How to Throw a Jam Pt. 2: Budget

You’ve decided on a vibe, so let’s figure out cost…how much is this going to run?

More than you have. Go into promotion expecting or at least prepared to lose money. There’s no way around it. I’ve never spoken to a single promoter that made a profit on their first (or sometimes, any) of their events. It’s just a fact of this style of promotion. Throwing a dance event is a gamble.

You’re not selling bottle service and a VIP section, you’re selling an opportunity to dance with a bunch of people who probably already see each other every weekend. It’s extremely easy for b-boys to talk themselves out of attending an event since there are so many these days. If you did the work we talked about in the article about vibe, then hopefully you’ve already got a concept that sets your event apart enough to make it worth going.

Now that it’s worth going to in your head, you have to put a dollar sign on all the things that make it that way…

Have Money

Rule number 1 for your budget:

Have it. Let me repeat that,

HAVE MONEY BEFORE HAND
HAVE MONEY BEFORE HAND
HAVE MONEY BEFORE HAND

NEVER and I mean NEVER pay your staff or prize money out of the door money. Period. Full stop.

This is not debatable. You need to have that up front. I know plenty of promoters that have come up short on attendance and the dancers, DJs and/or judges pay the price. That’s not how it works. Promotion is a gamble and none of those people showed up to toss dice. They showed up to a job and you get paid what was promised for a job. If you earn a reputation for this type of thing, you’re done. Pretty much everyone gigging talks so if you’re known as someone who doesn’t pay talent, you won’t have any talent next time you throw an event.

You get what you pay for.

The event isn’t there to fund itself. You fund the event before the doors even open, then you hope to make that back and if you’re lucky and you did your job well, maybe there’s a little profit. The event can wait. You don’t need to be impatient, just get a quote from the talent you want and save your money.

Again, I can’t emphasize this enough, have the money before hand. Literally. I’ve been telling people this in all caps and multiple exclamation points for ten years and it’s still not sinking in. The advice I give to DJs is the same advice Malcolm Cecil got from his mother, “After you play your first song, ask to get paid. If they say they can’t, start packing up and leave.”

IF YOU DO NOT HAVE THE MONEY TO PAY PEOPLE WHEN THEY SHOW UP, DO NOT THROW AN EVENT. 

Where does the money go?

Expect to pay for the following:

Venue – range is too wide but for the sake of back-of-napkin math, let’s go with $500
DJ(s) – $300+
Judges (3 Minimum) – $300+
Staff (Door, security, etc.) – 300+
MC/host – $200+
Prize Money $250+
Graphic designer/artist for flyers $200+
Printers for flyers –  $150+
Sound rental/equipment rental – $250+

These are extremely rough estimates. I’m not giving hard numbers because everyone sets their own rate so don’t take these numbers and try to negotiate a rate. Let’s consider that you might know a couple of people willing to volunteer or know the management of a gym or event space so I’m aiming low on most areas. Even aiming low, you’re still sitting somewhere around $2000. I also didn’t figure in travel and hotel costs which you will be expected to pay as the promoter. There’s also per diem pay for talent if you decide to do that. I’ll get more specific on those issues in another article (I’ve already covered the DJ), but leave some wiggle room in the budget for those expenses.

If that seems like a lot, get out now. You’re not ready to throw a jam.

Throwing a great event is expensive and if you’re not willing to throw a great event, why bother? If you’re going to do this, you need to be ready and willing to pay for the best product.  We don’t need more jams in the dance community, we need better ones.

That being said, not every event needs to be an R-16 level production. Consider the extremely successful Cypher Adikts jams thrown by Jeskilz. With just a great DJ in Ervin and any venue in the world, Jeskilz can throw a jam that will attract world-class dancers with no prize money or judges to worry about. It’s all about the vibe and reputation that is connected with the “Cypher Adikts” brand.

This isn’t an indictment against small local events. You can definitely throw a good jam for the locals for just a few hundred with the right connections. Just don’t expect an event you only put $300 in to be the next Battle of the Year and don’t advertise as such. Treat it like a small jam, be proud to throw the best small event you’re able to and you’ll be successful.

There’s nothing wrong with starting small and building your way up, I’d recommend it actually but the size of an event doesn’t mean it has to compromise on quality in the areas that count. If you can get together a couple hundred bucks, that will probably be enough to hire a competent DJ and rent out a small space. If you can earn a reputation as a promoter that can at least hire and work with decent DJs, that already puts you ahead of most promoters out there.

Funding

As for where to get money to throw your jam, I don’t know what to tell you. This is the area where I lack a lot of knowledge. Some do it out-of-pocket, some get sponsorships from brands like Red Bull or Monster or local business but if it’s your first, that might be difficult. This is where the research, hustle and sacrifice comes in. It’s a tough job getting funding and I’m sure there are as many different strategies for getting it as there are promoters. One thing you can do is sell space at your jam for vendors to sell their merch. This won’t fund your whole jam but it will certainly help recoup costs.

If you’re trying to get any sponsorships, you need to look for the appropriate contact first. If it’s a local business or small brand it shouldn’t be too hard to get in touch directly with the owner. For larger companies, you’ll need to track down a PR person or Brand Manager. There’s usual a local rep specifically for your region or state. If you have to use just a general “Contact Us” form, that’s the person you’re trying to get a hold of, the title might change company to company but there should be a position whose only job is dealing with the local community.

Once you have that person, you need to remember you’re talking to a business entity. Sponsorship is about selling a product and you need to convince them that your event will help sell their product. If it’s an energy drink, you play up the athleticism aspect of the dance, if it’s an art museum, you play up the art aspect. You’re just trying to help them see how their product can exist in our world. They don’t need you, you need them but your job in that first contact is to convince them it’s the other way around; they need you and your event to sell their product.

If you’re at a university that has a b-boy or hip-hop club, join it. If it doesn’t have one, make it. Most universities provide a budget to their clubs which increases the longer that club is operational. This can be used to great advantage if you get to know the system. There’s dozens of high profile events around the country that are almost completely funded by the schools associated with them. If you’re lucky enough to have a club, learn the rules at your school and take full advantage of it. If you don’t want to do it, convince someone else in your club to do it. I know there are a lot of university clubs out there that are leaving a lot of money on the table every year. Even if you plan on throwing events outside of school, you can still use those university assets to build a reputation for you and your scene that will follow you after you graduate

Another option from my War Machine DJs brother Los Boogie:

One option that ONLY works with people you can trust (regarding raising funds for an event), is building a pool/fund with your crew or event committee. Our crew has done it twice and one person is assigned the treasurer. Each person deposits $100-200 each month for 6-10 months and collectively you can raise 2-10 grand. This, of course, can only be pulled off with reliable people.

Time

One quick note, money isn’t the only thing that needs budgeting. Time is valuable and as you come closer to the day, you’ll find a lot of the time you thought you’d have very quickly slipping through your fingers. Once you’ve made the budget and found that it’s feasible to throw an event, now’s the time to look around you and find some reliable and trustworthy people. People that you can count on from now until the couple days after the jam you’ll spend recovering and doing a post-mortem.

I’m putting a big emphasis on reliability because at some point you’ll need to delegate tasks. Your time is going to become more and more valuable and a lot of tasks are simply too small for your direct attention. You’ll have to give those tasks to others so you’ll be able to appropriately budget your time and prevent an early burnout. In a future post on talent and staff, I’ll talk about the things they can do in more specific terms but for now just keep that in mind and maybe start talking about the event with them.

It’s good to talk about it for two reasons; first off, extra input is always a good idea (just know which notes matter and which don’t). Second, it adds some accountability. Once you’re talking about it doing it, people are going to start asking you about it. The planning stage is easy, I’ve planned to throw several jams but once it comes to getting it done, that’s a different story. I get these articles and mixtapes done because every couple weeks, someone is asking why I haven’t put out anything. Knowing that someone in your circle cares about something you want to do is just a small bit of extra incentive to get it done.

Now What?

You’ve got the concept/vibe down and after doing some math, you’ve decided it’s possible to throw your event. At this point you’re in research mode…you need to decide a date, get a venue, start contacting the people you want to hire. I’ll do a short piece on picking a date and a venue in the next couple installments. You’ve still got a way to go before you get to the “promoting” part of being a promoter.

If you decided “nope,” hang in there. Even if you don’t promote or ever plan to, you should still keep up the series so you understand what goes in to throwing an event. I think it’s important to know all these steps even if you’re just a competitor or spectator so you can look at events and clearly see where the promoter may be cutting corners before you waste your time and money. It’ll also help to cut a little slack for promoters who are actually throwing great events but might get undue blame for things out of their control.

If you have any questions, feel free to message me, comment, tweet, snapchat…whatever, somehow, Internet me and I’ll do my best to answer.

Before you ask though, yes, you should definitely HAVE MONEY BEFORE YOU THROW THE EVENT (and if you don’t, be honest)

Part 1: Vibe
Part 3: Date & Venue
Part 4: Personnel
Part 5: Promotion
Part 6: Final Hours

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