Creating a concert

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October 20, 2009

12:30 AM

Though set solidly on the Virginia peninsula, Williamsburg can feel like an island separate from the rest of the commonwealth. This isolation makes bringing music groups to the College of William and Mary a challenge for student organizations looking to liven up their campus events. However, a simple solution is in the works. Under the guidance of College students, CreateAConcert.com will soon be bringing local bands closer to campus.

Founded by former freshmen roommates Varun Gupta, who transfered to Cornell University, and John Murphy ’11, Create A Concert is a free website designed to make live music accessible and affordable for college events. Having experienced the frustration of trying to bring local bands to campus through traditional means, Murphy and Gupta decided to circumvent the system with an internet startup.

“I was really into music, bands that you don’t usually find on the radio, and I have a lot of friends who play in local bands,” Murphy said. “We were trying to get [AMP] to bring some of these bands to play at [email protected] and smaller stuff, and after talking to them it became clear that it’s not an easy process. We thought, if [AMP] can’t do this, we’ll do it.”

The idea for Create A Concert sprang from the transmission of tastes which started during their freshmen roommate experience. Murphy, who was passionate about independent music groups, and Gupta, who preferred to listen to what he describes as “the big suburban bands,” came together. Gupta’s taste was transformed after he was introduced to his new roommate’s playlist.

“He started naming bands I’d never heard of,” Gupta said. “He told me, ‘You’re gonna hear this and it’s gonna change your life forever.’”

The first band Murphy took Gupta to see was Parade the Day, an independent rock group from Winchester, Va. The roommates traveled to Jammin’ Java, a popular music venue in Vienna, Va., where the band was playing.

“It was the greatest concert I’d ever been to. It was incredible,” Gupta said.

They got the opportunity to meet the band members after the show, which further heightened the experience for Gupta.

“It became personal,” he said. “I played pong against the Parade the Day pianist.”

Murphy and Gupta became determined to bring Parade the Day and other local bands to campus in order share the music they loved with the entire College community. After realizing there was no easy way to locate independent groups, they decided to create one.

“I realized we should offer a service where we can allow people to bring bands to campuses,” Gupta said. “There are a lot of good bands, and people would be interested, but they don’t know which bands exist.”

“Bands are always trying to get shows and gigs, but they have trouble getting in touch with the right people at schools,” Murphy said. “So we came up with this idea to make this website and make it a lot easier to find bands in your area, listen to their music, check them out and book them right on the website.”

Gupta had experience running internet companies, having created and sold a successful online game business in high school while Murphy was familiar with several local bands. Still, starting Create A Concert posed unique problems, since building a significant inventory of music groups requires extensive effort.

“One of our major challenges at first was trying to get a ton, a ton of bands to sign up on our site, to get their music and profiles set up,” Murphy said. “That was kind of hard at first. We made a MySpace account for Create A Concert, and we would just friend every single band that we could find. It was pretty funny and kinda sketchy, going around like MySpace to find bands around here.”

In addition to using social networking websites, Murphy made calls to band managers, sent personal e-mails and even paid a friend to attend concerts on Friday and Saturday nights to spread the word to band members in person. With 125 bands registered from around Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., Create A Concert has come a long way since its inception.

Student groups at the College have started to take advantage of Create A Concert. Last semester, the Student Environmental Action Coalition booked the Politicks, a D.C. group, for a voter registration drive via the website, and Kappa Sigma fraternity used the site to hire a band for their philanthropy event. More recently, Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and Delta Gamma sorority used Create A Concert to book The Warm Gun, a rock group from Manassas, Va., for their Chili con Carnival philanthropy event, which was held on the Crim Dell Meadow last Saturday.

Nick Koop ’11, the vice president of Alpha Tau Omega, was responsible for arranging the entertainment for the event. Koop felt a live band would attract more students.

“A live band — you just can’t beat it, especially in a college atmosphere,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest draws for people if they’re walking by. I’m a huge fan of trying to find local bands and give them a chance. I used to be in a band myself, and I know how hard it is to get some breaks every now and then.”

Koop was pleased with Create A Concert’s relative low cost, since bands cannot charge more than $500, in addition to the flat rate fee the site charges per booking.

“That’s extremely helpful,” Koop said. “Especially when you’re having a philanthropy [event] and you’re trying to make more money for the cause, as opposed to spending it all.”

Koop was also satisfied with the simplicity of the process. Users log in from their Facebook accounts, enter their event information, and browse bands’s profiles according to genre and location. Each profile features the band’s biography, their rates and song samples. After selecting a group, users pay a $100 deposit and wait for Gupta to negotiate a contract.

“It’s nice to have a third party to negotiate everything and take care of it so it’s less stressful,” Koop said. “The contract outlines what equipment’s needed for them to play and what would happen if they don’t show up. It’s nice to have that liability covered.”

The contract turned out to be especially important for the Chili con Carnival, since a miscommunication about the date of the event meant The Warm Gun did not show up as Koop had planned. He said that Create A Concert handled the situation responsibly and gave him a full refund, in addition to offering him a free concert for the spring semester. According to Koop, the event was successful despite the misunderstanding.

Murphy and Gupta are proud of the extensive work they’ve put into Create A Concert, and are excited about its future. They hope to see the site expand beyond the college music scene.

“I’d really like the site to be a big industry player and help bands get big,” Gupta said. “I’m positive this effort is going to pay off. This has the potential to change the music industry.”

Although he would like to see it transcend its current scope, Gupta believes Create A Concert will always have a special connection to the College.

“The entrepreneurial spirit is core to the William and Mary community,” he said. “It just needs to be recognized. As [Create A Concert] gets bigger, it’s gonna go really far at William and Mary.”

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