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.

Treating PTSD (on an Artist’s Budget)

This is part of a series on mental health and well-being in the music scene.

Put simply, PTSD makes life harder to live. In our cultural imagination, it’s often associated with troops who witnessed something heinous on the battlefield. Starting with the classification of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the DSM–III — the 1980 edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s main toolkit for cataloging and diagnosing mental disorders — the mental health establishment started to recognize the psychiatric impact of traumatic events. “Battle fatigue” morphed into something the American medical establishment considered treatable.

If you’re interested in reading about the DSM–V’s criteria for PTSD you can read about it on the US Department of Veterans Affairs site. You’ll find that the current criteria is really geared towards people who have lived through a specific traumatic event. This criteria doesn’t necessarily account for the effects of trauma sustained over a period of time, such as sustained child sexual abuse, long-term domestic abuse, or years of experiencing intense homophobia or transphobia.

This guide will cover two forms of PTSD and discuss treatment of each. At the end, are some resources for finding mental health professionals.

It may seems peculiar for a music publication to cover a topic like treating PTSD. While there absolutely no reason to believe that PTSD affects musicians disproportionately from the rest of the population, the fact of the matter is that trauma can be so much of what drives a person to lose them, her, or himself in music or a music scene and that, conversely, a music scene can lead directly to trauma, be that by sexual violence, drug abuse, or something catastrophic like the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland.

So while musicians are likely not disproportionately afflicted by PTSD, musicians are nonetheless affected.

What is the nature of your trauma?

PTSD takes two main forms.

The first is the kind we think of when we think about soldiers, EMTs, and natural disaster survivors. This is PTSD as outlined in the DSM–V and is very much so incident based.

Continue reading Treating PTSD (on an Artist’s Budget)

Basic Resources for Running a Safe Party Space

This guide will always be a work in progress. Email host@groove.cafe with suggested additions or changes. This guide is cursory in nature, and individual points will be expanded as separate articles.

Parties are hard to keep safe, and bad things can happen to them at any time. Last year’s Ghost Ship tragedy in Oakland is — if we do it right from here on out — the most stark reminder of this simple fact we’ll get in our lifetimes.

In the wake of that stunning tragedy, a lot of the official talk around the event focused on how Ghost Ship was an illegal show space. It wasn’t up to code, it wasn’t zoned for living and performance, etc etc. And a lot of us in the scene had a tight feeling in our chests for weeks after, muttering to each other “this could have happened in the space we were in last night.”

And that’s true. What makes the underground music scene beautiful is that it thrives in the face of the fact that conventional structures in society don’t account for us and what we make. It’s called home by people who couldn’t rightfully call any other setting home, and is a haven for art outside of structures of fads, arbitrary norms, or capital.

At the same time, finding this alternative way beautiful is really and truly just finding beauty in marginalization. We are left to fend for ourselves and when it all burns down, we’re met with finger wagging, lawsuits, and 4chan vigilantes. It led to one of those moments when we realized that because we improvise an alternative way of life, we don’t have the clearest ideas on how to really make it safe or sustainable.

It’s another flash of harsh reality, like when we find out about serial predators the complicit let roam, or about the drugs killing our brightest or youngest. These bad things happen in our scene. They destroy people, they strain the mesh of this stressed net that holds out communities up. They can happen any time and in fact they happen often.

This is an important point. The worst thing you can imagine is always around the corner. So we must be prepared.

On the topic of fires, there was one at the current Silent Barn in Brooklyn back in 2015. Silent Barn was zoned for performance, up to code, and insured. Those compliances didn’t stop an electrical fire from taking the upstairs apartments, nor the torrents of water sprayed by the firefighters from incurring substantial water damage.

But good fire safety practices prevented that fire from turning into a disaster and robust community support helped the Barn bounce back. We can and should treat all threats to the well-being of our family members in the underground music scene as preventable, while being versed in how to deal with crises when they inevitably arise.

What follows is a list of links, resources, and thoughts on running a safe party space. This is by no means the official rulebook for running a safe party and should be a launching point for your own research and conversations with collaborators about the shows you’re involved with. It will be added to whenever something relevant comes along.

Continue reading Basic Resources for Running a Safe Party Space