Event Organization

…is a magnitude more difficult and time-using than you’d expect. I have tons of respect for Tanoa, Jim, and anyone else who does it (among other things) for a living.

Parlor 15 HogarthMarriage

In a week I’m putting on a St. Patrick’s Day Irish Ceili, complete with live band, in my home. That might sound like “oh, you don’t have to deal with a venue!”, but the reality is more “Can you host 30 people dancing around your home tomorrow? Yeah, neither can I.” It’s still a lot of work, it’s just different work. In fact, I decided to cancel the Fortnightly Ceili at The Parlor after 8 months doing it for the following (all pretty depressing) reasons:

  • Despite tons of promotion for each event, we were only averaging ~10 dancers. Why didn’t more people come? Why didn’t more people come back? I don’t know. If you were one of those people, I’d honestly like to know, down in the Comments. No hard feelings at all. (no speculation please)
  • Being a weekday event, this was more difficult to produce than anything else I put on at The Parlor, because time was so restrictive. I’m actually taking the day off work on St. Patrick’s Day to get the house ready. Obviously that isn’t sustainable every fortnight.
  • This was also more (consistently) expensive than anything else I put on at The Parlor, because we had to pay the band (in addition to the tip jar), buy appetizers, etc.. I’m not interested in ideas that include not paying musicians. The first few Parlor Ceili dances didn’t have a band, so I added a band to help attendance. It didn’t.

In about a month, I’m hosting a Gaskells-like event, essentially trying to emulate our largest and longest-running Bay Area dance event that hasn’t been able to pull in the numbers recently to make costs; despite not being able to use their name, and trying the same thing three years ago, which also didn’t make costs (I lost money). Either I’ve learned how to be more successful at event production since then, or I don’t learn well and I’ll lose money again. We’ll see in a month! (please please come!) While still more than a month away, I’ve already spent lots of time (and a not-insignificant amount of money) on the following:

  • Venue research. I know Lake Merritt Dance Center might sound like the obvious choice, but for reasons I’d rather not write publicly, I researched, contacted, visited & measured, and got rates & availability for a few other potential venues.
  • Overall Scheduling: What Date(s) work for the venue, the band, myself, and don’t conflict with (too many) other local events.
  • LMDC: Schedule meeting, meet with venue, beg for lower rate, sign contract.
  • Brassworks: Schedule meeting, meet with band, beg for lower rate, feel like a terrible person for asking my friend to play music I love for a lower rate (this is regarding their guaranteed minimum. If we get enough attendance, I’d end up paying them more than their public rate, Which Would Be Fantastic).
  • Setup Paypal for payments (I farmed out most of this to Monica. Thanks Monica!). Still need to setup Square.
  • Write copy for Facebook Event, Blog Post, Short FB Post about FB event, Tweet, and the Flyer (so far). I’m concerned I wasn’t funny enough this time. It’s hard to shake the concern/fear about not hitting my minimums.
  • Find/crop/etc Image.
  • Design & Create Flyer. Print. I’ve done 200 so far. I’m sure I’ll double that. (want flyers? Contact me!)
  • Schedule Promotion and begin promotion. You might have already seen promotion about The Rite of Spring Ball 5 times. You might have only seen it once. You might just be hearing about it here. You’ll hear more about it. Consistent promotion in waves, with a big push at the beginning, seems to work best. I’ve done the big push, and have a laundry-list of steady promotional waves from now until the Ball. Tonight I’m dropping off flyers at Persephone’s dance class (thanks Persephone!). The Ceili promotion works on a smaller scale of the same thing.

I get a lot of “you don’t have to answer this, but…” questions about costs. It’s never appropriate to include that in actual event promotion, but this is sort of an “insider’s post”, so I’ll include it here. If I get a takedown request from an involved party, I’ll comply. My “break even” number is 100 paying attendees. At 95 attending, I’m paying money out of pocket. At 100, I’m paying the band a rate far below what they’re worth. I don’t take home anything until about 125-150, and even then it’s very small.

Previous established events of this nature (type/area/date) have gotten ~180, so that’s a nice number to shoot for, but not a number I should presume to hit.

The ticket price ($20) is non-negotiable. $15 is too little to break even (the number attending would have to be Huge), and I can’t charge $25 until Gaskells charges $25, because I’m running a very similar Ball in the second-best Ballroom (though still beautiful!) in the area, without the benefit of being established. Why Gaskells doesn’t charge $25 isn’t my business, but I really wish they would.

Are you throwing an AfterParty for the Ball?  HAHAHAHAHA, NO.

If you’d like to throw one, I’ll be happy to attend.

Ten years ago, I only thought about 10% of the actual effort involved. This isn’t a complaint. I wrote this to shine some light on what Event Organization & Promotion actually entails. When you’re enjoying yourself at a local event, thrown by me or someone else, Thank Them. I know they’d appreciate it.

All this is leading up to the Even Larger event that I’m working Even Harder on, which I’ll post about tomorrow!


6 thoughts on “Event Organization

  1. $20 is a very sticky price. At $20, you need maybe $100 in $20s in the cash drawer in case someone in the first ten people brings a $100. At $25, you have to make change for *everyone*. You’d need a thousand dollars in $5s and $10s if you have 100 people, because everyone brings $20s, and not that many come in convenient groups of 4. Also, you’ll lose a bunch of attendance once people have to pay more than $20. Better to go to $30, because you’ll get more money and change will be a little easier.


  2. I think having Square and allowing credit card payment would help with that sticky $25 change issue somewhat? Anyway, Yes having thrown a much smaller party for free and seeing how much that cost me & how stressful it was I can only imagine the work that goes into this stuff. Thanks for sharing.


  3. Back in 2006, I planned and ran the Browncoat Ball in SF, targeting a nationwide attendance at $150 per weekend ticket. It was nucking futs. It was exhilarating. It was the single most successful thing I’ve ever put together from start to finish with only Ray to lean on as a partner. Thank goodness he had the treasurer role because dealing with the financial payments on top of orchestration of the social would’ve sent me over the edge. I spent months on little else. Ever since, I’ve been quite clear on what event organization really entails, and I’ve largely side-stepped being the responsible party, Gaskells being an enormous exception because I really wanted it to continue more than anything in the world. And Alameda Ceili. And Stanford Ceili. Okay, fine, I’m really an addict. I suspect, much like you, the thrill of providing an opportunity for folks to have fun overwhelms my sense of self-preservation and concern for financial cost. But yeah, it’s no small thing.


  4. Also – Parlor Ceili, on night one was decided to be on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays. Knowing the odds of me making it all the way to Oakland were grim regardless, I didn’t squawk because the timing worked for other more local folks, but I’ve got EE on 2nd Wednesdays and Erik has Gents on 4th Wednesdays. One of those had to fail out for me to be there, which did happen occasionally. I only wish it had been more often.

    My current organizational hero is Naomi who has been organizing Lindy in the Park every Sunday for like 10 years now. That’s some extreme dedication. She has all my respect.


  5. Pingback: 36 Days Out | OverAttired

  6. Pingback: The Rite of Spring Ball Review | OverAttired

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