Behind the Sun God

    Efficiency comes first at ASCE. Desks are covered in neat stacks of papers and folders, and conversations are held in hushed tones. The whirring of the Xerox machine is frequently the loudest sound in the room.

    There are just 16 members in ASCE. But every year, they book, coordinate and manage the two largest music performances on campus: Hullabaloo and Sun God Festival. Between these concerts, they are kept busy with countless smaller performances at the Loft, Porter’s Pub and throughout the six colleges.

    The office’s head, or Associate Vice President, is Oliver Zhang, senior management science major from Warren College. He and the three festival chairs — senior Jennifer Tsai, junior Eric Babajanian and senior Henry Lu — are in charge of organizingSun God, beginning as soon as A.S. Council appoints the ASCE staff in the spring.

    “The first thing we [did] then is work to secure a date for the festival,” Zhang said.

    After that, the staff spent most of the summer organizing Hullaballoo, a more pressing need than Sun God due to its November date. Regardless, Zhang got a head start on the biggest party of the year, holding “visioning” meetings for the festival over the summer. The visioning meetings were a chance for the team to focus on the big picture for Sun God, Lu explained.

    “The Sun God process is yearlong,” he said. “We start out with an abstract idea, but it grows into something very concrete.”

    The abstract idea for 2012 was for Sun God to be a complete festival, not just a concert.

    “We’ve been trying to put a greater emphasis on art and decor, on creating atmosphere,” Zhang said.

    After Hullabaloo, the office formed committees, and began to kick the plans for the following year’s festival into high gear. This year, ASCE is split into six committees: Production, Battle of the Bands, Midway and Decor, Booths and Sponsorship, Marketing and Merchandise.

    Members of the Production team are in charge of all the hands-on aspects of Sun God. Before the concert, they do everything from putting up banners and posters to fixing lights on the stages.

    “It’s easy to dismiss the Production committee as a sort of ‘manual-labor’ team,” Zhang said. “But we require highly detail-oriented people to run it.”

    There is a day-of focus to the committee, Lu added.

    “Production gets performers where they need to be, on time,” he said. “If a performer needs water, Production gets it for them. If a performer needs a different setup, Production changes it for them. And if anything unexpected happens, Production is the team to relay the information to everyone else.”

    Battle of the Bands is one of the newest ASCE committees. It’s responsible for the eponymous competition that allows student performers to get involved with Sun God. Its emphasis this year has been on increasing student input in the selection process.

    “They put a voting system in place this year for the top acts,” Tsai said. “Choosing an applicant is tricky.” 

    In past years, the committee chose Battle of the Bands winners on its own — with mixed success. Turnout for the student performers tended to be low. For Sun God 2012, the Battle of the Bands committee hoped to remedy this by increasing student involvement in the selection process.

    “We’re always learning,” Lu said. “And we think it’s a more appropriate way to make the decision anyway.”

    The Midway Stage, also a relatively new addition to Sun God, is managed by the Midway and Decor committee. It’s in charge of bookings for the stage, which in recent years have included big names like Cirque Bezerk and Axis of Awesome.

    “It’s the only non-music space at Sun God,” Babajanian said. “And it’s a pretty intimate space. They have a great opportunity to reach people directly.”

    Reaching people during the concert may be the domain of the other committees, but in the weeks preceding Sun God, it’s the Marketing Committee that reaches people most directly. The members are in charge of building hype and a sense of campus spirit through campaigns such as Sun God Babies, paper cut-outs of baby Sun Gods hidden around campus that can be redeemed for prizes. However, they are also in charge of promoting safety at the concert.

    “This year we’re looking at launching a pretty intricate student health campaign just before the festival,” Babajanian said.

    Money for all these campaigns, as well as artist bookings, comes partly from the revenue generated by the Booths and Sponsorship committee, as well as the Merchandise committee.

    “Hopkins Avenue is converted to Sun God Street for the festival,” Zhang said. “It gets completely filled with booths.”

    Though corporate sponsors generally have a both or two, most booths are run by food vendors or student orgs. As with the other companies, Booths and Sponsorship has a great deal of freedom.

    “D’Lush, a drinks company, was one of our big sponsors last year,” Zhang said. “We had been wanting a lounge for some time, and they wanted to get their product out to UCSD students. Booths and Sponsorship worked with them to create a lounge type space at Sun God to meet both of our needs.”

    The merchandise committee most closely resembles a focus group. Committee members work with Triton Outfitters and the A.S. Graphic Design Studio to analyze trends and select the best designs for Sun God merchandise.

    As the concert date approaches, ASCE’s focus shifts to booking. The most important thing in selecting performers is student preference.

    “We ask them on our Facebook page, we ask them at the Sun God open forums,” Zhang said. “We make a list of which artists students want to see, and start gathering agent contacts.”

    Fortunately, many agents have worked with Sun God in the past.

    “That simplifies things,” Babajanian said. “But just because we reach out to an agent doesn’t meanan artist will want to come here at a college show. Even if they do want to come, their price range may not fit our budget.”

    Rising stars are better than established hits because they tend to be cheaper. But obscure picks are unlikely to draw big crowds.

    “We have to do the best with the $550,000 we’re allocated by A.S., and what revenue we make from the 3,000 non-student tickets we sell every year.”

    Budgets and student input aren’t the only factors ASCE takes into account.

    “We want someone who can do good live performances — someone who can hold students’ attention,” Lu said. 

    Selecting artists for Sun God is a delicate art, but Lu has experience, having booked for Warren Live for three years.

    “The biggest challenge for me this year was finding a lineup sequence that would flow,” Lu said. “You can’t go from Mastodon to Bon Iver. You have to ask yourself, ‘Is the crowd that came for the last performance going to stick around for this one?’”

    One thing the team says it never considers is its members’ personal music preferences.

    “It’s our number one rule here: Throw your personal preferences out the window,” Zhang said. “We’re trying to represent 20,000 students here. Of course it’s impossible to do that. But at the end of the day, we want to be able to say that we got as close as we could.”

    The Sun God lineup would look very different otherwise.

    “If it were really up to our preferences, Eric would be booking all metal shows,” Lu said.

    The process of booking artists can take anywhere from an hour to a month. It can be easy or exhausting. Frequently, it doesn’t pan out. But plenty of planning and an early start have ensured that this year’s lineup for Sun God won’t d

    But for all the work they have put in, the committee likes to let the artists take the spotlight.

    “We like to stay invisible,” Lu said. “When the concert comes around, and students are having a good time — that’s enough of a reward for us.”

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