From finding a venue to curating a lineup, there’s a lot you need to think about. We asked eight promoters to share some pearls of wisdom from their time on the scene.
With the easing of restrictions creating space in the UK for new cultural movements to emerge, there has never been a better time to try putting on your own party. Pulling off a successful event takes work though, so it's important to be aware of the practicalities involved. To help you start off on the right foot, we asked eight promoters to share some lessons they've learnt from throwing some of the South West's best-loved events. Here's what they had to say...
"Don't hog the decks and do your finances by the book"
Leigh Dennis (Dirtytalk/Strange Brew)
Strange Brew is a DIY bar, café and music events venue launched by Bristol-based promoters Dirtytalk. They are Leigh Dennis, Robert Needham, Shaun Tennant, Kerry Patterson and Joe Evans.
“Make sure you're always true to the music you're passionate about - building a profile and a community around your night can take a long time, so you need to be invested in the music you love and expect this to carry you through the long haul.
“If you're into niche or underground stuff then don't expect to make money from day one, but if you're in it for the right reasons and putting on exciting stuff then you can expect a crowd (and money) to 'catch up' with you over time. Atmosphere is everything so make sure you use the right venue and get it looking/feeling similar but different at each event. Decorate it in a way that makes it unique and book artists that nobody else has yet.
“Don't hog the decks yourself - people can smell vanity and self-promo from promoters a mile off. Much better to give the artists you're booking the spotlight and let them do their thing. I'd also recommend doing finances by the book - set up a company and file accounts - as this will give you legitimacy and make it easier to access loans and Arts Council Grants further down the line.”
Watch the guest lecture Leigh gave to dBs students as part of our Industry Week.
Find out more about Strange Brew:
"Curate your lineups creatively"
Monika Taneska (Public Affair)
Monika Taneska is the founder of Public Affair (Photo credit: Lucy Werrett)
“You definitely need to think about what you want to get out of your night and at what cost will it come to. For me, I've decided to go for DIY nights, booking local artists who in my eyes are underrated and also book artists who haven't played in Bristol before. I want to give a platform to those up and coming. But this comes at a cost. Not booking those 'bigger' names means that getting those ticket sales can be super tough and at the beginning can cause some financial losses.
"Is it worth it? Yes... because I find it creates a more community vibe to the party and I hope that soon the brand will hold itself that people trust the event, regardless of whether they know who is playing or not.
“Ever had that moment where you've gone to a festival and one of your highlights is discovering someone new that you never heard of? That's what I want from Public Affair.”
Find out more about Public Affair:
"Connect with your community on a deeper level"
Erich Busby (Strictly Yes)
Left to right: Strictly Yes Founders Erich, Billy and Connor
“One of the things that was really important to us when conceptualising Strictly Yes was to connect with our followers on a deeper level than your regular events brand. This is something that requires continual development.
“Centre every decision you make around what your intended crowd desire/need from a party. How do you find this out? Simple! Talk to your crowd during nights or via your social media channels when presented with the opportunity; be approachable and friendly without being too intrusive. Also, use your intuition and pay attention to changes in taste/trends.
“Once you begin building a group of regular event goers you can increase retention rates by making them know that they are valued. One of the methods we use to do this is through offering priority tickets exclusively to members of our mailing list before general release.”
Strictly Yes are a DIY techno events community operating out of Bristol
Strictly Yes have residencies on SWU.FM and N10.AS radio. They will be holding their next two parties on the 19th of November and the 17th of December. Save the date and sign up to their mailing list for further announcements.
Find out more about Strictly Yes:
"Harbour a culture"
Zach Hollows (French Kiss)
Left to right: French Kiss founders Ryan, Zach and Louis
“One of the key lessons I could pass on from running French Kiss is patience. If you’re in it for the love and to cultivate a community around your events, the “success” will come. Success very much being a metric you set on your own terms.
“I’ve been running French Kiss for four years now, with two friends, and we never started the event out of financial motive. We do it because we love putting on great parties, hosting deejays on local and international levels, and trying to bring something unique to supplement an already thriving underground Bristol music scene.
“Initially, the early events were fairly lean and the crowds quite small. We were trying to harbour a culture of what ‘French Kiss’ is about and slowly but surely we managed to get attendees on board and now I’m really happy with where we’re at as a brand. Presently, we’re lucky enough to sell out most of our events and we’re very active in the promoting scene. It’s always been about the music for us. Although it’s always nice to make a profit, this isn’t what we’ve been about. Creating a culture and giving it time to shine through in what you’re doing, will pay dividends in the long term.”
Find out more about French Kiss:
"Experiment with unused spaces"
Adam Berwick (INDECENCY)
Adam is studying our MA Innovation in Sound
“Running events can be pretty stressful, especially when the space gets packed. It's really important to remember to have fun, it's quite easy to get tied up in sorting things out and making sure things are running smoothly. Take time out, enjoy the music, and enjoy speaking to new people.
“Interacting with new people is a pretty crucial part of running a night. It was how I managed to get a new venue for INDECENCY. In developing a fantastic relationship with a local artist and creative space owner (Zachary Walsh), I was invited to collaborate on the production of an event in his warehouse space, Studio 18.
“Once you find the space, you then have to curate it into a party-ready venue. Perhaps you'll have to do risk assessments before any equipment can actually be brought in. For INDECENCY, we had a large, open warehouse space that felt a little empty. With only two Funktion-One speaker stacks, it may not have filled out the room in the way we hoped, so we took over a large corridor of the venue. In limiting the space we created a more intimate environment for people to dance and enjoy electronic music. Sometimes you have to get creative with what you've got.”
INDECENCY operates out of a gallery/warehouse space outside of Bristol
INDECENCY has a monthly residency on 1020 Radio. Tune in 3-4 pm on the second Saturday of every month.
Find out more about Adam (aka Berwick) using the links below:
"Pick a niche – and don't put too much pressure on yourself"
Cathy Coulthard (Minotaur Sound)
Cathy aka Catchi is a founder and resident DJ for Minotaur Sound (Photo credit: Thom Heald)
"Minotaur Sound started as a bit of an experiment. I was keen to prove to myself that I could do it and I originally thought our first night back in 2016 was going to be our only night.
"As an older person, I love attending Bristol club nights but I find that they can be a bit too 'young' sometimes and so I poured energy into one event with a cracking lineup (the kind that I would want to hear), chose the venue that I loved (The Island), added some focused entertainment/visuals that made the experience an immersive one (thank you to Micro-Rave and my partner Stefan Goodchild for helping us out that night) and promoted it within an inch of its life. It paid off – the night was everything I could have dreamed of.
"I made a few mistakes too like trying to flog Minotaur merchandise (in its embryonic status people didn't really focus on that sort of stuff). Everyone just wanted to dance and lose themselves in the music. Everyone had the best time and I know this because around one year later, people who had attended Minotaur 1 asked me when I was going to put on Minotaur 2. I think that because I didn't take myself too seriously as a brand and wanted to just throw THE night of all nights as a one-off, I didn't really think about the future and therefore didn't put too much pressure on myself.
"Word of mouth is everything and soon my friends were choosing Minotaur Sound as the one night in the year where they would call the baby/ pet sitters in and let loose. I have friends and friends of friends and their friends coming to attend as our Minotaur family expands a little more each time. So there you go, picking a niche area was a bit of a happy accident but I'm really happy that Minotaur Sound nights have become as legendary as their name."
Find out more about Minotaur Sound:
"Don't skip the protocols"
Joe Butcher (PANORAMA)
“Start with a contract and risk assessment before you book a venue. It shows whoever you are doing business with that you know what you want to achieve and what you expect could happen. I know it doesn't sound very exciting but trust me, it pays to take this seriously.
“Invest in people and do not expect to make money straight away. At the start, simply breaking even is a success and managing your budget on a spreadsheet is a sure-fire way to keep things under control. Make your life about helping others who share your drive and ambition and don't be afraid to be picky. The people you choose to be part of your night are an investment of your time and will help to get the ball rolling. Understand and nurture different talents so you can bring them together to build a platform for everyone. Surround yourself with the very best, Bristol is full of them!
“Be adaptable, in the world of DIY events you never know what's around the corner! Starting PANORAMA again this year has not been easy. Our usual venue, The Clifton Observatory decided to review their licence and cancelled on us with only a month to go before a sold-out party. It was a shock having just waited nearly two years in lockdown, we suddenly had to leap into action and work together quickly to relocate and promote the new event!
“Never give up, sometimes you get unlucky. Maybe you picked a bad weekend where fewer people felt like coming out after a string of festivals? Maybe you're competing with a bigger night playing similar music? Keep trying, work hard to cover the costs and build it up slowly!”
PANORAMA will be holding their closing summer party at The Station in Bristol. Discounted tickets are available to the dBs Community using this link.
Joe is currently studying our MA Innovation in Sound. Read our recent interview with him or find out more about him using the link below:
"Get the sound right"
Blair Thomson (Dance, Dance, Dance)
'Dance, Dance, Dance' hosted house and techno parties in Plymouth's legendary venue Maggie's for over 10 years (Photo credit: Richard Tilbrook)
“The number one thing has got to be quality sound. There's no compromise for having really good sound systems. You could have a really horrendous space to put something on, like a dirty warehouse or a greasy spoon café that’s just blacked out with sheeting or something like that. You could have really poor lighting or just a single strobe - some people like that I know - but if you make your night sound great, then that for me is the main technical consideration.
“If you’ve not got a huge amount of experience with sound systems, it’s really good to have somebody who really understands that and can tune the system to the space you’re in. Even if you’re not hiring a system in, clubs will often have their systems cranked right up with a huge amount of distortion at the top end, which just makes for a horrible atmosphere. And of course generally, with dance music, you tend to want to be in a place for a reasonable amount of time. You can be there dancing for 10 hours, so having a well-tuned and well-run sound system is absolutely paramount.”
If you'd like to learn more about acoustics and sound system optimisation then you might be interested in our live sound degree.