For many Cornell Students, Slope Day is a fun way to celebrate the end of spring classes. For the Slope Day Programming Board — the student-run organization tasked with the day’s planning and execution — however, it is a year-round affair. I got the chance to sit down with Alana Udwin ’20 and Logan Altheim ’20, the SDPB’s executive and selections directors, last week to discuss the inner workings of the Board in anticipation of its annual selections survey being released this week.
Per Udwin, who formerly served as selections director, the organization’s planning for this coming Slope Day started just about as soon as last year’s came to a close. As has been the case for the last couple of years, though its distribution has changed hands between the SDPB and Cornell Health, students were sent an event feedback survey through which those organizations can gauge the efficacy of their programming.
As the SDPB sifts through several thousand feedback responses over summer break, the organization’s six-member executive board is also keeping a close eye on music trends and starting to reach out to agents of popular artists.
Once school starts back up in the fall, it is full steam ahead for the SBDP and its 30-some-odd member general body (which is open to anyone who would like to become more involved). Overseen by two advisors — Joseph Scaffido, Cornell’s director of campus events, and Jessie White, a conference and event services event manager — this semester the group has placed special emphasis on meeting with a wide range of campus groups in an effort to make this year’s Slope Day choices as representative of current campus culture as possible.
Just this semester, Udwin and company have met with a number of campus organizations including Slope Media, the Cornell Concert Commission, the Gender Justice Advocacy Coalition and the ALANA Intercultural Board. In doing so, they have put together a list of artists they feel to be a more representative sample of what campus wants than ever before.
“What campus wants,” though, proves a difficult question for the Board as many chart-topping musicians fall outside the realm of what they can make happen. The SDPB receives funding through the undergraduate Student Assembly to the tune of $19 per student, totaling to over $250,000 dollars per year. However, as Altheim notes, that total is not as large as it may seem.
“The rise of music festivals and streaming platforms have significantly impacted the music industry. Artists now charge more for their concert tickets and live performances, which means that with a static pool of resources we have seen the pool of performers we can book shrink,” said Altheim, who is also tasked with agent communications and fulfilling artists’ riders.
Not only have performance fees increased, but it is also worth noting that the SDPB’s funding is all-encompassing: The money does not just need to cover artist fees, but also food, set-up and all the other peripheral costs of running such a large event that many students might overlook. The S.A. recently voted to increase the organization’s allocation to $21 per student, but that SDPB will be unable to utilize that increase until the start of the fall 2020 semester.
In curating the list of artists to be included in the selection survey, Altheim and others work diligently to ensure that the musicians presented are not only popular choices among the student body but are also choices within that realm of possibility.
“To make the survey as effective as possible, we consult with talent agencies to ensure the artists on the survey are both within our budget and available [to perform on] Slope Day,” said Altheim.
Following the model established last year, this year’s survey will allow students to rate artists on a five-point scale, with an included sixth option for unknown artists. The team also considers artist’s past live performances, potentially controversial lyrics and reputation for concert cancellation as well as staying mindful of what artists and genres have been present in Ithaca over the past couple years to try and keep things fresh.
This year’s selections survey will include 24 artists and include names such as Swae Lee, Lil Baby, Alesso and Bebe Rexha. Though it might be easy for many students to dismiss their opportunity to vote on the grounds that it will get lost in the wash, Udwin stresses its importance.
“As Executive Board members of the SDPB, we try to act as an instrument through which Cornell can make its voice heard and the selections survey is the main way we can gauge the community’s interest in artists,” said Udwin.
Once the selections survey closes, the SDPB will begin digging through its results and reaching out to agents with hopes of having struck a deal with one of campus’ top choices by around the time classes resume in the spring. This decision involves both an analysis of which artists were the most highly rated and of which artists were more widely known as to avoid a situation in which a musician’s being hugely popular among a smaller group could inequitably tilt the scales.
Opening acts are typically chosen using the other survey responses as a barometer for taste in genre with the Board’s remaining funding after a headliner has been secured. Once a full lineup has been settled on, the SDPB will announce its offering to the Student Assembly, a somewhat formal event that typically occurs in February.
This year’s selections survey will go live tomorrow, Tuesday, Nov. 19 at 5:00 p.m., and will remain open for two weeks, closing on Tuesday, Dec. 3 at the same time.
Nick Smith is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.