Full disclosure: I’ve never thrown a jam. Why? It’s hard. That’s the first thing most new promoters get wrong. They think its easy. The common assumption seems to be that all you need to do is get a venue and people will flock from all corners of the globe. Sorry to break it to you but this isn’t Field of Dreams. It’s gonna take a lot more than a local rec center gym, a can-do attitude and James Earl Jones for people to show up just because you built it.
(correction: James Earl Jones might help)
They don’t think about costs of paying judges, DJs, hosts, hotel rooms, travel expenses, staff, graphic designers, printers, equipment rental, prizes or security. Sometimes they don’t even think of the fact that they need some of those things. You’d be surprised how often I’m contacted by promoters that have locked down a venue, hired judges, made flyers, sent out 1000 Facebook invites and don’t even have a sound system a week before the jam.
So what gives me the authority to write about this? I’ve been behind the scenes at a lot of events as the DJ or just a friend of the promoter and I’ve seen just about every mistake a promoter can make. I don’t claim to be an authority on this, I’m just giving you the absolute basic things you need to do or at least think about. If you’ve never thrown a jam before, reading this is at least better than going in blind. If you want more info, look to your local scene. If you know promoters in the area or DJs who have been active in this for a while, talk to them. This isn’t the end-all, be-all in the subject and I certainly don’t know what it takes to recreate the success of Cros1, Mex or Tyrone of IBE, I’m just trying to help you not ruin your future as a promoter before you even get started.
Theres a lot to talk about when it comes to throwing a jam so this will be broken up into a few parts so I can be as in depth as possible.
Let’s start with a few things you can do without dragging any one else into this: Finding your vibe, budgeting and setting a date.
For today’s article, we’ll start with…
At all times, keep in mind why people choose certain jams over others: Vibe. There’s a thousands other names for it; feel, energy, branding, identity etc. Whatever you call it, it all boils down to the same thing; It’s not about who shows up to battle, a big prize or a famous judge, it’s about the feeling people get when they are at particular events. Vibe is the catch all term for that feeling and encompasses literally everything about your event.
Think of a concept for your jam and give it focus. Do you want a cypher-focused vibe? Do you want to showcase the battles? Is it a party? Is it just a battle or is it a community event? Is it a hip-hop event or only a b-boy event? Is it fun or serious?
Let’s take an event and break it down by its vibe. Let’s go with Outbreak since it has one of the clearest visions that comes to mind.
Mex is throwing an event with a focus on two things, hip-hop and community. Nominally, its a breaking event, that’s the main feature and the highlight of the weekend but besides the battles there’s always live graffiti, there have been MC cyphers and battles at past events and world class DJs. All the elements of hip-hop are there.
Beyond that, there are community building elements; a marketplace, lots of cypher time, typically a single hotel where everyone is staying, a performance from Fusik everyone can just watch and enjoy or dance to and the battles are held in a cypher, not on a stage.
The flyer, designed by Spen, typically showcases a number of people (community) all showcasing something that ties them to an element of hip-hop. The venue always has multiple areas to support all the things mentioned above; cyphers, battles, the marketplace.
Whether intentionally or instinctively, everything about the event suggests that it is a celebration of hip-hop and our community above all else. And when the event is over, those are the two words you will see most in every status, tweet or tumblr post about Outbreak. Now when you hear the word “Outbreak,” you know what you’re getting.
That’s what you want with your event. When someone hears its name, they know exactly what they’re getting, what to look forward to year after year and what sets it apart from every other event going on.
Once you have what you want the vibe of your event to be, every choice you make from the venue to the artist that makes your flyers needs to support that vibe. When you’re on the fence about any decision from now until the day of the event, think about the vibe you want and let that guide you. If an option or idea comes up, even if it’s a good one, but it doesn’t support the vibe for this event, save it for something else.
Avoid mission creep; as much as “vibe” is a tool for building your jam, it is also a tool for limiting it within a certain scope or vision. You don’t want it to grow to become an unwieldy mess of disparate ideas. It’s very easy for promoters, especially on their first event or their first big event to add on a ton of extra battles beyond their original concept.
A big trend that has gotten a lot of criticism recently has been for All Styles battles to be added on to a b-boy battle as sort of a side battle. I say this is recent but it’s not. Before there was even such a thing as an “All Styles” battle, it was pretty much a given that any jam you went to was going to have a poorly organized popping battle. The strategy tends to come from a position of trying to earn a little more money at the door by attracting dancers other than b-boys.
Here’s the thing, you might pull a couple extra bucks but if you’re not putting just as much attention to the all styles battle; top judges, a knowledgeble DJ, a separate area or day for the different types of cyphers and competitions, then chances are, you’ll just hurt your reputation as a promoter. B-boys will be pissed because you’re taking time away from their cyphers and battles and other dancers will be pissed they have to hear breaks all night then battle to sub-par music.
I’m not saying that there aren’t some scenes that thrive on this kind of jam. If your scene has a roughly equal number of b-boys to other dancers, you can often throw an event that splits the time equally and you can still have a great event. To do this you’ll still need top judges in both categories and a DJ who can please everyone (doesn’t exist, get as close as you can). You’ll also need roughly equal prize amounts so you attract people in roughly equal numbers.
Let’s be honest, dancers show up for the prize money regardless of how dumb that might be. If you’re throwing a b-boy battle with a thousand dollar prize and an all styles battle with a hundred dollar prize, you’re going to get a ton of b-boys showing up, not too many all styles dancers and none of them will be happy. Your DJ will appropriately read the crowd and play more breaks than any other music pissing off the all styles dancers and the b-boys will be pissed when their cypher time is interrupted by more battles.
Just remember what I’ve been repeating, choose the focus of your jam and never deviate. If your focus is b-boys, all your money should go to that. If your focus is all Styles or popping or another specific dance style, put all your money there. If you want a hybrid, split things equally. When you shortchange one group, you’re really just short changing yourself and the scene you’re trying to attract.
If you’re thinking of doing things like “specialty” battles (i.e. Top rock battle, footwork, power, etc). Put it on the schedule and plan for it. Don’t wait till the day of to announce it. You’re running on a schedule, don’t ruin it by adding something in last minute that’s likely unnecessary.
These extra battles are sometimes used as a way to fill time but presumably you’ve ready got the only two things you need to fill time; A DJ and an open floor. Dancers want to dance, they don’t want to spend the whole day watching other people do it. Unless of course that’s exactly the type of event you want. If you want an event that’s mostly for spectators, realize that’s what you’re doing when you fill your schedule with battles. And if that is what you’re going for, remember, that’s the “vibe” you’re creating so make sure your flyers, social media advertising, and related art reflect that and hire a good mc that can keep the show running.
Why are you thinking about throwing a jam?
Hopefully, it’s because you have a love for this culture and you’re doing it to give back. If you’ve read this far, clearly you care at least a little or you’re at the DMV and watching YouTube will kill your data. If you care so much, you probably have some type of vision for your dream event…whether it’s a giant international production or just a small cypher jam for your local scene. Whatever it is, do whatever you need to do to make it clearer…name it, make your dream roster of DJs and judges, picture the venue. Get it all down on paper along with any ideas for the vibe you might have. It doesn’t need to be an essay, just an outline. This is the document you’ll need to come back to to make sure you stay focused and maintain your vision.
Now that you have all that down, hold on to it and look over it next week when we’ll go through budgeting and it starts to dawn on you how rough this process is gonna be and you can start making adjustments.
Next time: Setting the Budget