Antiwarpt and festivals of its ilk are monumental endeavors, entailing endless decisions both big and small, major stress headaches, and maybe a dose of ESP. But what if you want to throw a festival on a smaller scale — a concert that’ll fit into a living room, or a band booked into your own back yard?
As we learned from talking with a handful of vital players in St. Petersburg’s burgeoning DIY music scene, it won’t be easy.
Planning is key. The bulk of your efforts will take place before the first note is even hit. There are a bajillion ways, each with its own merits and pitfalls, to play ringleader for a show like this.
First, assess your toolkit. Take stock of what you have (space, equipment, etc.) and, most importantly, who you know. It’s an adage as tired as a white leisure suit, but vital to planning DIY shows and, in the grand scheme, building a community that’s consistently receptive to them.
Anna Serena, an Antiwarpt organizer and booking coordinator for No Clubs Productions in St. Pete, said thinking ahead is paramount.
“You’ve got to think, do you know good bands? Do you know good people who will bring others? Do you know people in the media?”
Doing this kind of detailed assessment is far easier said than done, said Serena, and it’s important not to deceive yourself. If your network is small, your network is small. This is hardly a nail in the coffin, especially when planning a house show. In an age of online communication, it’s often easy to forget the crowd that’s literally right next door.
Recognizing your neighbors serves a twofold purpose according to Jesse Vance, owner and booker for the converted DIY music venue The Venture Compound.
A student on the regular (he attends the music industry/recording arts program at St. Pete College), he acquired and converted this once-industrial office space in South St. Petersburg into a beacon for live music and visual art just over six months ago.
Vance gained the confidence to do this through years of booking and overseeing a myriad of house shows under the moniker The Pangea Project in his hometown of Memphis and, as of 2005, St. Petersburg.
“They might not like it and you might know they won’t like it, but invite your neighbors,” said Vance. “Because A, they’re warned, and B, it’s a nice way of warning them.”
Next, take stock of your equipment. Utilizing a house space is beneficial in this aspect, as the most you’ll need, if anything, is a basic P.A. system. Many bands already have, or have access to, a P.A. system, which provides voice amplification through an included pair of speakers. Any band worth booking will already have the means for other necessary equipment, such as guitar amps and the like.
“Worth booking” is another sentiment worth pondering.
Susan Dickson and Chris Nadeau, the faces of St. Pete noise punk outfit Permanent Makeup and experienced house show purveyors, know this all too well.
“Don’t just book anyone that asks for a show,” said Dickson. “Do your homework.”
“Because there’s people who will go on the road just because no one in their town wants to fucking hear them,” added Nadeau.
Once again, this is where that “who you know” phrase is vital. If you’re friends with local musicians who can advise you, there should be a degree of trust you can depend on.
“What about money?” you might ask. Free shows for a handful of friends are easy, but if you’re looking to publicize your house show, a cover fee, even if small, can weed out those “just looking for a free place to get drunk,” said Vance.
“Charging a cover is important because it assigns value to what the musicians on stage are doing. A $2 cover will keep out the riffraff, the person that gets like, belligerently drunk and breaks your toilet,” said Vance. People will also be more inclined to pay attention to the musicians, who should be the center of what’s going on.
This cover charge can also double as a fund to pay cash-strapped bands, which, ideally should keep them coming back if you’re looking to start a long-term venture.
A local print shop can do wonders if you’re looking to publicize your show. While promoting with an event page through Facebook is beneficial, it can also tend to feel impersonal, especially when it’s lost in a sea of “I lost my cell phone, need numbers!” crowding your friends’ inboxes.
“Putting the flyer directly in somebody’s hand instead of a mass invite; that or even a 20-second phone call carries a lot more weight,” said Vance.
Let’s assume you’ve been promoting for a few weeks and it’s now the night of the show. As the captain of the proverbial ship, the brunt of the responsibility will fall on you or a handful of trusted people you’ve brought on board to help. This means ensuring that bands load in, play, and load out in a timely fashion, making sure nothing or no one gets destroyed in the process, and generally being the face of your quasi-venue throughout the show.
In residential areas, noise from live music can be a contentious issue. The ordinances are a bit murky — riddled with precise decibel levels and certain hours — in both Hillsborough and Pinellas County, but if a commercial district venue like Jannus Landing has to cease all live music at 11 p.m., it’s probably safe to assume you should, too.
All of this often requires a degree of asshole-ishness on the organizer’s part, according to Vance, but being assertive will keep things running smoothly and, most important, foster a degree of dependability that should keep people coming back.
Got all that? No? It’s ok. Mistakes are inevitable when it comes to an undertaking like this — and useful.
“Even the mistakes are an adventure,” said Dickson with a grinning chuckle.
She makes it sound easy, which hey, it could be, but it’s hard to know until you try.
Tyler- I can't believe how talented of a writer you are. This article was beautifully…
Great interview! Give the interviewer a full time job! He's great!
The DJ was actually The Castle's very own DJ Tom Gold :)
Fabulous review Gabe! Too bad I missed it.