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How to Throw a Jam pt. 4: Personnel

Venue and date are confirmed and it’s time to start hiring the talent that’s going to bring your event to life. Many general details such as payment, housing, travel expenses, contracts, etc. are already covered in A B-boy Promoter’s Guide to Dealing with the DJ so I’ll be skipping over a lot of those things here. Much of that is consistent with anyone you hire so I’d recommend reading that article after you get through this one.

In this installment, I’ll mostly cover what exactly you should look for in the specific people you hire so you can make sure you’re getting the best person for your particular event…

Payment

I covered the most important aspect about payment here. If you forgot:

HAVE MONEY BEFORE YOU THROW THE EVENT

I also cover a lot of details here but there’s still a couple more things worthy of discussion…

If someone gives you a rate that seems high, be professional. Don’t make outrageous exclamations (“Wow” or “Seriously?” are terrible responses), complain about the price or aggressively haggle. The people you’re calling are professionals (usually), if they weren’t, you wouldn’t be calling them. They know their worth and even if you disagree, that’s not for you to decide or argue. Someone’s paying them that much and if they’re not, then that rate will go down in the future. That’s the invisible hand of capitalism doing its job.

Don’t take this to mean you can’t negotiate. You can certainly tell someone that they’re out of your budget but from there it’s up to you to make an offer and for both of you to come to terms you can agree on in a professional manner.

And never give the rate of another potential hire in an attempt to get another hire to undercut. First off, it’s just grimy. Second, rates are typically private info given to you in confidence. If someone gives you a rate, it’s so you can work with them into a budget, not so you can use them as a negotiation tool. That information can spread and it can hurt someone that might’ve actually given you a reduced rate but you thought it was high.

Third, if you’re trying to hire me and you tell me what DJ BetaTrion works for, I’m not working for you. What you’re telling me is that you care more about saving money than hiring good talent. More importantly, you’re telling me you don’t have taste, you’re just looking for a deal and working with someone without taste is just going to hurt my business in the end.

Fourth, It’s simply unprofessional.

Let’s talk professionalism a second because
I think people get the wrong idea of what that means. We’re not talking about respectability politics. Professionalism doesn’t require a tie, a firm hand shake or Shakespearean English. Real professionalism is about knowledge…knowing how your field works, knowing what’s important to your colleagues, knowing how to clearly express your ideas, knowing the necessary legal and business details, etc. Those are the things you should be focusing on and learning. Along the way, you might learn more stuff like that a tie can actually look pretty good and when to use an Oxford comma but that’s not going to get you work or help you hire good talent. And if that is the sole thing that gets you work or talent, I guarantee its not the kind you want to be associated with.

The DJ

I’ve already gone into extensive detail about dealing with the DJ so I’m not going to say much here except that as far as I’m concerned, this is the most important element of your event. It doesn’t matter how good everything else is if you don’t come correct with the music.

The Host

The host’s job is to get the crowd hype and keep the battles running smoothly and on time. Some promoters get on the mic themselves to host. Don’t do it. Your job isn’t just running the battles, it’s running the whole event. You can’t keep track of how many rounds have happened or who’s on deck while you’re trying to tell a vendor where to set up, working with the DJ on an equipment issue and figuring out if a bus full of b-boys from five states over should get a discount. You have too much to worry about and still focus on the important job of a host.  It’s like asking your DJ to also collect money at the door.

When hiring a host, look for someone that has good mic skills first and foremost (comfortable speaking in public and literally knows how to speak into a mic…there is a technique to it). Every host is different; some are better at cracking jokes or keeping the crowd hype and some are strictly business. Know the strengths of different MCs and choose the one the best fits the vibe you want for your event. Remember, on the day of the event, the host is the de facto “Keeper of the Vibe,” they’re the ones that will make it explicit how people should feel at the event. It helps if they know the b-boy community but if they don’t, sit down with them and go over the list of competitors and talent beforehand just to make sure they read names properly and shouts out the DJs, judges, crews, etc.

This goes for all of your personnel but choose people who will take the job seriously. I’ll never forget seeing MC Snipa at Evolution 4 who had a holster for his mic so it was on him at all times and brought his own stopwatch, clipboard and pen. If you’re paying someone, they’re not there just to party, they are on the job and should treat it as such. And if you’re not paying them, well, you get what you pay for.

Let’s go over some responsibilities a host might have to take on:

  • Keep the crowd hype, this is number one in my mind. Over the years the energy level at events has been abysmal. You need someone to borderline force people to cheer, keep them engaged, emphasize the big moves and most importantly create a sense of community. I think the best MCs remind the crowd that they’re not just individuals watching a show but they’re participants in the overall vibe in the building.
  • Keep battles on time, count rounds/time limits.
    Help corral judges/DJs/Staff (you should be doing this too but it’s like herding cats so you’ll all need the help you can get)
  • Keep track of brackets
  • Any announcements
  • Keep jam on schedule

Anything above and beyond that, you need to discuss before hand. If you’re lucky enough to have volunteers or the budget to hire extra staff, get someone else to do a few of those jobs, particularly time, round, bracket or score keeping during battles since it can be a big distraction for a host that’s trying to comment on the action and engage the crowd. I’ll cover a few other things your volunteers and ancillary staff can do later.

Judges

I’m wary of telling you how to choose your judges because this is something everyone has very strong opinions about. I’ll tell you how I feel but keep in mind this is my personal opinion. If you want more, ask on Facebook and clear your schedule for the day so you can keep up with the internet arguing on your status.

For me, the ability of a judge being able to stand behind and clearly explain any decision they make comes before anything. I don’t care how many jams you’ve won, what crew you’re on, how many countries you’ve been to or how many years you’ve been dancing. If you can’t have a justification for a decision beyond “I’m feeling it,” I’m not interested in you as a judge. People take battling seriously and there are a handful out there who are trying to win so they can eat or pay a bill. That’s not the place to make flippant decisions. I know breaking is subjective but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a criteria for winning that you can explain.

They should be able to actually make a decision. If a judge has a reputation for throwing a lot of ties, don’t choose them. Ties should be few and far between but I’ve been to plenty of events where nearly every battle had to go to a tiebreaker. This leads to a lot of frustration with the dancers and can completely destroy your schedule. Every tiebreaker means minutes taken out of cyphers and one more round wasted for the dancers. Discuss ties with your judges before hand, make it clear you want them kept to a minimum or try to come up with some method for minimizing or eliminating them  as best you can.

If you’re going to ask who makes a good judge, talk to other promoters, not dancers. Dancers have a very different perspective on how judging works from the people actually in or behind the chairs. There are plenty of big names that get hired for their reputation as an inspiration among dancers but they’re an absolute nightmare for promoters and other judges. At the same time, there are excellent judges that are hated because they consistently make tough calls and get accused of robbing people.

There’s lots of bad behavior in the dance community, everything from skipping out on flights, blatant nepotism, excessive partying to just plain old not giving a shit. Judges, DJs, MCs, and even other promoters are all guilty of it. That stuff doesn’t get talked about in the general dance scene but those of us who work behind the scenes hear these stories all the time but this isn’t a gossip site and I’m not going to name names. You can go contact a promoter that’s worked with someone directly and ask for yourself. Even if you have heard these stories, don’t rely on secondhand rumor, go to the source.

Extra staff

A Right Hand (s)

Directors have their first A.D., the chef de cuisine has their sous-chef de cuisine, James Brown had Roosevelt Royce Johnson. You’ll probably need at least one person that knows the details of the event as well as you do. Someone that can handle business in your absence or answer questions when you’re busy. There will be times where you’ll have to step out of business mode and engage in small talk with attendees, vendors, DJs, judges, hosts, photographers, or videographers. At those times, the event doesn’t just stop and neither will the questions or problems. When you’re forced to be the “face” of your event, your assistant or assistants will be the ones that should be able to deal with any small crises that you can’t presently handle. The big crises will still be your problem but they can at least put a finger in the dam so it doesn’t burst on the meantime.

Who you choose for this should probably be interested in throwing events of their own one day. They’ll be more invested and will have a much stronger sense for how the process needs to go. Treat them like an apprentice, not a secretary; be respectful, teach when you can and give them some authority. If you’re at a university and operating through a club, choose an underclassmen than can take over when you graduate. Make sure they understand they’ll have to do the same before they graduate. The biggest problem with college b-boy clubs is the turnover in leadership each year. If you can help create a strong lineage, you can really build something great for your scene.

This “Assistant promoter” should be brought in early. They should be the one you’re talking details with even at the “Vibe” planning stage. If they understand where your head is at right from the beginning, they’ll be better equipped to improvise later without negatively affecting anything.

For the record, this shouldn’t be the person you send out for coffee or lunch. You need them at the jam where they can actually be useful. What’s the point of bringing someone along every step of the way only to send them away on the one day their importance will really shine?

Security

Depending on the size of your event, you should probably have someone to keep things civil. That could be a couple of people you know that others are sure to listen to or you can try hiring an off duty police officer. Regardless of what you do, try to make sure they know the crowd they’ll be dealing with. You don’t want a guy to get tackled because he stabbed someone with an invisible knife during an Apache line. You just need someone who can help in the rare instance things get out of hand or an unruly attendee needs to go.

The Door

You’ll need people you trust with money and won’t get too easily distracted by everything going on, you don’t want them wandering off because their favorite song is on or their favorite b-boy is doing an exhibition. You also need to keep them aware of who is on a guest list and who isn’t.

On the day of your event, a whole bunch of people are going to try to haggle their way into the building for a variety of reasons…they supported a bunch of your other events, they’ve known you for years, they drove from far away, etc. However, there’s plenty of people doing all those things that are still willing to pay so don’t automatically feel obligated to lower the cost. Of course, it’s up to you what qualifies for a discount but decide that beforehand. Don’t make the first half of your day a protracted negotiation with every person coming in the door. Make a guest list ahead of time and tell the door people to be firm with it. They shouldn’t be hunting you down for every single person that wants in free.

There will be some people who maybe do deserve to be on the list but didn’t make it on purely by mistake…maybe you told them they’d get in over the phone and forgot or the name is wrong on the list or something like that. If someone is insistent they should be on the list, then your people can let you know so you can get to it when you get a chance but another option would be to tell the door people to have them pay and it can be talked out later, if it turns out they should’ve gotten in free or cheap, they can get a refund. The point is that the beginning of the event will probably the busiest you’ll be all day and someone else’s ability to not pay is the lowest on the list in terms of importance.

Let every member of your staff know that their main job is to make sure a problem doesn’t make it to you unless it absolutely has to. The guy in charge of the door should be able to figure out who gets in free or at a discount, the driver shouldn’t need to call you to find out what hotel someone is at, security should know when to step in. If they don’t know those things, you need to tell them up front. Beyond that, it’s just about hiring responsible people who you trust. If you’re finding a lot of issues are reaching you that shouldn’t, talk it over with your team in the post-mortem after the jam (we’ll get to that much later).

Driver(s)

All those judges and DJs aren’t going to be operating on the same schedule or have transportation most of the time. Even if they drove with a crew, that crew probably won’t want to be at the venue two hours early. You’ll need some people who are willing and able to get people between airports or hotels and the venue. These might also be the people that need to make runs for equipment or food. Hire people that you know have a car in reliable shape and are good drivers. It reflects on you.

As a matter of fact, every person you hire from the top down reflects on you and you should keep that in mind. It will only take one security guy with a bad attitude to ruin someone ‘s experience and people will listen to that one bad experience more than they will a hundred positive ones.

Miscellaneous

Always have a couple of volunteers free to do random tasks here and there; keeping the dance floor dry, getting things for the talent, helping vendors, taping loose cables…basically any of the more menial tasks that help the event run smoothly. These jobs seem small but if they don’t get done, believe me, you’ll notice.

Promotion

Things are on the move and people will want to know your event is getting some real names attached to it. Until then, a lot of people will just look at it as a pipe dream and write it off. We’re entering the actual promotion phase of promoting. Next week, I’ll go into some details on getting your event out there to the world…you’re not quite done spending money and hiring people just yet.

Part 1: Vibe
Part 2: Budget
Part 3: Date & Venue
Part 5: Promotion
Part 6: Final Hours

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