Over To You: Why Did My Party Flop?

dance floor

Doesn't matter how great you've made your venue look, if you've not promoted your event properly, nobody is going to see it.
Pic: Party Central Disk Jockeys

Digital DJ Tips reader Alex says: "I came to visit Finland this summer over from Japan where I currently live, and came across something very frustrating. I've DJed a lot at places such as schools and house parties which have a 'permanent audience', but this time I went and tried something that I've never tried before. My friend and I decided to organise a gig at a quite well-known place. Man, we worked so hard to make it happen, planned it a month ahead, invited nearly 1,000 people, and spent many long hours getting the place into shape. But, unfortunately when the day came, guess how many people showed up? Three, one of them by accident. Any ideas on what went wrong? Suggestions for pulling a crowd?"

Digital DJ Tips says:

I promoted event for the best part of 15 years, and saw this many, many times. I was lucky enough to be very successful as a promoter, but I wasn't immune either - I put on events that did badly too. I am going to throw out a few pointers to what went wrong, just based on what you've told me. Firstly, sounds like you weren't from the place you threw the party - bad move in my experience, as you fill venues from the ground up, and it helps to know local attendees very well to start to get the ball rolling. I saw many out-of-towners flop when they tried to promote in my town.

Secondly, aiming to fill a well-known venue and inviting 1000s is not the way to throw a first party - 50 people in a small back room is the way to do it, and you build from there. Promoting isn't easy, and working at it for a month is really just scraping the surface of what really makes an event work, as any experienced promoter would confirm to you. And finally, hours spent making the place look nice are wasted hours when you have limited manpower - you should have spent those hours grassroots promoting.

We have lots of articles on this, and I've linked to a few below, but I know among our readers we have many who have promoted their own parties, and I think they could help you a lot here too.

So, over to you! Please share what's worked and what hasn't for you, and especially let's hear about errors you made when you promoted parties in the past and what you did to solve them. Your help in the comments will I am sure be much appreciated by our reader.

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  1. James Nox says:

    Well, I experienced some difficulty with my first party aswell wich I gave in a city close by, we anticipated 300 people 20 were actuelly there. Kinda dissapointing. However one month later I organised a party in my own town in my own backyard. Just 2 movingheads en a simple dj setup. Anticipated 50 people 150 came! So yea start small and within your own circle of contacts

  2. What night of the week was it? Sometimes, even a Saturday is the worst night to hold an event. Also, how involved was the venue itself in promoting it? Just recently, I have vowed to never return to a venue that wouldn't promote my night online. Yet, promoted other events online. That showed people the place didn't think highly of what I did. As for gaining a crowd, that takes time. Realize you're competing with people who have been in the game for over a decade. Most people follow whatever is popular. Keep your head up. You'll get what you're after.

    • Did you provide the venue with a press release? A description for their web person to cut and paste onto their website like you want it to say? A web size event photo, YouTube links or whatever else you want to use? Sometimes the person in charge of the website updates has a lot to do and doesnt get around to detailing events that they have no details for.

      Not to mention, YOU need to make them excited about your event by keeping in contact with updates etc. If you get the venue (and in the same way, members of the press) excited about your event they are all more likely to promote it well for you.

  3. I'm guessing that if a well established venue just let you waltz on in and thrown an even just like that then they probably gave you the quietest night of the week, in an attempt to see if you could make something of it. Thats option 1. Option 2 is there was no market for your event ie music genre no one likes. Option 3 you promoted and marketed all wrong. Its extra hard to do it in a place you're not from (unless you're a famous internationaly DJ/producer).

  4. People rely on social network too much when promoting events it's a tool not the be and end all. If your planning a party you have to sell it. Get the wording right, artwork looking good and promote, promote promote. I have spent many a night outside other peoples nights flyering for my event and speaking to people who are leaving the venue. Your party needs to stand out as there are so many small nights trying to get people through the door. A month is quite short notice for planning and promoting an event. Don't let your set back put you off use it a learning curve. There is no better feeling seeing than seeing a full dancefloor after all your hard work

    • In many cities, promoting on the sidewalks is illegal, as is hanging posters on city poles etc. Not to mention rude to the venue you are standing outside of unless it's going to be hosted at that venue. People reply on posters too much. They are important, but flyering is not as useful as you think (except in some select markets.) Social media is very important, but it still limits your reach. The key is the same key for marketing any business...collecting contacts/customer data. Know who your customers/fans are. Know how to reach them. A person who enjoyed your last event should NEVER not go to your next event just because they didn't know about it because they didn't pick up a paper and see your expensive ad or didn't get it in their FB feed. You shouldn't start fresh marketing to the general public at every event. A good ticketing strategy will help tremendously with record keeping.

  5. I feel your pain. I just put on a show with Dani Deahl a couple weeks ago and lost my ass. 55 peopl paid through the door.
    (Dani put on a killer set as did the other djs)
    I had promotion out on the streets 2 months before the event, bought online ads, really threw whatever promotion I could afford at the show and still got whooped. Sometimes you can do everything right and still take a loss. Hard pill to swallow.

  6. I can guess that the problem might also have been "Finland", because I'm from here and I live in Helsinki. (Also been living in England so I know the difference between those two)

    In Finland it goes like this: if you're really new and people don't know you from anywhere, they are going to choose a party where they are guarteed to have fun! So just keep doing mixes and promoting those first online and then the best way is to be a warm up for someone, who people WILL go to see! And if you are good people will remember you! Warm up gigs aren't that hard to get here, that's where it all starts from!

    • I don't think it's so different anywhere though, to be fair. People will naturally go with what they know.

      • What I ment was, in Finland people will never (ok, very rarely) go to your party, if they arent guaranteed to enjoy! Even if it would be the biggest club in Helsinki, and you would have promoted for months.

      • DJ Forced Hand says:

        I think people experiment and try new places (how else would new clubs start?) but in order to experiment, they have to be comfortable doing so. Why else would a group of women go club-hopping together? When young, friendly, pretty people are someplace having a great time, other people follow. If you want people to come to your club, it's all about lowering the inhibitions and raising expectations of a good time.

  7. "Invited nearly 1,000 people" is the first red flag I saw. Did you personally invite them? Did you send out 1k invites on Facebook? Did you only print 1,000 flyers and hand them out considering each an invite?

    In my experience as a promoter and watching others promote and how their shows went off it usually comes down to knowing the crowd and people. You need to build an audience and get people to know who you are and what you're about so when you announce an event they'll know it's going to be quality and pass the word for you to their friends. The best way to do this is to hand out flyers to people and unless it's a lot at once leaving a venue make sure to talk to each person and introduce yourself. I became known as that flyer guy always asking people if they had a flyer and it was a joke in a good way because it built friendships that have lasted a long time.

    Promote promote promote. Hit the streets, don't rely on just Facebook and Twitter.

  8. Dirty Disco Soundsystem says:

    Hey! Good tips here. Can't add much more but would really stress to start out small and work it up from there. Just a few weeks 'til our first DirtyDisco party in Nottingham and we've invited about 150. We'll be made up if we get 50+ bods in there esp. as it's a really small room. Rather have a very busy small room than an empty big one.

    Re: promotion - use every channel, contact, mates of mates etc. Social media will only get you so many eyeballs!!!

    Good luck!

  9. It's tough! I'm currently an expat worker in Bangkok and thus can only promote/play out in my free time. A few of us started putting on a monthly party and it was definitely slow at first. Well, the first party was a blast! We all dragged all of our friends out for the first one.

    But after that, it comes down to hitting the streets and meeting the people. People are more likely to show up if you offer a unique night with quality music and if they know who you are. They'll only get to know you from meeting you at parties / events that have similar or overlapping musical tastes. (i.e. you can't go to a punk rock show expecting people you meet there to come out to your tech-house night)

    It's not easy at first, especially if there is a language barrier. But the music you play will help to speak for you. Let the people in your scene know that you're a dj, introduce them somehow to the music that you play. If you can't make any inroads with the party promoters already out there, try your hand at any of the local dj competitions going on. Even if you don't win, it's great exposure.

    And like the rest of these guys have said, people don't go out on a Sat night to listen to someone they've never heard of before

  10. As stated before; start small and make it memorable. Stand out from the rest.

    We did it in Eindhoven, and added work from Grapic designers, VJ's and a group of T-Shirt customizers in the party mix. Make sure plp have something special to remember your night from.

  11. My first self-promoted mid-weekly night in a large local pub room taught me a couple of things: a) If you are charging entry at the door, don't under-price yourself. Many people on the way in said, "If it only costs that, it can't be much good." The second week, I doubled the entry charge and trebled the crowd. People do act strangely sometimes.
    2) Don't be too discouraged at an initial small crowd. Whatever sort of time they've had, they'll tell people. It's up to you to give them a good time they'll talk about.

  12. Many of the points above have proven to be important parts of the way how-to-do-it, so yes do them.
    That said, I would advise to check the whole picture; organizing a party/night/festival is like baking a multilayered cake, so if you get one wrong, it all will fall out. Iex. you do everything perfect but choose the wrong date, or wrong venue, etc, etc. and we know the results.
    Easy to say you will but even easier to forget if you happen to get the DJs or venue you've been longing for... and that same date other parties were already attracting your attendants.
    That example brought to memory one painful side of producing events; don't overstrech your posibilities. I also suffer when I recall the long months, even years I've witnessed some close ones to go by, trying to pay their dues because they wanted that big line-up or expensive infrastructure or whatever. The potential problem is not just that people don't show up in quantity. So plan that in the low-risk case scenery, still you are able to pay your contracts, otherwise make sure you do have the financial support for your high aims.
    Probably goes without saying but it is bad that with some good numbers in the door, you still cannot pay for everything...

  13. "party people are flaky people" My sentiments exactly.

  14. Kent Sandvik says:

    As said, start small. If 1000 promises to show up, 10 will actually show up.

  15. Being a beginner to DJing, if I were to be one of the 3 people that showed up, I literally would have paid the DJ $200 just to spend the night showing me how all of the equipment works, how to set up, and to give me a basic how-to-DJ lesson. It would probably change his feelings about the night and he'd probaly be happy to be getting at least something out of it. Plus, I'm sure it would make the DJ pleasantly surprised, and after spending the night together one-on-one - BAM - I'd suddenly have a solid connection. And isn't that about half the importance of DJing - having good connections? Just a thought...

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