There’s something intoxicating about putting events together. It takes you outside of your comfort zone, it forces you to think in a scale larger than you are generally used to, and it lets you work on something greater than yourself – even if it’s about yourself. From a small show for your books, your art, your poetry or your band to a large scale event like a convention you get the feeling that you’re creating magic with each one. You are filled with endless optimism when planning things and laying them out, imagining the best case scenario as you find a date, find a venue, book the date, and start the long process of promoting and creating the event. The larger the event the longer lead time you need to promote and create it and it’s the promotion that becomes the marathon as you work to find ways to get the word out and keep the interest up without pushing your message too hard and too often. It becomes a little like alchemy where you try different mediums, different tones, different pitches, trying to get it all right so that people not only want to attend your event but want to tell everyone they know to attend it and, depending on the scale of the event, you want that word of mouth to continue outward until you reach a sort of critical mass.
The closer you get to the date of the event the more you come off that initial high as the real work of it all becomes heavier and heavier. The bigger the event the more people are relying on you to get the word out and to get it out in the right way. You are also facing the worries that while you are being careful and measured in how you put the word out someone else may be blasting social media with the event several times a day so that people’s eyes begin to glaze and they suddenly have no interest in attending at all. You worry about the venue, the logistics, and the attendance. You worry over everything, great and small. It’s that worrying though that keeps you honest and keeps you pushing to create the best event you can. If it’s a small show the worries are (usually) equally small – venue, agenda, promotion – but if it’s a large scale affair you get into money, potentially a lot of money and that’s when things get scary. You start involving outside parties for catering, entertainment, venue rental, chair and table rental, and on and on and so the pressure gets more intense and the stakes are higher. It’s no wonder some events are pushed so often, and so hard when they are on a large scale because there’s so much to at stake. So much to lose.
When we are young we always wish, wish, wish there were more things to do, more to see, and more to surprise us but as adults we realize that there is TOO much to do and we begin to guard our time like dragons, cautiously attending things that have meaning for us or offer the most fun. The problem comes with the event organizers and with the landscape of things.
I have done events for ten years now. I started out working with an arts group and helping as was needed and began to take the lead on my own events and on events I was more invested in in 2007. I realized that I wanted to do things that I didn’t see being done locally and had friends that agreed and together we worked to create some fantastic and unique events here in Flint. We were people that would head down to Detroit for art shows and conventions and knew what our area was missing out on. We filled a void. When a day came that we stopped doing our group shows and I went and began doing my own shows the void we had filled was filled by others. It was an imitation of what we had done, with alterations to suit their vision, but you could say the same of what we’d done – we were imitating what we’d seen in Detroit. A void was being filled though and that void was an independent art show that brought in new faces and new styles to a city and art scene that could get stagnant. We didn’t do the shows every month because they were big affairs, involved a lot of artists, a lot of art, and a lot of planning. More than anything we wanted these shows to be special. This is where we get to the heart of things – when you go into doing events you have to know why you are doing it, who you are doing it for, and what you expect the outcome to be. You have to understand that not every event is meant for everyone and not every show needs everyone to tell the world about it. You need to understand the difference between a small show and large show and why you go about the creation and promotion differently. You need to appreciate the landscape and understand who you are selling the event to and who you are competing against. And here’s the thing – you need to know your limitations.
We are in a cycle of event over-saturation. You reach an age where you know so many people doing so many things and it’s hard to know what you want to do and are able to do. It’s nice to be invited to things but it’s nicer when your friends and contacts sell you events that make sense for you. A party two states away? A concert when the band plays every week? A convention for something you are not interested in? Yet another fundraiser for another starving artist? We are saturating social media with things that are not meant for everyone but which we are pushing ON everyone. Events are lost because they are not promoted enough and events are doomed because they promote too much. It’s become so that social media is filled with people screaming – FUND ME – SUPPORT ME – HELP ME – ATTEND THIS – and everything is valid and worthy, but not necessarily of interest to every person. There’s moderation that we need to follow.
Moderation isn’t the only thing though. We need to build compelling events. We can’t keep showing the same art, shilling the same books, and pushing the same show over and over again. There has to be something different. New art. A new book. A new album or compelling show. You have to have something different and not wear people out of the same thing. People don’t seem to get that though. They want to do shows every week with the same thing in the same place and wonder why no one but friends come to support it. There is a reason the events I did weren’t every week, or even every month. Even if an event was as successful as another one it was still going to be something interesting and unique. You have to look at your area and see if there’s a niche you can fill. It will take time to get the audience for that niche but odds are they’re there you just have to find them. So many events are the same thing over and over again, same people, same place, same schtick, that it becomes wallpaper and you just look past it. Some things will work, some won’t but it’s all a learning experience if you’re willing to learn. If you don’t change things up though you won’t connect with a new audience and you’ll lose the support system you had because they’ll assume you don’t need them any longer.
I have done them for ten years and I don’t think evens ever get easy, you just get better at doing them and wiser at putting them together. You have to be willing to gain that wisdom though and willing to accept that not every event and not every idea is going to be well received. All you can do is take the time to re-examine things and try again. You need to know why you are doing the event, who your audience is, and you need to be conscious of who the audience isn’t. You need to be honest with yourself. And if you are playing with other people’s money you damn well better have a plan for how you’re going to make that money back or how you’re going to make the most out of their investment. There’s inherent trust when you put an event together and you need to honor that trust and repay it with something worth investing time, money, and passion into. You aren’t just representing yourself, you’re representing your brand, your friends, your city, and people you may not even know. Honor the trust your given and do something special.
Because you can so something special.
And when you do…it’s a hell of a great feeling.
I write books. They’re freakin’ rad. Go read one.