So you want to throw a techno night?
So here we go, essential lessons learned from running The Outer Limits weekly for 11 years.
Finding a venue can be difficult at the best of times, finding the right venue with the right management can be high on impossible. We always did our research before approaching a club owner. We`d visit the club on a Thursday/Friday and Saturday night for a couple of weeks. We`d see how busy they were, what the security was like, what the sound system was like etc etc. These are all factors that will effect your bottom line in the event you decide to start working with that venue. If they were packed, we walked away. Many people would say to us, you want x/y/z venue, its rammed, and that is the very reason we didn`t want that venue, the second attendances drop, bar take drops, the girl sucking the club managers dick doesn`t like the music, you`re out the door. If you start off needing the venue more than they need you, you may as well save your money, the business relationship is not going to last.
Remember all you are looking for is 4 walls with a license that is struggling. Sound systems can be brought in, the club interior can be changed with decor. There is another reason for finding a struggling club compared to a busy one, you want people to come to your night, not the club. This is your concept, your brand, it is not the clubâ€™s. The club would be open and being empty without you, you are taking the risk, you are doing the hard work and you, not the club, will be bringing the punters in, because trust me, if they could do it without you, they would. This gives you long term protection if the club decides to screw around with you. You can move that brand to another venue in an instant.
We always went for 400-500 capacity venues with two rooms. The thing about people who are really into techno is that we can`t fathom why everyone isn`t into it. Unfortunately everyone isn`t, and that will almost certainly include the club manager and his friends. Most small clubs are owned by 45 year old + guys who want a drinking venue for their buddies. They buy the venue to look cool and hopefully get a few shags on the side. Now there are exceptions to this rule obviously, but for the large part in your average non-metropolitan town, this would be the case. We always fused breaks with indie in our second rooms. It was treated like a proper room, no muppet personality djs etc, but the music was more conducive to the people who would drink there. When I say breaks I mean breaks, not hip hop. Remember, whilst not everyone like techno, everyone wants to be cool. Most techno people I know listen to breaks and rock, more importantly, most club owners I know, do not listen to techno, they listen to rock. The other thing about this demographic of punter, is they drink. This is not a problem if you have good security (see below), but what it does do is it keeps the club owner off your back because his bar is now busy.
Meeting with The Owner
So you have identified your target venue and you set up a meeting with the owner. Make sure you are prompt and don`t look like you have been caning drugs all night long. The fact that you are there means you can see some potential in his venue, which is the reason he will be using to justify to himself why he bought the club in the first place. This is a simple sales pitch, how well you do will guarantee you this venue for as long as you need it.
Explain what you want to do and how you want to do it. Be honest. Don`t agree to a fixed hire fee, that will kill you so quickly. Our deal was simple, the club took the bar, we took 90% of the net on the door after our costs to run the night were paid. Never promise a club owner anything that you are not guaranteed to be able to deliver. Don`t tell him you will â€śsell his club out on the opening nightâ€ť, the reality is, that for a struggling venue, it will take 12 weeks before you start seeing anywhere near capacity crowds. A study of psychology will show you that it takes 21 days to set a habit, i.e, if you get out of bed every day for 21 days and lift your left leg in the air for 5 minutes, on the 22nd day you will do that automatically. Understanding this is the most critical factor in launching a club night. Let`s look at the psyche of the average techno punter.
Week 1 â€“ Launch night â€“ You`ve generated lots of hype and you put in 200 people. Of those 200 people, expect 75% to be curious about what is going on, 25% will be your friends, associates and guests. Everyone leaves saying what an amazing night they had, how they would be coming back for sure, they will tell all their friends. You go home thinking, wow, next week is going to be off the wall.
Week 2 - 50 people â€“ WTF!!!!! I don`t get it, everyone said they would be coming back.
Week 3 â€“ 40 people â€“ Oh fuck, why did I tell the club manager I would sell out his venue when we first met??? Bollocks..
Week 4 â€“ This is your first critical period in your 12 weeks launch time. What has happened on weeks 1-3 is pretty standard. The people who told you they were coming back really meant it. Then they went and told their friends, who invariable would have said â€śthat venue is a shit hole, we aren`t going thereâ€ť, and if their friends don`t go, they don`t come back. Now whilst you may think your night is the best thing since sliced bread, you are now paying the price for having a venue that will accommodate a techno night on your terms. What you don`t do at this point is blame the venue, even though that may be a contributing factor, you need to keep the club on your side. Whilst your 50 people may be more than the venue did in a week before you came in, I can assure you that some staff members who had a nice little cushy life getting paid for doing no work week in week out, will be in the owners ear disrespecting you. The last thing you want to do as a promoter is to start blaming the venue. Remember the reasons you chose this venue is that in the long term, you benefit, start disrespecting it and you will be out the door. Getting people through the door is your problem, not the venues, this is your brand.
So what do you do? Well here are a few things that have been going on amongst the 150 people who haven`t been back since night 1. They have gone to other shit clubs and had shit nights. They have been moaning at their friends that they should go back to your night and at least give it a go. These people are actually your biggest sales force at this period. Their friends are getting really pissed off by this constant persuasion. Play this right and you are well on the way to establishing a successful night. We used to structure week four to fall immediately after the monthly pay cycle so people had money in their pockets. In our initial meeting with the club owner, we would request that he organise a major drinks promotion for this night. We would then pull in a big guest DJ and fundamentally give the night away and our flyer teams would be out all day and night handing out flyers. . Guess what, that week you are packed. Those 150 people have all brought someone with them. You`d better make sure your guest shows up, plays out of his skin and your residents are on fire that night. The downside is this is a loss leader night, so you aren`t making any money, but guess who does? That`s it, the club owner. Now he is on your side because he has actually made some money.
For week 5, 6 and 7 we always made it a 1 pound entry night and tried to keep the drinks promotion happening. What we are trying to do here is establish a habit. You had 400 people through the door on week 4, but as a promoter you can`t afford to keep taking a financial loss. So we would cut costs and run as resident DJ night. I go into the importance of resident djs later on so I will skip that for now. What your are trying to do here is get 200 people through the door for 2 successive weeks. By having a drinks promotion, the club owner will not be expecting his bar to be in overdrive, another really important point.
Week 8 â€“ OK, now you have established a regular following for your brand. People have just been paid, what do you do? Get a huge guest in some would scream. Right, you are running on fumes and savings so you put all your eggs into one basket, great move, or perhaps not. We always used to get a medium sized guest DJ, maybe someone who wasn`t too expensive but someone we knew was a quality DJ and we`d do introduce for the first time a 2 tiered door policy...Cheaper before 10.30 more expensive afterward. Never lose sight of the fact that it is the people who supported you on the first 7 weeks of your club night that have got you to week 8. They are also the people more than likely to want to get there early. I keep going on about this but you are establishing a brand, and these are your core customers who want to be made to feel special. Too many promoters treat their customers like muppets and bleed them dry. That may work for a few weeks but it never lasts. You want longevity because you are building something that will last for years, in our case, 11 years.
Weeks 9,10 and 11. At this point our 2 tiered door policy was working, but we would try to be innovative. Bring a guest next week and you get in for free tickets were handed out at the end of each night. What we are trying to do here is establish a fixed door price whilst at the same time recouping our investment that we had paid out over the previous weeks. Never forget, people expect to pay for stuff, and if the product is right, they will pay for it. By saying to your existing punters, we appreciate your support, so bring someone with you next week and you will be our guest for the night as our thanks to you , that works on so many levels it`s not true.
Week 12 - Now you are at the point where you can start looking at the big boys. Our rule of thumb was that if we couldn`t cover costs for 50% capacity, which by now is where you should be running weekly, we didn`t do it. So you are in a 500 capacity club, someone offered you DJ God for your 12th week. You reckon for this dj you can probably get 10 euros a head, but, you also don`t want to piss off your regular followers, so you estimate that doing 7 before 10.30 and 10 before 11.30 and 12 after you can afford 2500 euros for a guest dj. DJ God however wants 3500 euros plus travel, hotel etc so you`re looking at 5000 euros all in before flyers, resident djs, etc etc . What do you do? Two schools of thought on this one, I will just tell you what we did. We said no. This is the hardest thing you are going to have to do, but you cannot, under any circumstances, jeopardise your night because DJ God wants to play. If DJ God is as successful as DJ God appears, he can afford to do it for 2500 Euros all in. If he is in the scene for the right reasons, he will understand that a small club cannot afford 5000 euros and without small clubs, there is no bloody scene. Now that I am an international dj, we structure my fees according to capacity and every decent dj we have ever worked with did the same for The Outer Limits. I would much rather play a 400-600 capacity venue than a 3000 + party.
Week 13 onwards. Basically by now you will know your optimum door price. We ran as follows,
Week 1 (first week of the month) â€“ Upcoming guest, fairly priced.
Week 2 (second week of the month) â€“ Medium guest
Week 3 (Third week of the month, people need an excuse to come out) â€“ Major headliner
Week 4 (Fourth week of the month, payday) â€“ Residents Party.
I cannot stress the importance of resident djs, they are the guys who control the music, the ones that will attract on a weekly basis the hardcore punter. Now at The Outer Limits obviously I was the resident dj and that never changed. But in 11 years we only had 3 other residents and mine were mustard. I learned very early on, the most important set of the night was the first set. It didn`t matter what the guest did (who BTW never played the last set), if the first set was shit, the night was tough. If the first set was shit, people left early. On an average club night from say 9-3 that is 6 hours. No dj should ever be asked to play less than an hour and a half, he can`t do his job otherwise, so we had the same guy on, every week, playing the first set, the guest and then me every week to close. We didn`t chop and change this, it was fixed. Too many promoters dismiss that first set and use it to call in favours or whatever. What they forget is the punter who has walked through the door and paid his hard earned cash, wants quality from the minute he walks in. The minute you dismiss your resident djs as not important, you have a club night that is reliant on the â€śsuperstarâ€ť guest dj, who, as anyone who has been in clubs for any length of time can tell you, barring a handful, that is a recipe for disaster. So if you are serious about staying in promoting for a long time, choose your residents wisely, know that they can do the best job for you and keep them, don`t chop and change, nothing pisses off a paying customer more than that. I don`t care if your mate`s sister has offered you a blow job if you will let him play, just once, I don`t care that if it is seemed politically incorrect not to spread the slots around, this is a business. Yes people will slag you off, call you every name under the sun. Simple response, if you are that good, throw a rival night and let`s see who is still standing in 4 weeks time. 2 residents, that`s it.
Flyers need to go to hand. What I mean by that is every flyer needs to be handed to a real person. The stats are proven, you get a 2% return on every flyer handed to a person. Therefore if you want to fill a 400 capacity club, you need to be handing out 20,000 flyers a week. Dumping 19000 into shops doesn`t count, and yes this is a lot of hard work. It means everyone involved with the night, even the djs, getting on the streets and distributing the flyers. On the night of the event, you want flyer girls/boys out handing out flyers.
One thing we always did was to create free memberships for our punters, We invested in holographic membership cards and encouraged everyone to join our mailing list. For big events they got a nominal discount, we did monthly mail outs, sold mix cds and so much more. Your brand is only as good as your customers, treat them with respect.
One way to kill a club is to have bad security. Now most venues already have their security in place. Remember, techno crowds are unique, there is rarely if ever any trouble at venues. However, most doormen don`t even know what a techno night is, let alone how to handle it. Do yourself a favour, have a meeting with the head of security and the club owner. Explain to them what is acceptable and what isn`t, more importantly, get the head of security to agree in front of the club owner. Also remember, in the event some big fucker decides to play silly buggers, you are going to expect the security to put themselves in the line of fire to protect you and your customers. You can`t have it both ways, show them respect (and noone ever shows club security respect) and you`ll be amazed how quickly they will become an asset.
The Police have a job to do, and until drug laws change, that job is to bust people. Irrespective of whether you agree with it or not, that is the reality of the situation. As a promoter you have two options, work with them or against them. Techno and drugs go hand in hand, trying to pretend otherwise is just foolish. Meet with your head of police and tell him what kind of night you are planning to throw. Ask him what he would like to see implemented so that his police officers can concentrate on catching real criminals. This is a respect thing, take time to find out what is expected of you, the promoter and wherever possible, implement it in good faith. Remember, when those kids cross your doorway, they become your responsibility. If something goes wrong, you want to make damn sure your hands are clean. You can play Billy Badass all you want, but in the words of Bob Marley, â€śI fought the law and the law wonâ€ť. The police can shut a venue down in an instant, they can raid your venue and in general, make your life bloody miserable. Their demands will not necessarily be that unreasonable, but you have to ask first. Again, as with security, we all bitch about them, but if some big fucker turns up on your doorstep with a knife threatening to kill you, the first people you call are the police, and you expect them to protect you. I remember one police officer telling me, off the record, they would much prefer having these kids in a controlled environment and safe off the streets than causing trouble all over town, but drugs are illegal and they are duty bound to deal with the situation. So providing they had no cause to look at my venue for irresponsible drug use, we would be ok.â€ť We always respected that position and took steps to ensure that if anyone turned up, be it media, council or the police, we had systems in place that would show there is no way any drug use happened in our venue with our knowledge. Furthermore, we also pointed out at great length to our punters that the police were only doing their job, and if they had an issue with the drug laws, then protest to the politicians, not the officer.
Monthly or Weeklies
I am not a fan of monthly parties. The risks to the promoter are too great, there is no opportunity to build a true scene. Djs need to be playing regularly to innovate, a weekly allows residents to develop their art.
Conduct of the Promoter
I know it`s your night, and you`ve worked hard,, but, sorry, you can never get fucked up whilst the event is on. What you do afterwards is fine, but during the night you have to be in control, as do your key personnel (front of house, looking after the djs etc etc). In the event you get a surprise visit from the police, or something happens, what do you think they or the club owner wants to see, someone who is control or someone on cloud cuckoo land?
So there you go. The above tips have served us very well in many countries. I am honoured to have worked with the djs and clubs that we have and am eternally grateful to the punters who came to our events week in and week out. Although I have thrown some massive events, and the above principles work equally as well, I am a sub 800 capacity fan. The atmosphere, the intensity of the night, the community and the friendships you build in smaller venues just far outweigh the hype of bigger events. Yes you can make more money I agree, but likewise, the techno scene is littered with promoters who lost their arses on a big one off and disappeared from the scene forever. This formula works for us, that`s all I can add.
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