How to Throw a Jam pt. 6: Final Hours

Bashville EmptyThis will be the last in the How to Throw a Jam series.  At the bottom, you’ll find links to all the previous installments in the series. In the future I might compile everything into a single PDF or other ebook format. If anybody’s interested in that, just let me know.
In this installment, I’ll be going over the final days of the event and how that can go, what speed bumps to avoid and what to do once everything’s settled. I’ll start off in the week leading up which mostly consists of…

Making calls
The week leading up to the event will be spent locking everything down. First, make calls to your out-of-town talent. You’re basically making sure they remembered. In your head, this event has been one of the most important things in your life for the past few months. For your judges, MCs, and DJs, this is likely just another gig to them. I don’t mean that in a dismissive way, I just mean that plenty of these guys are on a plane or the road nearly every weekend of the year and dates can get confused or lost in the shuffle. Even if you don’t think that will be an issue, it’s never a bad idea to communicate.
Don’t get on the phone and say, “hey, you didn’t forget about our little jam did you?” It’s a little insulting to assume a professional you hired isn’t on top of things (they may or may not be, but don’t let them know you’re worried about that). You also never want to talk down your event. Be proud of it. Even if it’s just a little jam in a dance studio or a gym, you’ve put a lot of work into it and you should stand behind it. If you’re proud of it, and you’ve put the work in, then your staff and talent will be proud of it too. If you all know you’re working on something that’s worth it, it can only lead to good things. Attendees will feel like it was worth their time when they’re there and they’ll likely be back next time.
So, if it turns out they forgot or something come up, you at least have a week to find a replacement. If you want to be safe or you already know you’ll have a tough time getting substitutes, make this call a couple of weeks ahead.
If everything is fine, just confirm the time they get in, let them know when you need them at the venue, organize who’s picking them up from the airport if they’re flying and confirm their housing. Much safer to have this all worked out a week ahead than waiting till the night before. You’ll have too much to worry about as the day comes closer.
Now make a call to your venue to confirm your date. I’ve heard too many stories of promoters showing up to their venue only to see a wedding reception just starting up or the doors locked and chained. If they double booked or screwed up your date in some other way, get your copy of whatever contact you made with them and get the venue to make it right. Either they cancel the other event or you get your deposit back and scramble to find another venue.
If you’ve got to find another venue, you’re truly in a worst case scenario. Don’t panic, it’s happened before and things were still fine. Cros1 lost his venue for FSS8 on the day of the event and it still became a classic.
Hopefully, you have the list of potential venues you made when you first started planning. Go down the list and see if they have an availability. You’ll probably have to pay a bit more if they do. If they don’t, you’ll need to decide if postponement is an option. It sucks but depending on the investment you might lose, it may be a better option. If all your talent is local and it’s a small event, you’ll probably be fine setting it back a week or two or a months if need be.
However, if you’ve already got flights paid for and hotels booked, you might need to get creative…community centers, rec centers, elk lodges, hotel ballrooms, anything that can make a last-minute accommodation. Cros1 got a big ass boat for FSS8 so don’t rule anything out.
Then again, you could avoid any and all stress just through consistent contact. Don’t text or call every day, “Hey! Don’t forget!” You can just check in every couple weeks or think of a question to ask about the event and start it with some variation of, “for our event on (date), I was wondering…” Its a very subtle reminder that can help people remember the event without feeling insulted or embarrassed plus it’s just a good way to keep the lines of communication open and get clarification on little things…sound, setup, times, organization, etc.
This isn’t a strategy I’ve come up with, this is just observed behavior from some of my favorite promoters and DJs I like to work alongside. As a DJ, I’ll typically be hired a few months out from an event. From that day till the day of the event, the promoter or DJ and I are in pretty consistent contact. Even if it’s just through texts, email or Facebook messages, we’re constantly working out details. They’re getting gear requirements from me, I’m finding out songs for judge showcases and performances, things like that. It helps remind both of us of the event and our responsibility to each other as members of the same team.
As a promoter, DJ, judge, MC or any other crew, personally, I think you should go into each event as all being on the same team. You all should want the event to go off well and that’s a whole lot easier if you’re all able to develop a rapport in the time leading up to a jam.
However, keep in mind, there are some in the scene that are busy. Really busy. I can think of at least a dozen DJs, judges or promoters that are in a different city every weekend for months. They may not have time for daily contact. Besides, they got to this level by being excellent additions to teams that throw great events. They know what they’re doing and in most cases they can slip in to any event and have an immediate rapport.
If you get the sense that the person you’re hiring might be a bit too busy for the reminders, try to have as much info available to give them up front right when you hire them. It’s still fine to text or call just to confirm things, but use your discretion. It generally takes one phone call to get a sense if a person may not always have time to chat. If you are a person on the other end that finds themselves busy, don’t be afraid to say, “I’m a bit busy, but if you need to contact me just shoot me an e-mail/FB message/text/etc. at (insert some designated time).” It’s ok to politely remind each other when you’re too busy to talk, we’re all professionals.
Night before
The night before the event, make final calls to everyone on your staff and talent, set the times for the next day for when and where they should be and when to get there. Do it early. As dancers start funneling into town, your staff are going to be busy taking care of guests, partying the night before or sleeping. You’ll be busy too, this is the point where the problems will also start popping up; missed flights, botched hotel reservations, equipment issues. Make sure you’re all on the same page while you still can.
In the film industry, they have what’s called a “call sheet,” not a bad idea to have one for your event as well. Your call sheet will be a list of all staff members, their phone numbers, their role, who their handler is (if they’re staying with someone or being driven by someone), what times they need to be at the event and a general schedule for the day. Make a couple of copies for yourself and staff. The purpose of this sheet is so all the info you could possibly need is right there on one sheet. If a driver needs to get a hold of a judge and where they need to be, it’s there. If a DJ needs to contact the sound guy or needs a volunteer to move gear, it’s there. Without it, people will be coming to you for everything, even if you’re not the person they actually need. You’re just acting as a middle man when that happens and that should not be your focus on the day of an event. If you can think of any other that might be useful for everyone to have, go ahead and add a note. Nothing wrong with clarity. Ask before you put someone’s personal contact info out there though, better to keep that type of contact info limited to certain staff members who will be handling or housing the talent. Some of them may not feel comfortable having that info shared around on a sheet of paper or anyone outside of their main contact for the event.
Of course, we live in the internet age. You can do pretty much all this through Google Drive, Evernote or any number of other apps or cloud services. Make a spreadsheet or a PDF and share it around. Get a surge protector in a safe place and some extra chargers for the day of the jam and you’re all good. Now you don’t have to look like dork with a clipboard, you can be a nerd with a phone instead. Either way though, you’re on top of things.
I shouldn’t need to say this, but unfortunately, I do: Get whatever you need to pay people. If it’s cash, check stubs, invoices, whatever…make sure you have it before the day of the event and that it will be safe throughout the event. Sadly, there are still promoters out there that will throw an event without having the prizes and payments they promised. Either by sheer accident they forgot (benefit of the doubt) or they’re acting in poor faith, it still happens. That gets around, your reputation will suffer. Don’t be that guy.
Schedule for the Day
Set a schedule for the jam. Everything you want to happen should have a time set to begin and end. Your venue probably has a time for you to get out and if you go over, you’ll either owe some money or lose a venue for future events. So try to imagine the day of the event and walk through everything that’s supposed to happen; setup, meetings, doors opening, registration, battles, showcases, cyphers, performances. Everything that will go down, just imagine how long each thing could take and what time that would be. It will probably help to actually sit down and jot it out or put it in to a spreadsheet that will become your call sheet.
For the rest of the article I’ll go through all the things that will probably happen throughout the day and need to be scheduled and a rough estimate on time.
You and your staff should get there at least a couple of hours ahead to clean the floor, set up tables and things like that. Your sound guy, MC and DJ should be there at least an hour
ahead,LooseScrewsSetupmaybe sooner if you already knew the venue isn’t set up for this type of event. A full DJ setup can take about 10-20 minutes to set up depending on how complicated a setup it is and if there’s help or not. From there, a sound check might take another 10-20. Hopefully, everything’s ok but it’s easy to forget a mic cord and things break all the time. Somebody might need to make a last-minute run to Guitar Center or maybe the venue’s sound guy is running late. Give yourself some time to fix problems. If there’s no problems and still plenty of time before the jam starts, cool, there’s time to relax, loosen up or grab a quick bite (emphasis on quick).
Judges can get there a bit later but at least an hour before battles start. Just make sure you schedule some time with your judges to discuss what type of judging system will be in use, what’s everyone looking for, how will ties be handled, top 8 or top 16, which side goes first, how to decide brackets etc. It’s always good to have these things at least glossed over so you avoid any need to stop the jam for a discussion on the finer points of judging. Nows the time to work out exhibitions too; if/when should they happen, what songs (I usually like to get this way ahead of time), who goes first, etc. Don’t spring it on your judges right before finals that they have to toss off the best set in their arsenal after sitting in a comfy couch for four hours.
Schedule your registration to happen as soon as doors open, if possible, but make sure it’s separate from where you pay for entry. You don’t want to hold up the line getting in, the sooner you can pack your jam with energy, the better. Allow about a half hour to an hour from the time you close registration to close when you start battles. This gives you time to make copies and distribute the lineup to judges, make brackets if necessary, go over the crew names with the MC to avoid mispronunciation, gives the DJs time to prep for battles and let’s the crews warm up or rest.
Before the battle starts, go over the list of competitors to make sure they’re all legible so your host isn’t struggling to read a poorly written “Mike Hunt” for 5 minutes on the mic in front of a bunch of kids (that was a great jam). Now is the time to correct any names you can’t read. Maybe 15 minutes to a half hour before the battles start, call the competitors out over the mic and make sure everyone is signed up that wanted to sign up and announce if you need impromptu crews to fill out your roster.  You also need to put everyone on alert. People are roaming around, they’re standing outside, thinking about getting lunch…let them now that they need to be in the building and paying attention within the hour.
When you say “within the hour,” mean it. Always stick to your schedule as closely as possible. The more structure you have, the smoother your battles will run which gives you more cypher time throughout the jam. If you say battle starts in 10 minutes, the battles need to start in 10 minutes. Of course there are delays, but if there are, let people know. If you’re at minute 8 and it’s looking like you need time, get on the mic and say, “The judges are making some tough calls, give us about 10/15/20 more minutes.” That way when it hits minute 20 of no info, you don’t get dancers saying, “Well, it’s running late…I’m gonna go get a burger.” Also, you won’t get people breaking up cyphers to go stretch and prepare to battle too early. If they can have more time to just relax and dance, let them know. Structure helps keep everyone at ease and having fun.  Once the battles get going, have the MC not only announce the current battle but also tell the next group to be on deck. You don’t want to have to wait around for people to show up. If you do have a crew disappear, don’t stop everything for longer than a minute or so. Put their name at the bottom of the list and try to call it again at the end of this round of battles.
Set a time for the battles to start and be firm about it. Some promoters, probably all, will give a time much earlier than they expect to start to try and pressure b-boys to get there early. Unfortunately, I think all this has done is make us all assume every event will run late. I spent a lot of time as a kid in Karate tournaments and this type of thing is insane to me. In those tournaments, if you missed registration, too bad. You’re out. Doesn’t matter who you are, how many gold medals you have or how far you drove. There’s a schedule to keep.
Dance events, in many instances, are the polar opposite situation. I’ve seen many promoters hold off on starting battles just for the sake of one crew or big name. Don’t let your competitors dictate your event. You’re in control, not them. I get it, you want the heavy hitters in the trailer or you want to do them a favor. However, doing so is basically punishing everyone else that really did show up on time and is eager and ready to go. Plenty of dancers know that promoters do this and they will take advantage of it, your events will run unnecessarily long and you will lose attendance over time. If someone’s running late and you can confirm they’re on the way, give them a spot at the end of the prelims and keep it moving.
Try to estimate how long battles will take…by my unscientific estimate, the average breaker’s run probably lasts 30-45 seconds. Use that to figure out how long a battle might last. For example, in a two vs two, two rounds a piece, each battle will take about 2-3 minutes, add a minute or two to account for standoffs, routines or ties and you end up with 5 minutes per battle. From here you can get an estimate for how long each bracket might take. So a top 16 should take 40 minutes, top 8, 20 minutes and so on. This is, of course, a rough estimate so make sure to add 5-10 minutes on a whole round or so for safety. That will more than likely be more than what you need but that’s a good thing. If you plan for extra, you’ll be sure that there’s plenty of cypher time. If you do the math and it’s going to take three hours just to get the through all the crews that pre-registered on Facebook, you need to start thinking about where you can cut for time if you necessary.
In general, be prepared to make decisions. Things will go wrong and time is your enemy. An ok decision right now is better than a great decision two hours too late. Doing that is about trusting yourself more than anything. If this is your first jam, you probably haven’t built that trust yet. It’s ok, you’ll make mistakes, just make sure you learn from them. Keep in mind, as a promoter, you’re taking on a serious job. A serious job will inevitably mean encountering a high pressure situation at some point. You should try to prepare yourself as much as you can and stay on your days the day of the event.
A lot can happen throughout the course of an event. Someone might want to argue, whether it’s a b-boy that feels robbed or a crew that wants a discount at the door. You might deal with major equipment breakdown. A dancer might get injured. A judge might have to leave for an emergency. These things and a dozen others will probably happen at some point in your career and it couldn’t hurt to think ahead a little. Run through some scenarios. When you’re at events and you see something go down, don’t just use it as gossip fuel. Think about what went down and how you would’ve acted as promoter in that situation…chances are, you can probably just keep that to yourself though. Monday Morning quarterbacking is rarely helpful for others when present poorly, but it doesn’t mean you can’t learn the lesson for yourself.
You always want things to keep moving. There’s a big problem of dancers leaving as soon as they get eliminated after the top eight or semis but I don’t necessary believe that’s totally a problem of dancers just wanting to compete and not cypher or enjoy the culture. Those guys certainly exist but I think a bigger part is that a lot of jams drag on and on far longer than they should. Of course they want cypher time but they probably don’t want two hours of it between battles. After that goes on for a while, they just want to get food. As for spectators, they are not used to a b-boy jam. They expect things to run smooth and they probably have somewhere to be at eleven. If you want to keep spectators and their energy at your event, you need to keep show of the battles rolling. Keep in mind, the cyphers can be a great show too…try to encourage both by giving just enough of each.
BashvilleCleanFinally, Give yourself at least a half hour to breakdown and clean up. Venues are going to do everything they can to get some extra money out of you, don’t make it easy by violating the terms of a contract by going over your time limit or leaving a mess.
People will mill about talking about the jam, figuring out where to eat or saying goodbye. Get them out as quickly as you can, let the host know when everyone needs to be out so they can announce it when the time comes and let the DJ know when to cut the music. If there’s an official after party, workshops the next day, a central restaurant for late dinner or breakfast the next day (call ahead for the restaurant staff’s sake), get all that out on the mic. That way, no one’s wandering around asking…they know, they can go to their car now. Sure, encourage hanging out but when your deposits on the line, they’re gonna have to talk about who bit who at IHOP the local late night pho spot.
Post-Mortem
The day after the jam or maybe A couple days after, once the out-of-towners have gone home, it’s a good time to get some of your staff together. It’s good to look back within a decent amount of time so you can evaluate how the jam went and get opinions. If you’re close with a judge, DJ, MC or competitor, might not be a bad idea to invite some of them. Whoever they are, they need to be able to give honest feedback on the event. Sometimes that might include some critiques of your work but be open-minded and willing to learn from the mistakes you made. As a group, you can figure out what worked and what didn’t and what should be done for next year. If you plan on keeping a jam going, it’s good to make a conscious effort to evaluate your performance and find ways to improve.


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