Photo by Casey Gomez

On Feb. 14, 2018, the Operations and Event Services department of the Georgia Tech Student Center cancelled all after-hours events at Under the Couch through Feb. 28, citing security and safety concerns about the weekly Open Mic Night event run by Musician’s Network.

Heath Murphy, president of Musician’s Network, sent an email to the club’s mailing list at 12:50 p.m. on Wednesday, informing members of the cancellations for the next two weeks. He also informed club members that a new space for their weekly meeting would be arranged, as the club typically meets at Under the Couch after the space officially closes for the day.

Benjamin Williams, the Program Advisor for Under the Couch, indicated that the student center provides funding and staffing to Under the Couch and that the space was officially recognized as belonging to the student center.

“I actually had a parent call me,” Williams said about the reason for the cancellations. “She was asking me about an event that was happening in the space on a Thursday evening, which is typically when Musician’s Network would hold their open mic night.”

Williams expressed concerns about the event, as it “was with an outside group that presented itself as if they were doing an event in this space.”

He also stated that the outside group was attempting to use the event to showcase artists despite the fact that the event had been booked by Musician’s Network as an open mic night. He found references to cash prizes and the possibility of an open bar at the event.

“That group also was trying to manipulate Musician’s Network,” Williams said. “I think that’s why it’s so important for us to take this opportunity to reset and make sure that we’re protecting both the space, but also Musician’s Network, from any liability.”

The organization advertising the event in question was BU Digital, which runs talent showcases in Atlanta, awarding cash prizes and record deals to local artists who perform at their events. Their Facebook page contained advertisements for an event at Under the Couch where artists could perform for the potential to win a $100 prize, as well as a $100,000 record deal.

When asked if his organization had been aware of the organization before the cancellations, Murphy stated that “Our previous open mic officer has been aware of a woman named Queen Brown since last March; I became aware on Tuesday.”

The event was advertised by Musician’s Network as their regular open mic night in their weekly meeting minutes, which contained no references to BU Digital or their advertised event.

Murphy released an official statement in response to the event cancellations, noting that the organization has cancelled 18 practice sessions as a result of the freeze on after-hours use of the space. These practice sessions are only available to due-paying members of Musician’s Network.

With regards to the two-week suspension, the statement read, “in the past, Musician’s Network has accepted these shifts in policy as an inevitable part of the student center’s upcoming changes. However, this newest policy is uncharacteristically drastic, and one which has altered Musician’s Network’s relationship with the student center in a way which is not constructive to either group.

“Musician’s Network views this suspension and complete change in after-hours activities as an undeserved punishment, and one which does not match the circumstances that lead to its implementation.”

He also stated that “members of Musician’s Network were not made aware of this group’s actions until the student center was contacted about the falsely advertised event,” and that the advertisements “listed many features that Musician’s Network would never allow to occur, such as monetary prizes and a music label signing agreement.”

“The student center has also demanded that all Musician’s Network officers turn in their keys to the interior doors of Under the Couch within a week,” Murphy stated. “This is problematic, as all of the speakers, instruments and general equipment within Under the Couch (aside from the soundboard and projectors within the main room of the space) belong to Musician’s Network.

“With the new policies in place, both Musician’s Network’s equipment manager and studio manager will lose the freedom to access to the equipment that is vital to many of our activities without the assistance of a student center employee. This will also put a hindrance on any rentals of Musician’s Networks equipment in the future.”

According to both the official statement and Williams, any after-hours events at Under the Couch will now require the presence of a student center employee. Williams cited this new policy as part of the reason for the two-week freeze, as “it wasn’t reasonable for [them] to accommodate that staffing” on such short notice.

“I think it’s like they’re not taking the students’ side at all,” said Jack Thomson, the former president of Musician’s Network. He noted that the takeover of an Under the Couch event by an external group was a problem but said that the student center staff “don’t care about the students. They just care about the image of Georgia Tech, which is fair, I guess, but we’re the ones here.”