Help & Advice on Organising Events

Hi everyone. Very happy to have been recommended this forum, looks great!

I’m looking to set up a live event for ambient music (drone, modular, new age, that sort of thing–even neoclassical), as part of a wider project. I have little experience in starting something like this from scratch, so I thought I’d put the feelers out and see if anyone was willing to offer some advice, or just some personal experience.

First and foremost, it’d be great to have an overview of the kind of equipment that might be necessary. As a live electronic musician, beyond the equipment you have yourself to produce, what would you expect the event space to have provided? Beyond monitors, of course. I imagine different musicians have different setups, so I’d like to know what essentials I should look to have ready. The events will start very small–intimate gatherings in a living room or meditation hall.

More specifically, if any of you have experience in events like this, it’d be great to have some general anecdotal advice. For example, were there any unforeseen setbacks? Was there anything that needed to be prepared that wasn’t initially obvious? Do you have any tips on visually recording the event?

Broad line of questioning, I realise, but if you have anything to share (however small), please do! Also, if anyone is based around Amsterdam/Netherlands, feel free to shout if you’d be keen to get involved.

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hello! i strongly recommend these publications by machineproject:

  • guide to starting your own art space
  • guide to curating and planning events
  • guide to workshops
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Hello!

I gave a pretty extensive reply on this thread that covers a lot of the things you asked about.

I also have a running thread that has some of that same info, which is thread looking for people to play at my ongoing series for electronic music:

I’d like to address some of your other questions a little later.

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I’m back!

So as far as equipment I don’t even have monitors for people. I have two “front of house” speakers that I use for everything. I gave myself a major upgrade when I started using a snake and could sit in the back of the room and adjust the volume and the eq. I didn’t like the feeling of huddling near the speakers without and perspective on how the music sounded in the room and not being able to do much about it. Definitely not essential though.

We also have a nice projector to do visuals with. Honestly, the visuals are nice but can be a hassle. It has been tough for us to find visual artists, so usually my partner and I do them…which is nice but it is extra work for us. So again, no essential.

As far as unforeseen setbacks, it sucks when no one comes and you don’t make any money and someone has traveled to play. So be prepared to really put in some time promoting the event. I get my family to come which is not cool, but gets people in the seats which is cool.

Otherwise I’ve had all pretty positive experiences. Usually, if people have experience traveling and performing they will be pretty self-sufficient and won’t need much from you except electricity and some speakers. I wouldn’t even bring a microphone to the event unless someone asks.

I don’t record our events.

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Hi,

I’ve casually put on events in the past, mostly DIY shows in a college town. I’ve performed in a lot of different venues and run sound in all kinds of places (from pro concert halls to being in the audience at a DIY show and nobody’s at the Behringer).

Monitors are only essential if your room is big enough that the performers can’t hear themselves/each other. It’s rarely expected unless you’re dealing with people who are accustomed to playing bigger rooms (or premadonnas). I prefer at least one but it shouldn’t prevent you from having shows.

I also recommend having one mic and XLR cable on hand at all times. This is in case someone’s has broken on the road, or they want a talkback mic.

Otherwise, I feel blessed if I have a PA, a power strip, and a table. If you’re feeling really generous, pick up a cheap stereo DI for the same reason as the microphone - in case someone’s is lost or broken.

I have some advice, sure. (Background: I have participated in 213 music events as a performer, sound engineer/stage manager/PA contractor, and/or host in the last 5+ years)

Get a couple of 2’X4’ adjustable height folding tables and a couple of tablecloths: the $5 black nylon ones from Wal-Mart work great and are indestructible. Venues often don’t have suitable tables, and banquet tables suck because they are so low. Most electronic acts don’t need the 6’X30" size either. Tablecloths make the pictures look 100% better. Proper tables are #1 on my list for sure, it makes everything so much better.

You should own at least one pro quality DI box: just get a Radial Engineering ProD2 and be happy you will likely never need anything better. Venues usually have garbage DI if anything at all.

A short extension cord and typically needed cables/adaptors are like gold too: 3.5mm stereo -> dual 1/4" to plug into the DI box plus a 3.5mm TRS -> 1/4" TRS adapter is a good starting place. Venues will usually have all the XLR and 1/4" cables you need if they have a house sound system.

If you’re gearing up to do your own sound, I’d get a couple of powered PA speakers (with stands) and a wireless mixer like a Behringer XR12. I own a Soundcraft 16 channel mixer, dbx comp/limiter, and snake for my live rig (I’ve done a lot of live work), but it’s really bulky and heavy. I recently acquired a Behringer XR16 and I’m loving the reduced size & weight–it wouldn’t be my first choice if I was still doing a lot of live bands, but I’m digging it for electronic shows. If you’re really on a budget, get a JBL EON 12" powered top or better–just one will do a heck of a lot. Get a decent mic with a switch too, so someone can emcee. The speaker will have all the preamp and mixing facilities you absolutely need for most electronic shows. Do not buy cheap mic stands, they are worthless.

Don’t worry about monitors someone mentioned above. Most electronic acts can be put in front of the mains without fear of feedback. If you need to you can use one of your mains as a monitor (or better yet the talent can use headphones/earbuds/IEMs) and cover a smaller crowd with the other one; stereo is optional at most live shows.

Get cases for everything!! Nothing is worse than seeing a bunch of beat up gear in a nice venue. My speakers have been to a ton of shows and still look great even when I have a sound gig at a multimillion dollar modern art gallery.

Setbacks? Ahhh, the talent doesn’t show up, the audience doesn’t show up, you book a night when some other really popular act is in town (or TV show etc), the venue owner doesn’t like what you’re doing from artistic or commercial reasons … anything can and will happen. Just shake it all off and keep doing it. It’s hard work and goes unsung a lot of the time, but there will be people who notice and good things will come your way.

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I run a monthly house show series in Chicago - just had an event today ! It’s been an incredible experience and has gone really well from the beginning.

for equipment I’ve pulled from my own gear and that’s been fine, just mixer going into some studio monitors. I wouldn’t overthink it, especially starting out.

probably the biggest challenge for me has been keeping up with promotion and making posters and planning shows far enough in advance. it doesn’t seem like a big commitment but it’s more than you’ll realize. keeping up on artists can also be tricky, but I’ve made it work by being really open on social media and encouraging anyone to reach out, and reaching out to other people I find. there’s more than enough artists in Chicago, most of them just aren’t visible. Instagram can be a mess but it’s been really crucial for this process.

I prefer to keep the shows free/donation so it can feel weird curating bands or more successful acts that are used to paid gigs and rely on that funding, but I haven’t had any bad experiences so far.

OH and also - put someone else in charge of making the recordings, it is VERY easy to forget to hit record with 40 people in your living room. lost some beautiful performances because of this.

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Speaking to the original poster, I would make sure you’re clear on whether you can charge for the event or not. Every place can be a little different, and zoning can be more important some places than others. I had friends that ran a space in a city that couldn’t officially charge because it was a residential/work space. I knew some other people that had to make their events all donations to the space, otherwise they would have had to pay for insurance. I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think there’s ever any issues against asking for donations or just making it free.

Also, being able to guarantee a minimum for someone traveling to play your show could make a difference between them doing it or not. I’ve had people turn me down because I couldn’t guarantee them anything. I think this is very true if you don’t personally know someone, maybe if they are a friend it could be different.

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When I curated shows in college, I used to trawl the location-based Bandcamp tags and listen to anything that caught my eye. A lot of duds there, but I almost always ended up with something good.

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I’ve done the same, booked one act through that process so far

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What an overwhelmingly helpful and thought-out collection of responses already, thanks so much. I’ll read and respond to each in turn (while making my own notes)…

tehn: I’ve had a skim through these and they look excellent. Very nice to see something tying in the philosophy aspect, which will definitely help me fine-tune my ideas (something I would have assumed I’d have to do through trial and error).

Andrew_S: I like what you say about your ‘take what you can get philosophy’, and I’m happy that you’ve reminded me of the most crucial part of this project. It’s all an experiment, for starters, and ultimately for the benefit of the end listener, and my ego as the organiser needs to be completely out of the picture. You also raise an interesting point about how much/whether to pay the musicians, particularly as we’re all probably operating in a pretty niche space! I think I’d offer to pay for the expenses of travelling over and staying here, and hope that was my only recurring expense (though I imagine it’s won’t be).

With regards to promotion, have you found any route to be more effective than others? The benefit of living in Amsterdam is that everything is pretty close, and flyers at local music venues and meditation spaces could be worthwhile.

wheelersounds: Thanks for your input, really helpful to know what might be essential and what would be a ‘nice to have’. Let’s say I’d be looking to buy as much as I can afford, to avoid renting everything each time, which might you recommend investing in first? I have two Yamaha studio monitors which could fill a medium-sized room comfortably, a cheap audio interface, and a DJ mixer (if that is ever any use at all).

jnoble: Great shout on the tables. I know at least from DJing at clubs and parties that it can be all the difference how low you have to arch your neck for the evening!

Regarding the DI box, this reminds me: I’m ideally planning on livestreaming the events - am I right in assuming a quality DI box would be essential for ensuring the sound is transmitted well? I imagine my cheap U22XT audio interface (which I bought by accident a while ago) will not cut the mustard.

I’ve made a note of all your other suggestions on equipment, really helpful to have it all spelled out. I will be gathering everything and working out a total budget. If you have an answer to my above question on what to invest in first, please let me know!

andrew: Appreciate your simplified take on things, particular for a starter. Is it really possible with just a mixer and studio monitors?

I was also thinking of doing donation-based, to start with at least, not least as it’s in line with the overall message of the project. Hopefully I can find enough people willing to get involved on passion alone. Great idea to get someone else to record!

I’ve put out some messages to find addition musicians willing to play, but I have a number already that I’ve been in contact with about the general project. Not only does this mean I have a decent network (some of whom I regard to be some of the best in ambient at the moment), but they’re also already aware of the aims and message of it all; hopefully this would help convince them to give it a go, as it’s not solely for the purposes doing something with my spare time! If anyone’s interested, it’s currently started as a basic YouTube channel for music, meditation and insightful talks, and I will be releasing music as a label in the near future. There is also an Instagram account (which couldn’t be more out of my depth) for further promotional purposes and general positive, enriching stuff.

Again, thank you all so much for taking the time to respond in such detail. Any follow up you might have to my further questioning is hugely appreciated.

You might also want to think about utilising existing event structures and venues with all their acquired expertise and equipment regarding music events. https://occii.org/ would come to my mind for amsterdam right away. Not sure how easy it is to get your foot into the door there nowadays but if you were able to, you wouldn’t need to worry about suitable sound systems and all…

You’re totally right, and I’m keeping an eye out for established organisers. It would certainly cut out a lot of the hassle and costs! Would be great to be self-sufficient, but I appreciate that could come later down the line if necessary.

Shows and touring is something I am doing all my life so here’s some things to think about just off the top of my head:

What is the local competition like? In a town like Amsterdam things are pretty saturated I can imagine. Is there a niche to be filled or a way to distinguish your events? Is there any special locations that can be involved that have been overlooked by others? Do they have any infrastructure (PA, lights) for shows and the necessary permits if there are any? Is there any local acts worth supporting or booking agents you could get in touch with?

Is there already any established local collective of show organisers that you can cooperate with? Perhaps some non-profit collectives or government funded collectives. That is actually the best way to get your toes wet when starting to organise shows and it’s also more fun to work with others than to do it on your own.

With promotion: I would think about what gets you to events. I would say the most effective things is if someone tells you about an event, or if you know someone who is playing. The most effective thing for my shows is getting multiple local artists involved. That gets people into the seats. It wouldn’t really matter who I brought in otherwise. I would say it is not common around here for people to just come and check something out.

Then with facebook etc. I think it’s necessary, but again think of yourself. How often do you go to events you get facebook invites for?

Posters…they take a lot of time to design and distribute, but I think they are worth while. They help to get the energy up for the event in the community, and can entice people who are not in your circle to come check something out. In Utica, the small city in Central New York where I live, I do not think I’ve gotten much traffic due to posters. But, a visual artist from out of town saw one of our posters and came to the show, and will be doing visuals for one of our shows in May! So you never know.

One other thing about the sound equipment: I would consider what size event you thinking you’ll be doing an if you think it’s worth it, invest in some nice speakers. I went with some RCF active 12" speakers which sound amazing, and are plenty big for any event I’ll be doing. It’s so much less of a hassle than trying to borrow them from someone.

If you’re doing shows in venues that have sound systems already, you just need the table(s), a DI, and some cables/adaptors. They should have the rest of what you need.

If you have to supply everything, I would add one very good quality powered 12-15" PA speaker with a rolling case plus a speaker stand. Current model speakers have enough onboard mixing to get the job done with electronic acts accustomed to sending just a stereo pair to the house PA. I own a pair of EV LiveX 12" tops and a LiveX 18" sub, which covers pretty much anything I want to do in a small venue or on a small festival stage. Renting sucks because it eats up so much time before and after the event.

I don’t have an opinion on live streaming gear–that pretty much comes down to what your computer likes to work with. DI is not a necessary part of that chain.

Lunification: I think you’re right. There’s a wealth of events here, spanning all sorts of styles, and I’m sure I haven’t even scratched the surface since I’ve only been here since September. The format of the event I have in mind is certainly niche, but it brings together live music and meditation, so hopefully it’ll be unique enough for it to be worth checking out.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what you say, about teaming up with another organiser, and I’m currently contacting anyone that looks like they could fit. Thanks for your suggestion!

Andrew: That’s a great way of looking at it, I hadn’t thought in that way before. It’s definitely a stretch for me to check out something I’m not familiar with in one way or another. Unfortunately I think the artists I’m able to get initially will either be very niche, or not overly established in the area (or more likely both). I’d say posters, or at least flyers, are definitely worth doing though, particularly if I can distribute them among the many many meditation and yoga studios around here.

jnoble: Thanks for the detail. Powered speakers will no doubt be sufficient. I may aim to do the first in my living room (which is about 80+ square metres with a very high ceiling), so my active studio monitors might even be enough – particularly considering the music will be ambient in nature!