Last week, we played with the idea of whether you should throw events, and pushed you to set some goals. Now that you have your head around the idea that promoting can help massively in your finding success as a DJ, it’s time to get out and make things happen!
Of course many will sit there in bewilderment wondering where you should start, but the first move goes back to what you may have already done in getting your mixtapes and demos out there… networking.
Find your team
I don’t care if you’re a total neophyte to promotion or an experienced promoter; don’t try to throw / promote events on your own. There are just too many factors in play and too much work needed to find success; one person cannot handle it all.
Remember when I spoke of how important networking is for DJs? I imagine in your networking you not only met promoters and venue owners / managers, but also visual techs, bartenders, sound techs, cocktail servers, more DJs, and a myriad of clubbers. These people are important as well. They are people who you’ll end up teaming up with in events.
If you’re completely new to it all, then I would honestly tell you to try to join up with an established promotion crew. In most crews, there are usually one or two guys who are serious and end up doing most of the work, while the rest are only along for free drinks and possible DJ bookings. If you show up as a serious person and prove it, the promoters will take you seriously and eventually even book you to play because you’ve become a big reason for their success.
You might end up just handing out flyers for starters, but you’re in. Plus you get to learn how and why things happen. I’ll admit I used to see things only from a DJ standpoint, but saw the scene differently when I tried to be a promoter. You learn a lot by doing this.
The others I spoke of (visual techs, bartenders, sound techs, cocktail servers, more DJs, and a myriad of clubbers) can also be useful. What if you wanted to throw a rave? Isn’t it nice to know someone with a sound system you can rent or partner up with? How about that visual tech that can do lights for a piece of the action? The DJs and clubbers can help with time slots, connections to bigger names to book, or even just street promotion.
What if one of them is a graphic designer? There’s your flyers. The bartenders are actually people who will end up later telling you how their venue needs someone for a weeknight, and you should call the manager. This is why networking is so vital in this line of work.
Find the right venue
So you have a crew or are just part of one. Where will you throw your event? The best advice I can give is to find the right venue, not just the available venue.
You might pass by that small club located in another neighbourhood. It’s empty, but has a nice layout and sound system. You keep thinking how cool it would be to pack that place, with you at the helm. But step away from the DJ fantasy and look at it from business perspective.
Why is it empty at midnight on a Saturday? How far is this venue from other bars and clubs in your town? How does the general market look at this venue? What kind of a market do you have?
In Chicago, there are loads of places where one can throw events, but most of them are what are called “destination spots”. They are venues that are located in other neighbourhoods that patrons have to drive to reach, and where they do not have many other options in the area.
But many patrons now love to “hop” from venue to venue; so they’ll go someplace, spend an hour there, then move on to the next (usually by walking). If your potential venue isn’t near other spots, then it might work against you. I’ve had occasions where no one came out because they wanted to stay in the districts that give them many options.
You also need to think about how the scene looks at this venue. I made the mistake in the past of throwing EDM events in a club known more as a black/Hispanic nightclub. It was at that time empty and I attempted to do underground music there, since at that time the big local underground promoter had gone bankrupt and thus there was an empty hole that could be filled.
Much of the underground scene, though, had been spoiled by that other promoter flying in major headliners weekly, as well as venues with multi-million dollar layouts and sound systems. My potential crowd simply felt the venue was not “proper” and I ended up failing. Even if I had tried to throw mainstream music events in that venue, catering mostly to a Caucasian audience, they would probably not come out because they would have thought the venue was too “ghetto”.
Let’s go beyond the club and think about a warehouse 75 miles outside of the city. It ay seem an amazing choice, but will ravers be willing to drive that long and pay a cover to enter (compared to a cool, hidden loft party in the city)?
These are all major considerations to think of when you think about a venue for your events, no matter what kind of party you want to throw.
Be careful when you negotiate
Now you picked a spot and set up a meeting with the owner of the club. You come in for this meeting and talk terms. Who’s going to print flyers and who’s going to promote? What kinds of drink specials will he give you as a help for your event? Who’s running the door and collecting money? Has this venue ever charged cover? Lots of questions, but this is what comes up in the discussion. You need to think about your budget for this event as a whole.
If it’s just a club event then factors like print promotion, online promotion, your own personal staff, and entertainment are all you really worry about. If you’re doing something bigger, like a rave, then add in security, event staff (to collect cover charge, sell drinks etc.), sounds, lights/visuals, transportation, and even the cost of renting the venue.
It doesn’t matter what kind of crowd is coming: Unless you’re flying in a big name DJ, you generally need some kind of drink special to sweeten the deal with patrons. It’s amazing how many will go to a hole in the wall with a crappy DJ if there is an amazing deal on alcohol and a good crowd.
Think about the market. If it’s an underground market, then they want a venue that’s not “fashion” with entertainment that’s known and popular with them, as well as cheap drinks and a low cover. If it’s a mainstream market, then they want a pretty venue with beautiful people, music they know, and some kind of caste system to make them feel “important”.
Should you charge a cover? I would only give two reasons to charge a cover. One would be if you’re bringing out some name-brand talent. The other is if you want to keep “bad elements” out. When you hit up a mainstream club and wonder why they’re charging $20 to enter for just their local DJs, it’s really because they don’t want the folks with little money coming in,which they equate with trouble.
You may choose to charge a cover if you need to pay some big expenses, but ideally you should avoid it and instead make a deal for a percentage of the bar sales. Many owners will reject this, but if you show you bring money into the club, they’ll often agree. You might have to do a few free nights (meaning you don’t get anything) to prove yourself, but you can attract more people in with no cover or a small cover than trying to make all your money at the door.
Never accept a drinks guarantee!
Here’s a hard-won tip: Never accept a drinks guarantee! This is a trick some owners will try where they get you to agree to guarantee them a certain amount of money in liquor sales, or else you pay out of pocket. So if you get five people in and you’re supposed to make him $5,000 in sales, guess who pays? If an owner hits you with this, say no. If he insists, walk out. Find another venue, because with a guarantee, he makes money no matter what, and you take on all the risk.
Lastly, get everything in writing. You will be surprised how many people will try to screw you in this industry.
Think beyond a space with a DJ booth
With the venue set and in order, it comes time now to think about your actual event. Often times many just think a venue with sounds and some lights are enough, but what about decor? Did you ever think about a theme? Or some kind of gimmick?
I remember some promoters who ran electroclash nights where they decorated a large club in the theme of the event. One time they had Pac-Man on the flyer, and ended up putting temporary paint on the railings of the club, and hung some Pac-Man cutouts on the walls. Then they illuminated the club in black lights, making all those coloured railings mimic the blue barriers of a typical Pac-Man game. Another time they put up canvases with graffiti on them and had breakers come out to perform, like it was right out of the 80s.
Take it even to a modern level. Global Adrenaline in Chicago were known for their infamous iCandy events, where they hired local club girls to come dressed up in a certain theme (schoolgirls, fairies, construction workers, nurses, and so on) and even decorated the club as well as came up with a drink special that mimicked the night. It’s little wonder their events were packed every month.
Dare to be different. Look at the movies when you see clubs and raves, and how decorated they are. It takes more than just entertainment to bring people out. Think about these factors and not only might you get successful, but build an amazing brand for yourself in the process – both as a DJ and a promoter. European-based readers need on ly think of the massive success of Manumission, a club brand built on high production standards.
You notice I didn’t go deep into entertainment. We’re all DJs here, and this deserves its own entry. Next week I’m going to tell you the right and wrong way to think about entertainment, and why you can’t always be a “pal” or “nice guy” when you’re thinking about who to book.
Check out the other parts in this series:
- How To Promote Events & Throw Your Own Parties: Part 1
- How To Promote Events & Throw Your Own Parties: Part 3
- How To Promote Events & Throw Your Own Parties: Part 4
- How To Promote Events & Throw Your Own Parties: Part 5
- How To Promote Events & Throw Your Own Parties: Part 6
Have you ever made a right choice of venue, or a horribly wrong one? Have you managed to negotiate good terms with a club owner – or been stung? Please let us know your experiences (and ask any questions) in the comments.