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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 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.