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Pharrell Williams (of The Neptunes) is the frontman for N.E.R.D., the funk-rock/hip-hop trio that will be headlining MIT’s Spring Weekend Concert on April 23.
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Hip-hop prevailed over nineties soft-rock in this year’s annual MIT Spring Weekend concert. The American funk-rock/hip-hop group N.E.R.D­ — known for edgy tracks like “Sooner or Later” and “Everyone Nose”­ — will headline the concert. Electronic mash-up group Super Mash Bros. playing the opening act. The concert will occur on April 23 at 8 p.m. Tickets will be available starting March 1.

The Student Activities Office is taking a chance on N.E.R.D The previous two Spring Weekend concerts featured Ben Folds and Third Eye Blind, both of whom ranked high in the annual poll disseminated in November, according to Paul Spangle, who is in charge of the selection process. In contrast, neither of the two bands performing this year were among the top five acts chosen by MIT students in the November poll. (Jimmy Eat World, One Republic, Dashboard Confessional, Switchfoot, and the Dropkick Murphys ranked highest.)

The event’s undergraduate coordinators, Joseph P. Diaz ’10 and Christine Chen ’12, said that the event budget, the availability of certain bands, and other subjective considerations all factor into the selection process in addition to the results of the poll.

Spangle said he hopes that bringing younger, less well-known bands to MIT this year will introduce students to acts that they might not have heard before, and add variety to an event that has hosted nineties-rock bands for the past two years. But he said that publicity for this concert will be a larger concern because N.E.R.D is less popular than older bands like Third Eye Blind.

Changes to how bands are selected

Years ago, the SAO and the Undergraduate Association Events committee, a mostly unelected body serving under the UA, ran the selection process together. Each year, the SAO would contact a third-party representative, Pretty Polly Productions, for a list of acts that were available within MIT’s time-slot and budget. After receiving this list, it was passed on to the students in the form of the November poll.

After reviewing the results from the poll, the committee, including representatives of SaveTFP and a few other student groups, would meet to make a final selection and plan the logistics of the concert. Spangle said that, in many situations, the conversations were “long and arduous,” and frequently devolved into back-and-forth arguments over the merits of a hip-hop or rap act versus a rock one. “It was a committee that didn’t function,” Spangle said.

Two years ago, with the committee gridlocked, the SAO ended up spearheading the planning process. It booked Third Eye Blind, a band that had done well in the polls. That year, Third Eye Blind sold almost 3,200 tickets, more than any MIT Spring Weekend show of the last decade.

Last year, the process changed. Hoping for greater student involvement in the planning process, Spangle took event out of the UA committee and created three teams, each led by an MIT staff member and a student co-leader. Each team focused on a different aspect of Spring Weekend: booking the concert, the events preceding the concert, and publicity. After receiving the available bands from Pretty Polly Productions and the data from the November poll, the three groups executed their responsibilities through their own subcommittees and student volunteers, bringing Ben Folds to campus.

The same three-committee system was used to select the N.E.R.D. and Super Mash Bros.

What to look for in a Spring Weekend band

Typically, the event coordinators judge success by the attendance, and hope each year to increase the number of tickets sold. Though the Ben Folds show didn’t sell as well as the Third Eye Blind concert, it still sold several hundred more tickets than almost any other band brought to campus in previous years.

The event coordinators use personal discretion to right what they see as selection bias from the approximately 1,000 poll respondents. Spangle said that choosing a band for Spring Weekend is much harder than choosing a comedian for the Fall Festival, an event that always sells out quickly.

Other concerns include timing: Only so many bands have the space in their schedule or happen to be in the Northeast during MIT’s spring weekend. Frequently, bands will play several college campuses in a row, or visit MIT as part of a general college tour.

The coordinators also hope to bring a diverse mix to the music brought to campus. The polling results are primarily driven by name recognition, Diaz explained, so some deviation from the poll is necessary in order to include “under-represented portions” of MIT’s student body. Diaz hopes that hosting N.E.R.D in the year following Ben Folds and Third Eye Blind will include students who may have not have been interested in previous events.

Diaz, Chen and Spangle all said that the process could be more transparent but that its opaqueness was in no way intentional, merely a function of the complicated give-and-take that occurs between the Spring Weekend coordinators and Pretty Polly Productions. Diaz added the UA events committee is open to all interested students.

The budget for the whole event is $100,000. After accounting for the venue, staging, staff, and other technical considerations, $50,000 to $70,000 is left for the bands themselves.

Pre-sale tickets will be available for students for $10 starting March 1. From March 20 onward, students tickets will cost $15, while staff and affiliates will pay $20. Tickets will be available for purchase through the SAO ticketing website: http://sao.mit.edu/tickets/.