Spotlight: Student 'scopes' out talent

BY RILEY UBBEN | APRIL 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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Jon Hackbarth, the director of talent buying for SCOPE, has kept this year's crew busy. With 15 acts booked, this year's concert lineup is tied for the largest of any previous school year. Though it's been worth it, Hackbarth insists it wasn't intentional.

"I wouldn't say that's a goal or anything," the 22-year-old said. "It's always quality over quantity when booking, but I was definitely excited."

Hackbarth has been helping SCOPE bring live music to Iowa City since his freshman year, when he began as a general committee member. Though the University of Iowa senior enjoyed every part he played in the student-run organization, he always wanted to be the person with the most direct effect on the acts chosen.

"Whenever new people interview for SCOPE, they are always asked, 'Where do you see yourself sitting in the future?' Everyone always says talent buyer because everyone wants to be the person to help bring cool stuff to Iowa City," he said. "Obviously, I said that, and I just kept in the back of my mind that it was something that I wanted to do."

When Hackbarth applied for the position as the only talent buyer for SCOPE his junior year, he got the job and immediately began trying to book acts for the fall schedule. Hackbarth quickly discovered how demanding the position can be, as roommate Mike Mettenburg can attest to.

"I would say in the morning before he thinks about taking a shower and before he thinks about getting breakfast, he thinks about SCOPE," Mettenburg said. "It's like a 24-7 thing for him."

At his busiest, Hackbarth sorts through 50 to 100 e-mails a day from acts wanting a spot on SCOPE's roster, in addition to cold-calling different agents to get some of his own picks to play in Iowa City.

The Cedar Rapids native is an avid music fan, listening to anything from country music to hip-hop. While he admits his listening habits probably come into play at some point in the process, the decision is ultimately about what show is right for Iowa City.

"Your taste in music is always going to pull as far as what you think will do well and what you think won't," he said. "But we're charged with breaking even on ticket sales, so it's 100 percent what you think will sell rather than what you think is cool for your own personal tastes."

That's not to say that artists who do well are never on his playlist, however. Hackbarth cites Nas and Damian Marley as an act that he was especially proud of booking, as well as DeVotchKa.

"I always wanted to promote a show in a church. DeVotchKa put on a great show, and the venue was spectacular," he said. "It was one of those moments where you reach one of your goals. Nobody had ever done a ticketed show in [First United Methodist Church] before, [so I'm] definitely proud of that."

Hackbarth's schedule gets a little less hectic after the acts are booked, but he does feel that his reputation is on the line with every concert. Even after his part of the deal is over, he stays involved in as many aspects of the show as possible, a habit that SCOPE director of operations Carly Susral admires.

"A lot of people in his job will book a show and then not really see it all the way through," she said. "But he definitely follows through all the way with helping market the show and really sees it through from start to finish."

While Hackbarth's duties often cause him to be away from the same shows he helped to set up, he notes that every once in a while he still enjoys the rush of seeing a show come together.

"There's always times that you just get blown away by some artist that was unexpected," he said. "I think that's what everyone in SCOPE lives for."

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