Does this process sound fun yet?
Setting the Date
First of all, how much time do you think you need? If you set the date too early, you’ll have a hard time securing talent because they may already have prior engagements. Also, anyone that might want to go your jam may not have the money set aside for it or they’ll have trouble getting a group of friends organized to go. If you think it’s hard getting a group of b-boys to meet for practice on time, imagine organizing a road trip. It can take weeks to figure out a two-hour drive.
Set a date too late, and people forget if there isn’t constant promotion up until the day of the event. Especially if you’re relying on Facebook invites. People RSVP for events and then totally forget about it the next day. They’re definitely not going to remember a year and half later if you’re not on your promotion game. Personally, I think between six months to a year is a good span for a large event. It’s plenty of lead time to deal with issues that can pop up and get the word out. For a smaller, local event, you could probably be safe cutting that time in half. Just like with money though, assume you’ll need more than you think.
Second, consider restrictions to travel that might come up if you want out of towners. When are high school and college finals? Spring and Winter breaks? Graduations? Holidays? Tropical storm season? That last one seems weird but a jam was thrown in Atlanta the same weekend a major hurricane hit Florida preventing anyone from the state to make it up. What was supposed to be a major regional event ended up being a small local jam despite a lot of expense.
Sure, the chances are low and nature isn’t in your control but it’s probably worth considering. If you’re in the midwest, you probably don’t want to throw a jam at the peak of your winter season when out of towners don’t want to risk snowy roads. Anything off the wall is worth at least a couple of minutes of thought because it’s usually something totally random that will hurt attendance.
However, something like weather, a school holiday or any small consideration like that should never be the single deciding factor for your date. Those little things will probably only be useful when you’re narrowing down from a variety of different dates. If you have two weekends available and one of them falls on the graduation days of your two closest universities (where most of your scene is probably from), choose the other one.
Once you have a general time frame for the date, figure out how long your event will last. There’s always a temptation to have a multi-day event but it’s expensive and the logistics for both you and the competitors can get out of hand very quickly. If your jam isn’t on par with something like Outbreak, Freestyle Session, UK Champs, or any other event that can bring in national or international talent in big numbers, I don’t think it’s worth the time, money or effort. Keep in mind I’m just talking about battles (i.e. Prelims on Friday, top 16 on Saturday, finals Sunday-type thing). If you want to have a day for just workshops or cyphers, I think that’s a bit more manageable. No ones going to be pissed if they miss it and you don’t need as many vital staff members that you’d need to pay for an extra day of work.
Do your research on other events, most recurring jams are within the same two to three-week period every year. If you think your event might be close an event that might compete with you, contact the promoter and see if they’ve confirmed a date. If they haven’t, let them know the date you’re thinking and try to work together so you’re not hamstringing each other for attendees. You could possibly cross promote and help both your events.
That being said, I know that some promoters are just straight up shady and are willing to screw your event no matter what, going so far as to purposely throw an event the same day as yours. You can’t do anything about those guys but you can make sure you’re not one of them. It’s a dick move and ultimately, it will ruin your reputation. No one likes to support or associate with shady practices and if you think it won’t get around, you’re very mistaken.
Once you have a date set (it’s officially set when the venue is locked in), get it out there as early as you possibly can. Let people know it’s happening so people can schedule for travel and so other promoters know to avoid that date. A lot of people hold off till they have everything set to promote but the later you announce, the better the chance people have already made plans.
You don’t need your full promotion package (flyer, FB event page, etc) or even all the info. I guarantee you know at least a few people who will care about an event you’re throwing. Those people just need a date, and they’re there, they don’t care about who you hire or how big the prize. That same group will probably be most likely to spread the word when they have conversations with their crew mates or at their practice session. If they know the date and they like or respect you, they don’t need all the info to sell their friends on it. I know I’ve been convinced to go to a jam just because my crew was going. A lot of times I don’t know who’s judging or what the prize is until the MC announces it at the event. Don’t go full blast on promotion yet though, keep it tight to people you know will support. Now’s not the time to send a invite to every being on the internet.
I’ll talk more about actual promotion later but here’s your first lesson:
Literal word of mouth is far more valuable than Facebook invites.
I’ve been to jams thrown in gyms, clubs, bars, warehouses, on the street, basketball courts, shopping malls, dance studios, video game stores…if there’s a floor and cheap rental fee, someone will to throw an event there.
Regardless of the space there’s a few common things that always need consideration when getting a venue. Always inspect a venue before agreeing to rent it. The floor needs to be smooth and free of major cracks, bolts or bumps that might injure a dancer. Is it too sticky for someone who does a lot of slides or power? Too slippery for someone to toprock or do footwork? Is the space for the battles large enough to accommodate power moves and routines? How will it react to humidity and the accumulation of sweat. If you’re not a dancer, bring someone who is that can assess whether it will be good to dance on. If the floor isn’t perfect but its the best you can do, buy some smooth masonite panels or vinyl and put in top of the floor.
A quick note, there’s been a trend to always get Masonite for your jam even though the venue has a perfectly good floor. Masonite is meant to be an alternative or a fix for a bad floor but it is by no means perfect. It can be extremely slick and if you don’t tape it properly, you end up with major gaps where the panels meet. I know plenty of dancers that absolutely hate it.
Vinyl flooring can have its problems as well…sometimes too much grip and if any moisture develops, it can become a slip n’ slide.
Either way, be prepared to deal with issues if you’re using one of those. Have extra tape on hand (I prefer Gorilla brand tape to duck tape…not as sticky on the non-adhesive side), a mop if it needs cleaning and plenty of towels and maybe some fans to make sure it stays dry. If the venue has a perfectly good floor, just leave it alone but still have the tools to deal with moisture.
Consider visibility, the crowd and DJ need to be able to easily see the battle. Is there a raised platform for the battles or the DJ? Or enough space people can easily spread out and sit down or crouch?
If there’s a mirror at the venue (like at a dance studio), cover it somehow. Every single event I’ve been to where there is a mirror, there is almost no cyphering. Everyone just starts dancing in front of the mirror to check out their runs before a battle or they just treat your event like practice. It’s a vibe killer, get rid of it.
If you check multiple venues but only choose one, keep the info and contacts on any venue you like. You may need them for a later event or as a backup if something falls through with your first choice. If you’ve seen Freestyle Session 8, you know just how bad venue problems can get.
These are only the things you need to know for the battle but you need to think beyond that…
Don’t underestimate this, you need to think about how many people could easily park. The harder it is, the easier it is for your locals to just not go. Out of towners will deal with it, they drove 3+ hours, they’ll find parking if they must. The people who might travel less than half an hour though, if they know it will be an inconvenience, they’ll just skip it.
Remember, you’re not the only event. Depending on what scene you’re in, there’s probably another one next week, especially for the “big name” crews in your area. Any inconvenience can be an excuse to skip it. If the venue is just too good to pass up regardless of parking, YOU take the pains to figure out where people can park. If there’s a parking garage or paid lot in the area, see if you can work out a discount for your attendees in exchange for advertising their particular lot. Or find convenient street parking. Whatever you do, make it easy for everyone; put a map on the page, a photo of where they can park, anything that will make it easier.
If you think you have out of towners coming, make sure hotels are close by and it’s easy to get back and forth. Call the closest ones and do the same thing you did with parking, get ahold of a manager and try to get a discount for your guests in exchange for advertising that hotel.
If your city has good public transportation, the last two issues just became infinitely easier. Just make sure you provide details about which buses or trains to take to get to the venue or hotels. Also, make sure it won’t quit running before your event is over.
Are There Bathrooms?
A single toilet will not sustain 400 people. You’d think this would go without saying. It will clog, you will all step in whatever comes up, then you will step all over the dance floor and roll around in it.
That’s terrible, stop it. Demand bathrooms from your venue.
Another one that should go without saying. Beyond just being about comfort, this could potentially be a real safety issue. Dancers are constantly moving and without any decent cooling, you run the risk of people experiencing heat stroke and passing out. That’s going to put a real damper on your evening if the paramedics need to step in.
It’s also going to stink. No one wants that.
How Will Sound Project?
If a venue wasn’t designed for musical performance (concert halls, auditoriums, clubs, etc.) it will affect your sound. Sound travels in waves and bounce off surfaces or gets absorbed by them. In a small, low ceiling space the effects won’t be terrible but if your speakers are too low, all the sound will get muddled by the bodies in the space. A large cavernous space, like a gym, will bounce off every wall and echo. As the sound travels, you could also lose certain frequencies making the music sound like its being played at another event somewhere down the street. For a basic test stand in different spots in the room and clap your hands. If the sound is bouncing back to your ear a few milliseconds or more later, you’re going to have issues or at least your DJ will. While you’re at it see if the venue provides a sound system and technician. Bring a DJ or someone who understands acoustics and sound when you check it out if you’re not sure how it will perform.
Speaking of size…
A huge space seems great but if you’re not expecting a massive turnout, it will kill the vibe of your event. A lot of space means a lot of people getting spread out, multiple small cyphers and just generally bringing the energy level down. When you walk around a big venue, the event can feel dead as you’re walking in huge gaps between cyphers.
If you’re shooting footage to promote, 200 people in a gym looks like an empty event on video. You want enough space that there’s ample room for your battles, spectators and cyphers but not so much that there’s a lot of empty space in the room.
If you’re not sure how your turnout will be, go smaller. With the right DJ, a small venue can be an asset and not a hindrance. There’s a chance you might end up feeling cramped, which in one way sucks, but it also means you succeeded in packing out a venue. If everything else is done right (music in particular), people won’t talk about how cramped it was, they’ll talk about how hype it was. Perspective is everything.
If you do end up with a large venue, try splitting the room up by putting vendors tables, a sign up table, or something in the middle of the room or one whole side of the venue to decrease the appearance of a big void at your jam. If the turnout ends up getting better, you can easily move that stuff around as you see attendance rise.
Ideally, you want it to feel like a lounge or club regardless of where you’re standing. We’re dancing, it shouldn’t feel like we’re at a job fair. Remember when we talked about vibe? This is a part of that, create a vibe conducive to connecting people through dance. If they have to share some cypher space, all the better. When I attended Outbreak a few years back there were several moments where I realized there was a cypher going 100% on every side of me. Moments like that can have a huge impact on anyone at your event.
One more piece of advice from DJ Kanton:
For unexpectedly larger events, know the capacity restrictions on the venue. I spun a college-vs-college battle on NYU’s campus about a year ago. The capacity for the room was 400, and the security was very strict about, so dozens of people weren’t able to get in, even after driving a couple hours. I couldn’t even leave the room to use the bathroom, because if anyone left the room, then the next person in line would get in, and even the DJs, judges, and MC would get bumped to the back of the line. I held my pee for 8 hours!!!
This is probably something you don’t need to concern yourself with but you should be aware of ASCAP licenses. If a venue is larger than 3750 sq. ft., they are technically required to have an ASCAP license to play copy written music in public so that recording artists can be reimbursed. Failure to do so could result in serious fines that you or your DJ may be held responsible for even though it is only the venue that is responsible for getting the license. I’ve heard some horror stories of DJs having their laptops or hard drives confiscated in situations like this.
The chances of a someone doing a check on the day of your event is very slim but you should still ask the venue if they have an ASCAP license. If they don’t, the risk is small but you should still understand that you’re operating under some type of risk. Further info about ASCAP a can be found here
When I talked about budget I gave a pretty conservative figure because the range for venues is huge. It could start from free, if you know a friend that wants to promote a studio, and from there, the sky’s the limit. Be very careful how much you spend and very selective with your choice. The venue will probably be your biggest expense and outside of your DJ, have the biggest impact on the quality of the event. Make sure it fits in your budget in a way that still allows you to provide for your talent, staff and prizes. Since its your biggest expense, use a contract. Protect your investment. The venue should have some form of paperwork to fill out so make sure you get your own copy for your records. Don’t get screwed, there’s only one person looking out for you and your financial well-being: You
Next week, you have to start getting your network on, staffing up.