, Alaska. Any emceeing event that I do I feel honored.”

Mebane has also emceed for First Tuesday Spoken Word. Spoken word poets have been paid around $3,000 to $4,500 for their performances.

“I think what the University of Alaska Anchorage really needs are those big names,” Mebane said. “The goal of Student Activities is to engage students, and particularly here at UAA I think that’s a struggle because we have so many commuter students. So the question is posed: how do we get students to actually want to engage with their campus? I think that means bringing big names up to Anchorage — a relatively small place where students haven’t typically had the experience to become engaged in like their college. So, having big names like Bill Nye, or Shaun King, or even like First Tuesday poets flying up is something that’s really important for this university to get its students engaged. Anything that can bolster the student life of this campus, I think is intrinsically just a good thing.”

Sarah Haley has been a member on Concert Board for a year, and she said she has seen good student turnout at some of Concert Board’s bigger events like the Alabama Shakes and the Kick Off Comedy Show.

“I feel like if it is one students want to see and it’s semi-reasonable compared to other artists, I think it’s worth it because no one tours up in Alaska,” Haley said. "We also have to keep in mind that these are student fees and we can realistically, with the size of our college, we could probably bring one or two performers a semester.”

Contracts include riders — the part of the contract where artists will request additional materials for themselves and the crew they tour with — and contracted artists have asked for things like Peanut Butter Captain Crunch (Alabama Shakes) to baby wipes and Ladies’ Secret deodorant (Action Bronson, $45,000).

This year, Concert Board is hoping to have several successful events, including one featuring Maggie Rogers in November.

“I’m hoping that we are sort of catching an emerging artist,” Clark said about Maggie Rogers. “You look at her, she’s signed to a big major label, she puts out an EP on Capitol Records... went pretty viral with her video with Pharrell. So hoping you sort of catch an artist on that peak like we did with Macklemore.”

For a more in-depth look at contracted performers and speaker pay and special requests, click the links below.