The Essentials for a Safe, Successful DIY Show or Party

Is there anything missing from this guide? Do you have suggestions for bettering the advice listed below? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with host@groove.cafe.

A well-planned show basically runs itself, and it can feel like the easiest thing in the world when everything is going smoothly. Barring a scheduling hiccup, a tweeter blowing in the PA, an attendee violating others’ boundaries, the neighbors calling the police with a noise complaint, a fist fight, a recklessly intoxicated person, a recklessly intoxicated promotor, an inattentive door person, or openly expressed bigoted hostility, a DIY show can be a walk in the park.

But just because something goes wrong doesn’t mean your DIY show automatically becomes a conclusive failure. In fact, you have to go into throwing a show with the assumption that something is going to go wrong at some point. If you throw enough shows, you’ll really see

Parties are the long-time cornerstone of underground music, which means people have been doing this for a long time. Many folks who start throwing shows in a local loft, warehouse, basement, or gallery treat it like they have to start from scratch and figure it all out themselves. Fortunately, that’s far from the case. There are a series of best practices for making your show easy to run and safe for everyone involved.

Barring the fact that providing a safe, enjoyable environment is an obligation to audience and artists alike, a better planned, better run show is a better show, plain and simple.

Do This for The Right Reasons

Before to brass tacks, it’s worth saying that you’re throwing a show because you know there’s a community of people who will turn up to play it and hang out enjoying the music. This is going to go a lot better if your #1 priority is making an incredible community event that everyone is stoked to be involved with.

If your #1 priority is getting paid, getting fucked up, hooking up, being seen, or indulging any sort of your own bullshit, just remember you can do that any other day of the week on your own time. If you’re bringing people together, you have a responsibility to those people.

Make something joyous. Create a little haven for a few hours where people can enjoy music and enjoy each other. The world is pretty much hell these days. Keep that outside of your party.

The Basics of Prepping with the Hosting Venue

The first step is booking the show. That’s for another article.

But just as important is coordinating with the venue that you’re booking the show at. Put together a schedule for the show and run it by the venue to see if they have any concerns or proposed changes. You’ll need to coordinate:

  • Precise times for load-in and sound check
  • The specifics on the PA. More on this below. If you have a separate person working sound, get them in on this conversation.
  • A line-up with rough estimates of set times.
  • Pay-out structure that details costs for the house and pay for each performer.

Of course, if you’re throwing a show at your own place, you still want to have this figured out and probably discussed in advance with whoever shares the space with you.

Warn Your Neighbors

Dealing with neighbors is the tricky part. If you’re in a residential area and the it’s going to be a loud show running late, you absolutely need to give them a heads up. Obviously, if you aren’t in a residential area, the neighbors aren’t nearly as much of a concern.

Exchange phone numbers with your neighbors so they can text you if things are getting out of hand, which will hopefully ensure that they’re contacting you before calling into 911 with a noise complaint.

Give the PA and any especially loud instrument a dry run during the day time. Play some bass-heavy music or pound on your drums to see if sound carries outside while everyone on your block is wide awake and less likely to get pissed. If things can be heard easily from the street, you’ll want to make whatever adjustments to your PA and show schedule necessary to keep neighbors content and the cops unaware. If the sound can’t be heard from the street, you’re doing it right.

Plan for the Worst (aka, Practicing Cop Prevention)

Read over Groove Cafe’s Basic Resources for Running a Safe Party Space. It has lots of links and embedded materials that you’ll find useful in preventing your need for outside intervention.

When it comes to a party, the police will rarely de-escalate a tricky situation. It’s your responsibility as a promotor to make sure you aren’t endangering vulnerable folks with a police presence. Remember that ICE is running amok these days and that trans folk and people of color are often antagonized by law enforcement.

If you need to de-escalate an issue, find a way to do it yourself or with help from others at the event. 911 really is best left as a resource for medical emergencies, building problems, and dire safety issues.

A guide will be coming soon about steps you can take to make sure cops don’t show up at your show. The big ones, though, include:

  • Being mindful of the amount of noise you’re creating outside of the show space.
  • Making sure attendees aren’t smoking or lingering on the street in front of the venue.
  • Ensuring that any person intoxicated to the point of risk has a safe way home.
  • Having a good rapport with your neighbors.

Gather and Equip Trusted Personnel

The good news is that you really do not need more than a handful to run small-to-medium-sized show. It basically boils down to having the one or two people

You’re going to need the following:

  • A door person with at least $60 in 1- and 5-dollar bills.
  • Someone with good judgement running your bar.
  • An attendant at the merch table.
  • A designated sound person.

You, as the person organizing the show, definitely don’t want to take any of these responsibilities for the entire show. If there’s any sort of issue whatsoever, you’ll want to be available to attend to the situation immediately. It’s certainly fair to sit in on any of these duties for a few minutes though, especially if someone is worn out or needs to hit the bathroom.

With all that said, if you know how to run sound, it’s pretty easy to set levels at the beginning of each set and check in on the sound board every now and again.

Prep Your Sound System

More on this topic to come in a separate article but here are some basics.

Secure a PA. This means you’ll want a system that has, bare minimum, a mixer, a power amplifier, and two mains (the big speakers on that sit vertically stands). Some mains, but not many, have suitable power amplifiers on board.

Run some sound through it in advance. Check to make sure everything sounds alright coming out of the mains. If they sound dull, the tweeter might be blown. If the bass sounds limp, you might have a blown speaker cone. Fix the PA or work on finding another one. Any strange crackling or sound cutting out is likely an issue with the cables.

Make sure your gain staging is set up properly to avoid blowing a speaker or distorting the signal. This is a job for a sound person, but if you want a quick and dirty run down of this process, check out this guide to gain staging.

Go outside while the PA is running. I know, I know, this is the third time. You have to make sure this isn’t going to piss off your neighbors.

Tell your performers if the PA is running in stereo or mono. Even better, tell them in advance. If you can’t tell, ask the person who lent you the PA, or a friend who knows them.

Have a Schedule

This part is simple but crucial. A schedule needs:

  • Time for load-in and soundcheck
  • An idea of set times, especially important to communicate to the venue and the between-set DJ, if you have one
  • The time sound is turned off

Having even the roughest timeline along these points can prevent a lot of conflicts and hiccups.

Pay Out

Pay as many people as you possibly can. Pay the performers. Pay the DJ. Pay the video artists. Pay the door person, the sound person, and the venue whatever was agreed upon.

For some reason, a lot of organizers will only compensate artists. Yes artists should be compensated, but the behind the scenes folks should too. First off, it’s only fair. They showed up, they worked. The show literally couldn’t have happened without them.

Second, you want to ensure that the people making sure you’re show runs beautifully are happy. Things slip through the cracks when a group of people is doing thankless grunt work. Show your team they’re appreciated. Keep them happy. Remember that you’re running an event that’s illegal in one way or another, and full of attendees expecting to enjoy the party in peace and safety. Ensuring that much demands all hands on deck.

Didn’t bring in enough to pay the door person and also make sure the touring band got enough? Hopefully you were compensating your door person in beer and some food.

Groove du Jour: Tape Music Today

By counts of duration and gravity, tape has been the most important instrument in electronic music. It was literally the first technology that was used to make a electronic music, and its experimental potential explored in the early musique concrète and BBC Radiophonic Workshop compositions has helped it sustain as an actively used medium into the 21st century.

Surely as the number of methods of creating electronic music has multiplied, especially in this millenium as the computer has supplanted the main use of tape a recording apparatus, tape appears less and less.

But there are still artists doing inspiring and innovative work with tape, and this post focuses on a few that show new possibilities yet with the oldest electronic music tool. Last decade’s wave of tape noise is more or less avoided here since a lot of that has been properly lionized.


Whitney Johnson

Groove Cafe has covered Whitney Johnson before and probably will again. In her solo work as Matchess, WJ was using tape as a long time as a method of playing back samples, but recently she’s been employing it for long, overlapping tones in an Eliane Radigue type style:

With Laura Callier in Simulation, WJ would record the first half of their set in real time, and then play it back for the second half of their set, creating, yes you guessed it, a live simulation. Erica Gamble has provided both of these videos.

Continue reading Groove du Jour: Tape Music Today

Irreversible Entanglements @ Arts for Art Festival, 1/4/2017

Irreversible Entanglements was formed for an event commemorating the killing of Akil Gurley by the NYPD back in 2015, and that urgent spark has ignited into a blaze as state violence against black bodies has not just sustained brazenness but given way to near-giddy expressions of hate from America’s chief executive down to the clammy-handed white supremacist in a polo. The group’s improvisation and poetry harkens back to the genesis of free jazz as radical, revolutionary fire music. Their performance can drain all the blood from your skin.

Irreversible Entanglements is comprises series of radical musicians in their own right. The founding trio was Camae Ayewa, recording in the black power electronics solo project Moor Mother and in a fantastic collab with DJ Haram called 700 Bliss; Luke Stewart, who is one of the finest bass players in America currently; and fearsome sax player Keir Neuringer, who has been affiliated with the likes of Dutch group Ensemble Klang and Dromedaries. Irreversible Entanglements put out an album on International Anthem last year and it’s really great.

This video was recorded by Don Mount at the Arts for Art festival in New York.

Host

Suzanne Ciani @ Berkeley Museum 4/28/2017

Ah, the master. It’s really easy to piss off a man in a baseball cap and/or holding a BFA in composition by saying Suzanne Ciani is a better Buchla player than Morton Subotnick, but look at her do it! We really are lucky that SC was drawn back to the synthesizer after years crunching away at the piano’s dizzying arithmetic. She edged closer to Western melody for so many years that she devoted her talents to it exclusively, only to be yanked back by banana cables’ short drag. Another way to put it is that her music has such lucid compositional intent, rare in all-synthesizer work.

Suzanne Ciani’s only contemporary recording that has been released so far is a fantastic collaboration with Kaitlin Aurelia Smith, and if you enjoy the video above you should absolutely check out live recordings of hers from 1975 released a couple of years ago. But if you want the most heavenly Ciani, listen to Seven Waves and Velocity of Love back to back, on loop, all day.

Host

Dreaming of Music After the End of Facebook

This post is long, so I’ve embedded some music throughout you can listen to while reading.

We have been disgruntled about Facebook for a long time.

It seems like there are two reasons we’ve used it for this long. The first often rings as an exhausted regurgitation of Facebook’s current marketing campaign, that it connects us to our high school friends, people from camp, so on and so forth. Leaving Facebook, we’d be exiting a community.

The second is, simply, Events. You’ll rarely hear someone more exhausted by the internet than when you hear a music lover, musicians, and organizer say they’re only on Facebook for the events.

In neither of these cases is being happy with Facebook any part of the equation. Imagine if you heard a friend say, “I love Facebook.” You’d probably check their pupils and make sure they knew what day of the week it is.

Of course, Facebook just has to keep us unperturbed enough to stay on its platform so it can continue mining our data. Anyone who has used the platform for this long has continued to be begrudgingly on board with that.

Yet the past week’s leaks and exposés on Cambridge Analytica have underscored that Facebook is indiscriminate with how it doles that data out.

But now we’ve learned that Facebook would rather not know what happens with that data once it’s sold — including if that data is then peddled second hand, surprisingly — and will quickly turn around and tell users we agreed to give the data in the first place didn’t we?

It’s as much a pillar of contemporary American life as McDonald’s, Jordans, or Marvel movies, yet is widely considered a terrible product with strikingly limited upsides. Facebook doesn’t look good, doesn’t taste good, and isn’t even particularly entertaining. At least when you go to Target, you complete a necessary transaction and never have to talk to anybody. Facebook just smugly fucks us over.

Continue reading Dreaming of Music After the End of Facebook

Groove du Jour: The ADT Cornucopia

ADT’s new record Insecurities is totally fricking phenomenal. It’s also something of a moment for the Chicago scene. Yes, Insecurities is the culmination of years of work by one of the most exciting bands in town. But it’s also a snapshot of a group of players who come from all these different pockets of the Chicago scene, making the band something of a local super group.

So, to give you a little context for who these people are and what they do. Here are a whole bunch of videos of members of ADT playing in other projects. Most of these videos were shot by the incredibly Erica Gamble. Ok, let’s do this alphabetically by band member.

Jake Acosta

Jake Acosta writes the songs for and leads the sophisitipop band Famous Laughs.

He used to perform solo as Jazz Baat (in this video joined by fellow ADT member Carlos Chavarria)

Continue reading Groove du Jour: The ADT Cornucopia

Kaori Suzuki @ Studio Grand, 4/3/2017

Stunning synth drone brimming with tension from Kaori Suzuki. The Oakland artist deals in that timeless style of modular synth work surveying that puzzling area between overtones. It reconfigures how sound works in spaces, like rooms or grey substrate between ears. When tones are so often means to an end, it’s always remarkable when an artist so deftly concentrates on just a few.

Suzuki builds synths as well as playing them, and founded the synth company Magic Echo Music. They made a really neat device to let a computer control a Serge synthesizer, that legendary synth system designed by a mad genius professor at Cal Arts in the 70s.

This video was shot by Bill Russell at Studio Grand in Oakland.

Host