As we approach the 121st birthday of San Diego State University, tomorrow March 13th, 2018, it is essential to look back at the important aspects of American culture that has greatly influenced the campus culture. One major theme that has been prominent throughout the last seventy years of the university, are the various concerts on campus for students, as well as the general public to enjoy. Particularly, the 1960’s to 1980’s saw a tremendous amount of inexpensive, featuring big name and upcoming artists, on campus which increased students’ exposure to various counter culture and mainstream genres. Unfortunately, this era of open concerts to students has come to an end and is overshadowed by the commercialization and elitism of mainstream concert producers and artists which exclude a vast majority of students from taking part in this important area of American culture. I argue this major decline in inexpensive on campus concerts for students stems from the extreme commercialization and elitist culture within the music industry, as well as a lack of support from the University, which has a major negative deconstructive impact on the social and political development of SDSU students.
According to research conducted by Dr. Seth Mallios of the Anthropology department at SDSU and published in his book, Let it Rock!: Live from San Diego State, he discovers a major downward trend in on campus live shows from 1970 (Mallios, 9). In Figure 2 below, one can easily see the stark contrast from 1970 having 926 live shows on campus, to the current decade only having 114 is a major decline in easy access to musical events (Figure 2).
The 1970’s witnesses an explosion in live popular music at SDSU, which hosted hundreds of acts in rock, jazz, blues, folk, reggae, and more. Dr. Mallios asserts that SDSU, “Quickly became a premiere venue for many popular music genres and was the epicenter of Southern California’s soft-rock and country-rock movements, as well as hosting punk-rockers” (Mallios, 2). Big name acts such as, The Ramones, Bob Marley, Tom Petty, Blondie, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, and many more all performed on campus for inexpensive prices for students (Figure 3).
Associated Students and various Greek organizations on campus insured that these concerts were inexpensive for students to promote the social atmosphere on campus. However, these student-friendly concerts did more than just provide a fun social setting, but were also the centers of various counter culture protests/movements (Dowd, 11). Many of these concerts during the 1960s and 1970s allowed students to congregate for various anti-war demonstrations, as well as meet other like-minded students to form student organizations, including the Aztec Free Speech Area (Mallios 5). Ticket prices in the 1970s for students for these major shows ranged from $2.00 to $5.00, which equates to $9.52 to $23.79 in 2018 dollars (CPI Government Inflation Calculator). This allowed students back then a cheap way to experience new counter culture music, meet other students, and engage in an era of American Culture music that was extremely influential. Many members of the community often fought the students-first mentality, especially for the more popular concerts, but during this decade Associated Students and the University held strong to this belief and continued to ensure students came first by pricing tickets fairly for students (Figure 5, 6, 7, 8). In Figure 4, Mallios states the University ground rules for max tickets per members of the general public as well as ensuring the students had a plentiful amount of tickets to purchase (Figure 4).
Music is a very powerful medium and is an essential part of American Culture, therefore it should be available to the student population and those trying to find their place in society (Dowd, 31). At the level of the social group music facilitates communication which goes beyond words, enables meanings to be shared, and promotes the development and maintenance of individual, group, cultural and national identities (Brant, 24). Clearly, these earlier decades were a time of important socialization and counter culture movements for students who were given the opportunity to engage with these concerts, however this is simply not true for today’s Aztecs. Within the past decade, SDSU students have been subjugated to an overall decline in concerts, price gouging by ticket companies, and a growing class divide between elitist culture in regards to the music industry. First off, SDSU has not done its part to book lower to middle tier musicians for cheap musical performances for students at smaller campus venues. In the past these were escapes for students to unwind and engage in new subcultures of lesser know musical genres, however the University has ceased booking these acts as they are not major money makers (Mallios, 310).
The 2000’s have been dominated by headline acts at Viejas Arena, which can seat over 12,000 people, without giving special pricing for SDSU students. I believe this negatively affects students who are left without a crucial piece of American Culture and are forced out of these now “exclusive” events which were once open to all. Individuals and companies now engage in ticket scalping (when single buyers buy up dozens of tickets and immediately sell them off at rates too expensive for most), again perpetuating this class division (Leavitt, 129). This commercialization of concerts has led to businesses coming in to make extreme profits off the music industry leading to elitist culture. For example, almost all shows on campus now have VIP access tickets which allow those with money to enjoy special perks, and even basic access tickets are inflated in price due to the emphasis on profit. In the earlier decades, money was still exchanged and artists were paid, but now these events are less about counter culture and music, but rather how much companies can make off the individuals. Any show at Viejas Arena will showcase many vendors selling overpriced merchandise, refreshments, and VIP experiences. It has turned into a major business venture for these concert companies, the University, and the artists, which unfortunately has excluded SDSU students. Currently, SDSU students only have one subsidized concert on campus, Greenfest, which sells $15 tickets to SDSU students for a fairly popular artist. However, these concerts are few and far between and still center on commercialization rather than enjoyment of true American Culture. Based off the analysis from Dr. Mallios it is clear the the kind of acts at SDSU have changed, going from various counter culture movements to commercialized mainstream acts, as well as a decline in the amount of acts (Mallios 7). This increases revenue for the University, but greatly limits exposure to new types of music and excludes these performances from students who cannot afford the inflated prices.
Overall, SDSU was once a thriving hub for artists of varying levels of fame, a variety of genres, and always put students first in regards to ticket sales and concert experiences (Mallios 11). This has drastically changed for the worse, as the commercialized nature of music has limited the majority of on campus concerts to mainstream massive concerts, with no protections for students. Price gouging and elitist culture has limited the important aspects of music in American Culture for current SDSU students and stunted their chance to be individuals within the music culture. Therefore, if students are to once again receive a constructive aspect of American Culture, the University needs to take a stand against the recent phenomenon of commercialization in music, in order to allow SDSU students importance social experiences within the concert scene.
Brant, Marley. Join together: Forty years of the rock music festival. Hal Leonard Corporation, 2008.
“CPI Inflation Calculator.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl?cost1=4&year1=197001&year2=201801.
Dowd, Timothy J., Kathleen Liddle, and Jenna Nelson. “Music Festivals as scenes: examples from serious music, women’s music, and skatepunk.” Music scenes: Local, translocal and virtual (2004): 149-67.
Leavitt, Alex, Tara Knight, and Alex Yoshiba. “Producing Hatsune Miku: Concerts, Commercialization, and the Politics of Peer Production.” Media Convergence in Japan (2016): 200-29.
Mallios, Seth, and Jaime Lennox. Let it Rock!: Live from San Diego State. Seth Malios, 2015. [Primary Source]