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Q&A: The folks behind the Homecoming Concert

Have you ever wondered who calls the shots in terms of which artist will be performing? A&E spoke with the University’s Student Unions and Activities, the students and alums who make the final decision on who performs at the homecoming concert.
Image by Jasmin Kemp
Phoebe Ryan performs at the Homecoming Concert in front of Coffman Memorial Union on Friday, Oct. 4.

Keeping up the momentum of a bustling Homecoming Week on campus, Tyla Yaweh will be taking the stage outside Coffman Memorial Union for a free performance on September 24.

The annual Homecoming Concert is a well-known University tradition, but have you ever wondered who calls the shots in terms of what artist will be performing? Look no further — A&E spoke with folks from the University’s Student Unions and Activities (SUA) about their jobs, the tedious process of selecting a performer and their goals for this year’s concert.

Nolan Litschewski is a third-year student studying strategic communications, and he serves as a lead student music event planner for SUA. Devin Graf is a University of Minnesota alum, and she oversees SUA’s music group committee as a program advisor. Both Litschewski and Graf play essential roles in the planning, preparation and execution of the Homecoming Concert.

Why did you choose to apply for your role with SUA?

N: I’m hoping to do something in the music industry, so that’s kind of what was interesting about this job for me as a student. I just saw it as an opportunity to get involved with music on campus in a way that’s supporting student music and supporting the music that students want to see.

D: I was a program board coordinator when I was a student, and when I had the opportunity to continue my work with SUA, it just kind of made sense to me. I knew how much my advisors meant to me, and being able to provide that support to future generations of students is really important.

I’m very curious about the behind the scenes of choosing the artist for the Homecoming show. What does the brainstorming process look like?

N: We scope out what kind of artists students are listening to, usually through surveys and feedback from students. I would also ask people during virtual events to let me know what kind of music they wanted to hear on campus. Our supervisors have told us to keep our ears open, whether it’s to people talking on the street or to the songs we hear while walking past frat row. We take all that data together and come up with ideas from there.

D: When I was a student, something I kept in mind was what we wanted the show to accomplish, and what kind of energy we wanted. That usually helps to frame what genre you’re going to aim for. We also have a huge performer database where we keep track of requests students have submitted for hundreds of different artists.

After some initial ideas have been generated, what kinds of factors go into finalizing the decision for the performer?

N: We want to know about their reputation, so we research the artist pretty in-depth. Social media numbers are a big thing for us as well, in terms of how they’re doing on Spotify or checking in on their Instagram activity. Especially during this past year, we look at what artists have been rising during the pandemic that there might be demand for. And, of course, budget and availability.

That sounds like quite the process. What does the timeline typically look like for crowdsourcing, research and ultimately booking the performer?

N: In a conventional year, it usually starts in January. But this year, we ran into different roadblocks. For a long time, we didn’t know what fall was going to look like, and we were just waiting to make sure that this was even a viable thing. This year we started in May, as soon as we heard that fall was looking good.

D: The biggest thing we keep in mind is when we want to launch the campaign. For our larger events, like Homecoming, people want to know a lot farther in advance, so our deadline is usually two to three months prior to the show.

This year’s concert is coming up at the end of the week. What sorts of things went into the decision to book Tyla Yaweh for the show?

N: We combined the feedback we received with his relevance in the past year and a half. He released a lot of new music during the pandemic, and his Spotify listeners were trending upwards. He also had songs with some really big names like Post Malone and Wiz Khalifa, so all of those things kind of came together.

Devin mentioned earlier that SUA has different “goals” for each of their events. What are some of your goals for the Homecoming Concert?

N: When I went to the concert during my freshman year, I started seeing people from my dorm that I hadn’t talked to that much, and experiencing a high-energy show together was a jumping off point in getting to know them better. That’s the goal for me, just for students to have an awesome experience where they can finally meet new people.

D: We wanted to make sure students had a free, accessible option to celebrate the Friday before Homecoming, and hopefully being surrounded by other students cultivates a sense of belonging on campus. I think that’s ultimately the heart of all of our programming — it’s a huge campus, so being able to be in a collective spot enjoying the shared experience is really important.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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