Summer is officially here, which means people all over the Bay Area are looking for ways to enjoy themselves. Checking out a local music or comedy show is a great way to spend this special season. It is interesting living in San José at a time when so many creatives are putting on shows and events with the intent of helping the local scene thrive. And with people visiting or coming back for Summer break, your show can leave a lasting impression on an individual or the community.
If you are reading this, you are probably hoping to put a somewhat professional show together. Putting on any show is tricky and an audience can tell the difference between a low-effort show and something truly unique that had some thought, sweat, and love behind it. With about 40 shows under our belts in less than 2 years, we figured we could provide some advice on how to put on your own DIY shows that probably won’t suck.
1. Set A Date
First thing is you want to have a small team of people, preferably people with experience in throwing parties, experience in art and design, who have a strong social network, and have good tastes in music. Then set up a date. You want to give yourself at least six weeks to plan out your first show and at least a month to announce it online and to friends. You want to pick a date that doesn’t compete with other events that will eclipse your show (graduations, bigger artists in town, local festivals, or that guy that everyone knows’ birthday party).
We also recommend having no more than three to four acts for your first show and giving yourself a half hour between sets to space out your show, especially if your show will have bands. In short, your show should be scheduled to be about 4 hours with the expectation that it will run a half hour longer. Stacking too many artists will fatigue your audience and while it can get more people to show up, it makes logistics, set up, and timing a pain in the ass. If you want a super stacked show, have a strong team and some good acts line up.
2. Find A Venue
And of course, you have to choose a venue. Bars, warehouses, retail spaces, and breweries are open for a music show because it will bring people in on a slower day. A lot of retail spaces or bars have access to music equipment or they have the capital to invest in one. But using someone’s business as a venue means more restrictions on musical content and you have to run a tighter ship with set times in order to please the owners. A shop is more likely to say yes to you putting on a show in their brick-and-mortar if you will put on an event that will bring in a crowd on a slower night of the week. Unfortunately, most slow nights for a business do not land on the weekend, so choose wisely.
Using a house as a venue tends to mean a looser structure. You don’t have to worry about a band being too hardcore or vulgar, you can charge tickets easier, and the show can progress into a party. That being said, people have to live in the house once your show is over. Just make sure that everyone involved with your show knows how to respect the space, no matter where it is. We know some fellas who were evicted after putting on a show that got out of hand. Just be smart and cautious.
A photo from a basement show at the 363 House. It’s always a good idea to find a house with people who are invested in putting on events for the community.
3. Book Your Acts
What is a music show without music? Whether it is a rap show, indie rock, blues, EDM, bedroom pop, or Norwegian death metal, you want to have a lineup that excites people and gets them to dance or awkwardly nod their head off-rhythm. The Come Up tests the waters with the genres we will have on the lineup, but overall we will make sure the bands all have some common threads. Whether the acts are all jazz inspired, have indie rock feels, or even sets the same mood, you want to make sure that the crowd doesn’t get turned off by a complete change in musical style.
There is a 70% chance that if you are reading this, you are a musician or in a band, and you will be part of the lineup. And nothing is wrong with that. But it is important to pick bands that are good, that are fairly reliable, and that will also have an investment in your show. We recommend going to local shows and meeting with bands after their sets or just browsing through Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and Spotify to find some good local acts. It is always good to carry extra cables, amps, and equipment in case a band forgets something important. And it is always good to send out an email, dm, or text with all of the show details to every group performing and hold them to that load in and sound check time. If you have some money to pay them, this makes this process easier.
AND HAVE THE NUMBER OF AT LEAST ONE ARTIST FROM EACH ACT IN CASE THERE IS AN EMERGENCY.
Make sure that you promote the show and band and be a good host wherever you have the show. Remember there is no show without these musicians taking the time out to put on a fun show, so be appreciative and accommodating. Who knows, they may make it big and say good things about you in Pitchfork.
4. Create a Good Flier
With this step also comes the step of creating a name for your show. You can call the show whatever you like, but it’s always a good rule to never take your show title too seriously. You want something catchy and that rolls off the tongue. It’s never a bad idea to throw a pop culture reference or callout to a show (see SanJoChella)
Once you get that taken care of, create an eye-catching flier. We recommend having one nice image that matches vibe of the show, up to two fonts max should be on the flier, and the text should not fill the page.
Above are some great examples of eye catching fliers with clear information about the event. Once that flier is done, put them in the local cafes and hangout spots, make a Facebook event, and share it on your social media.
5. Set a Vibe
So you have the date, the venue, the bands, the flier, and you are now promoting your show. Now you have to figure out what kind of atmosphere you want to create for your attendees. What is the stage going to look like? Does the venue look sketchy? What kind of lighting will you use? Will you have someone hosting the show? Is this show about getting hype or is it chill and intimate? Are you going to have party favors? Will there be Glow sticks? Beer? Weed? Pizza? All of these questions are about establishing a tone of the show.
Setting a vibe is about making sure people feel comfortable and have a good time at your events. It also means ensuring your space is safe and inclusive to all. Besides just being a good thing to strive for, diverse groups bring in more people, which allows you access to more artists and show organizers.
This all ties into creating a message behind your show (is it just a fun show, a party, or part of a bigger movement?). Remember when promoting the hell out of your show to try to articulate what the overall theme or atmosphere of the show will be. Posting on Instagram, Snapchat, and your Facebook event page is a good way to create hype alone.
And make sure you have a good time, but remember your first priority is sticking to your schedule, making sure everything sounds good, and your performers and audience are enjoying themselves. DIY shows are a lot of fun with the right people, proper plans, creative minds, and good attitude. Below is a video of one of our backyard shows last year, remember to take photos and document the great work you do. Have a fun Summer Everyone!