DIY 101: Book a Show
Guest post by Brian Skiffington
If you’ve read the “About” section of this site, you’ll know that one of the main reasons I started this blog was to create a forum to share stories and ideas. Hardcore is a shared ownership in the scene. “Getting involved” can look like many different things; starting a band; putting out a record; showing up at shows and jumping off a stage… This post is the first, in what I hope to be a series of guest blog posts from people who have done an awesome job in taking ownership and doing tangible things for this scene. These people have learned a lot from their years of learning-by-doing. Hopefully these guest posts can give some insights for kids looking to do more.
This first post comes from Brian Skiffington. He’s one of the trio of solid dudes that puts together Rain Fest and he’s been booking shows in the Northwest for years. Chances are, if you’ve jumped off a stage in Seattle or Tacoma in the last ten years, or were in a touring band coming through the northwest, you owe that experience in large part to this dude.
Portions of this post will appear in the next issue of his zine, Kick Start A Scene Issue: 3, as part of a much larger series about booking shows. He tells some of the early stories so you know where he came from, and he added some additional thoughts for anybody trying to book a show.
Four Walls and a PA
4 walls and a PA are all you need to book a show. Understanding that simple concept opens doorways to a million possibilities in every aspect of your life. If you are from a boring town you can create spaces for diy shows just as an artist or writer or photographer can find a coffee shop or space to show their work, start their own blog or print their own paper. Every living room, church basement, alleyway, Laundromat becomes a space in which we can exist. You can plant a seed and watch it grow. Even if you are from a big city that gets plenty of bands coming through, if there is some jerk like me, that tends to book all the hardcore shows, there is nothing that says you can’t book your own or challenge the so called order and shake things up. In the earlier days I made it a point to do that kinda shit. “What? You won’t book our bands? Fine, We are going to do a free all local show the same night as your cool kid bullshit show. Fuck you!” (Also a great way to sabotage a show when the band members playing are known rapists, racists, general turds etc.)
My peers and I stepped up and created spaces for shows to happen in Tacoma when the older scene was decaying and receding into sensible indie rock territory. We worked hard to bring hardcore bands to Tacoma. We had to. It was like our mission. We started venues here; hosted a festival here; did all kinds of amazing things here. I am coming to a place now in my life where my energy and passion need to be elsewhere. I am not moving on, just freeing myself up to do new and exciting things with my time and money and choosing to be VERY selective with the shows I choose to do. With the closing of the Morgue and the Redroom recently, it just felt like it was my time to take a big step backward. Sometimes the whole forest has to burn before its floors can see new growth. I began booking out of necessity and it took me on an interesting journey for close to thirteen years now. Learning how to organize people and promote events; learning how to manage myself and my time (still learning actually). The values I have learned here permeate through every facet of my life.
If you are reading this PLEASE! Somebody! ANYBODY?! Take over so I can fade into obscurity. I want to be a wallflower: a mere (drunk) participant. I suppose that is a pipe dream because I always get roped back into this shit, but really, I don’t really want to do this anymore. I hope this writing helps you.
The First 4 Years
As I write this, close to thirteen years have passed since the first show I ever booked, or that I remember booking. It was in May of 2001 on PLU campus in a student performance space called the Cave. Champion and Breaker Breaker needed a show. I was 17 at the time and had just joined a band called Sidetracked. We had an existing show with some random metal / punk bands and I was able to get the 2 bands added to our show as openers. I didn’t technically book the show. The singer of a band called Runt did. They were students @ PLU but I made some flyers that said “SxT Youth Crew Presents:” and had Champion and Breaker Breaker headlining while the real headliners were at the bottom. The show had about 40 or 50 people in attendance, most were hardcore folks who had driven down from Seattle. During Breaker Breaker’s set, Mark the singer leaned down and smooched this pretty girl wearing gothy go-go boots. The girl was the real promoter of the show’s girlfriend and he was furious. Immediately after this happened and totally unrelated, somebody in BB got hit in the head with a guitar and was bleeding from the forehead. Paramedics had to treat the wound. After Champion played, the whole crowd bailed and Runt was left to play to their friends. I remember the entire crowd drove from Spanaway to Renton and a sort of hardcore hangout party happened. This was the first time I met a lot of people who would end up being good friends through the years, even band mates, and all kinds of other people who booked shows, played in bands, took photos and all that kinda stuff. It was pretty overwhelming.
In 2001 I booked another show at the Cave, which had moved to a different building on campus. This time I knew a student on campus and was able to go through her to get the date reserved. This one I am both proud and embarrassed of. The show was Diehard Youth, No Return, To See You Broken, Reserve 34 (last time they ever played the states) and Blue Monday (very first show). I was pretty naïve at this point in time. I ordered “vegan” pizzas for the bands, which were just crust and sauce with no toppings. I didn’t know any better and certainly didn’t care about what vegans thought tasted good. The drummer of No Return was arrested for reckless driving on the way to the show so I had to fill in and play an impromptu cover set. I destroyed half the songs and kicked a hole through To See You Broken’s bass drum head. This show was well attended though and funny enough that I will always remember it.
In early 2002 I dropped out of Community College with a weeks notice to go on a west coast tour with No Return. A couple of months after that, my band Sidetracked went on tour. We played some of the same towns and venues, but were out for a longer time and went down to San Diego and back. Through these tours I met all kinds of people including promoters who were in bands that were planning on coming up to the NW and started exchanging contacts. This also really opened my eyes to different kinds of shows and venues. We played a church, an art gallery, a warehouse that distributed gym equipment, living rooms, garages, record stores. It seemed like all you needed was a PA and 4 walls.
There were some spots in Tacoma that did occasional shows and carried the scene but they were short lived or at various times opposed to hardcore / punk shows. I saw Against Me! Play in a Tacoma basement in 2001. There were some scattered shows at The Usual and The Kickstand Cafe but the bulk of everything was happening in Seattle: Graceland, RCKNDY, The Paradox, The Punkin House, Qyn’s Garage (editor’s note: this was actually in Lynnwood), the downtown YMCA, The Vera Project (on 4th & Virginia), Miller Community Center, 2nd Ave. Pizza… and the list goes on. In Tacoma we really just had the Lake City Community Center. The LCCC was a great spot while it lasted. I only booked a couple shows there. Most were around 2003 and 2004. Certainly got to play my fair share of shows though between 2000 and 2004. This space was a huge gymnasium in a community center and it always smelled like vinegar. You would be loading in for a show while karate lessons were going on. I have some wild flyers from here. LCCC definitely has some good Tacoma Hardcore history around the late 90’s / early 00’s but much of it was before my time. Pretty sure AFI played there! Ha! (editor’s note: Yep! It was one of Mark Manning’s “Unity Fest” shows)
Club Impact was a Christian venue on Puyallup Ave. owned by World Vision and would let secular bands play with a no swearing policy. Totally whack when I think back, but at the time it felt like it was one of the few things we had. I did a show there in December of 2001 for Figure Four, One Of These Days, Diehard Youth, Sidetracked and this Facedown Records band called Through It All. John Lockjaw from One Life Crew was in the band and the rumor was that they dropped off the show because Powerhouse was in the area and had a beef. The only other hardcore show I remember booking at Club Impact was a record release show for Sidetracked in March of 2002. The other bands were No Return, Brutal Fight and xWeapon Crewx (which you will have to ask Posi Chris about sometime).
In June of 2001 I did my first show up @ Ground Zero in Bellevue. Left With Nothing, Brutal Fight, No Return & Sidetracked played. It was great. In the beginning I used to cut out magazine clippings and my weird little doodles and do cut and paste flyers a lot. Before I explored the wonders of MS Paint.
1227: The New Era
Hell’s Kitchen was a bar on Sixth Ave. that opened around 2001 and did occasional all ages shows in Tacoma. Later on they would only do 21+ bar shows, but right off the bat they catered to punk & metal shows. I saw Mastadon and DRI play there. One of my bands played with Chiodos there to about 25 people. One of the first shows I remember booking there was in 2004 and had only 12 people paid… Annihilation Time, Knife Fight, Iron Lung, Sidetracked. I was given $18 to pay bands. When I think back about it though, I don’t think the turn out reflected my promotion as much as it reflected Tacoma in 2004. The night before, I had booked Annihilation Time, Knife Fight, Cold Sweat, Sidetracked @ The Vera Project in Seattle. There was a much better turn out. Closer to 50 attended.
I didn’t book another show @ Hell’s Kitchen until 2006. About 30-40 people were in attendance to see Lords, Ed Gein, Last Priest and Sidetracked. I wasn’t the only person booking “proper” Hardcore shows in Tacoma. Oddly enough, Staygold booked their last show with Champion, Terror, Allegiance and a band from DC whose name escapes me there in 2002 (editor’s note: This was actually Stay Gold’s second-to-last show: the one where they announced they were breaking up. I booked this one.). Around that time the established Tacoma bands like Harkonen, Divinity Of Truth and Left With Nothing were all on their way out. Things were starting to shift.
What originally inspired me and my peers to start booking shows in Tacoma, was that all the bigger hardcore tours and shows that we wanted to see skipped us and went straight to Seattle. It was always me and the same 3 or 4 people cramming into the canopy of our friends pick up truck and mobbing to shows up North.
In 2004 some things started to gel. There was a Tacoma crew that started to form around the 1227 house on N. Oakes. The basement room, which began as a jam spot for Greyskull and a bunch of joke bands, began hosting shows. The people that lived at or revolved around the house became sort of a DIY show collective that began hosting touring bands frequently. All of us were in the local bands that played these shows. We all supported each other and overnight a DIY house show community flared up. The 1227 house got listed as a venue on http://www.BYOFL.org (book your own fucking life) so we played host to many an odd duck. The Hill Street Stranglers anybody? Ripping.
That summer, Spencer who now plays in Trash Talk was a UPS college kid who came to a Hit The Deck show I booked there. By the end of the year he had moved into a house down the street called The Waffle House and began hosting hardcore shows in his living room and basement. One crazy show that happened there in 2005 was Set Your Goals, Animosity, Set It Straight & Stop At Nothing. All of us who booked at the 1227 house continued to book at a series of subsequent houses that kept springing up. The 1227 house moved to an aptly named spot called the 4511 house. We hosted Tacoma Fest there, which featured one of only 2 known performances by the band Universal Annihilation. Everybody from Seven Generations, Fucked Up, Daggermouth, Set It Straight, Iron Lung and so many more played at that house. We just kept booking shows. Things were set in motion that we couldn’t shut off. Too many connections and currents. People heard we did shows in Tacoma and the bands kept coming.
In the summer of 2005 several of us moved into a house called the Bunny Ranch on N. 8th & Stevens. We booked everyone from Lords, Daggermouth, Guns Up, Dangers, At Risk, Jealous Again, Set It Straight, Requiem and a ton of others. All the other roommates booked shows there too… and we pretty much spent the whole summer entertaining bands from all over the world. Taking them dumpster diving and getting into general mischief. At one show a firework fight erupted and the fire department came with lights flashing and threatened a $5000 fine. That ended that real quick. There was an infamous show I did that Dangers, Final Fight, Guns Up, and others were supposed to play. A crew/gang called FSU had a beef with Dangers that had followed them up and down the West Coast. They were forbidden to play the show in my basement backed up with threats of violence. Dangers and Final Fight opted to leave the show. It was a really weird and lame situation. Lords, The Helm & The Assailant would be the last show we ever did there. The landlord came during the show because of noise complaints and said he wanted us to move out in front of 20 people sitting on our front lawn.
On a positive note, these house show years… the way we treated bands, did payouts, gave people floors to crash and food to eat shaped the way I view touring and booking shows still. What my peers and I created in Tacoma from scratch, in my opinion directly led to almost ten more years now of All Ages DIY Tacoma shows. A few people filled a void and picked up where previous generations had left off. We set out to rob Seattle of their touring bands and overnight a little scene formed.
Starting A Venue
In October of 2005, myself, and two idealistic friends got a little in over our head. We signed a lease on a small building that had previously hosted open mic nights. It was a tiny hole in the wall in Midland in a completely blank boring space that had originally been a picture framing business. Midland is over 100 blocks from downtown Tacoma. We were literally going to park an all ages venue in an old timey farming community with zero history of punk / hardcore / DIY culture. I remember my band Barricade played a show the day before the Trial reunion in 2005 to raise money for Blake from Parallax and a group of his friends who had passed away in a terrible accident. We got invited to play this huge packed show and I remember announcing that we had just signed the lease and were opening an all ages venue in Tacoma and people erupted into applause. It was as if all the combined energy we had set into motion in Tacoma was finally focused and heading in the same direction.
The Frame Shop lasted for less than 6 months… (haha.) We hosted so many shows in that tiny room though. I booked Go It Alone, The Geeks, Champion, Health, Circle Takes The Square, Tera Melos, Set Your Goals, Alcatraz, The First Step, Bloodhag, Sinking Ships and so many more. We hosted every possible kind of music. I recall some particularly punishing harsh noise artists. Even an Italian pop band played! The venue staff was comprised of me, I mainly did booking and occasionally showed up to volunteer for shows that weren’t my own. Randy, our Sound Engineer just stopped showing up all together after the first month and Rachelle, who had been an accountant in a past life and booked a lot of shows. She also practically lived at the venue and volunteered at every show. What finally sealed the venue’s fate were direct complaints from the landlord saying we had violated our lease based on parking issues, graffiti and loud screaming in the bathroom on one particular occasion, which allegedly terrified a sleeping baby late at night. Rather than fight this, we pulled out of the lease due to the lack of overall participation and interest from the three of us and avoided any legal repercussions. It was fun while it lasted. A learning experience for the days to come.
Later that year a short-lived venture sprang up in South Tacoma called the Junkyard. They only did 3 or 4 shows in that big empty warehouse but were eventually shut down for having no toilets, fire exits or running water. I only went to one show there on my dinner break to pass out flyers. Even though the Junkyard was shutdown by the fire department a new group of young kids were beginning to organize shows. A VFW hall in University place called The Hall opened up and started booking regular shows. I did a few shows there including a cool Fourth of July show with Set It Straight and Shook Ones. I ended up doing a festival called Summer Hippie Fest because 5 separate tours needed the same date. Every promoter has probably dealt with a summer show like that and I haven’t agreed to book something like it since. It was a mess. The Hall brought a lot of new kids into the fold. People from University Place and beyond that I wasn’t aware of. There was a whole new generation of crazy punk youth organizing shows and starting bands. All this energy set the stage for the Viaduct and the Redroom in turn. I am glad to say I had a small hand in building that progression of events.
Booking A Show
Lets break down some very simple ideas here. For the most part, most DIY / hardcore / punk / indie shows have an identical format. You need:
-A simple PA set up
So you want to book a show? Start small and local. Don’t take on some big show with touring bands and guarantees. Book your own band or your friends bands first. Maybe bring a bigger band from next town over to play your show.
I like to keep my hardcore shows to 4 bands, pending it’s not already some dreadful 5 band, touring package as is the custom these days with no room for local openers. Lets say there are touring bands? My rule of thumb is if they haven’t been here before, they don’t get a guarantee. Often when dealing with bands or their booking agents someone is inevitably saying something like “well these 2 bands need to get $200.”
I know as a promoter that 50 people paying $5 accomplishes this. So I would be comfortable agreeing to that because I know I can get that with the right local bands. On the flipside, if they have never been here I would also feel fine saying, “hey this is a small town, we don’t get many shows, I will book a good show and the bands can take the door”, which is usually just called a door deal, and give them your honest opinion of how many people you think will come. In the end, the bands need the show more then you do. So fuck anybody that gives you attitude. Be assertive and honest and don’t roll over for anyone.
I like to book a clear and obvious headliner. This should be an established band. Just because a band is on tour does not mean they should headline. I like to sandwich out of town bands between a strong local headliner and solid opening band.
The band with the significant draw headlines. Don’t let the bands push you around and change the order the day of the show. What you print out on the flyer and advertise is the order of the show and the headliner plays last. The opening band in the case of an all local show, should be a young or newer band that hasn’t played much. This gives them a chance to strut their stuff, build a following and show you they are capable of getting people out early.
In the case of a big touring package, the opening bands should have a significant local draw and in my opinion deserve to play with sick touring bands. Local bands should be passing out flyers or telling people about their shows. Promoters will remember which bands work for it or not.
Just as a matter of preference If 3 bands are all slow heavy music, put a fast band on the bill, or something that brings a totally different vibe. Not like a fucking ska band, but mix it up once in awhile. I try and be aware of bands politics, whether they bring a straight edge or drinking crowd, whether the show is 100% dominated by male band members or not. You get a feel for how crowds and bands mix the longer you’ve been booking shows. I like to push for some element of diversity on all of my bills. As a younger kid I was always going to shows and often the band I thought I wanted to see was the worst part of the whole gig.
Physical paper flyers are still relevant. So are social media events. Anything and everything you can do to get people out to the show is valid and worthwhile. Actual tangible flyers are an integral part of our culture. Even if you think nobody is going to be persuaded to attend your show by handing them a piece of paper, there are still going to be those kids that take it home and pin it to their wall. The punk flyer is as iconic as punk itself. It tells our story, our art, our history. So make some damn flyers once in awhile will yah? Drop them off at local record stores. Find out when Hatebreed or some big band is playing a club in your town and go pass them out in the line before or after the show. I spent so many years passing out show flyers, that when I stand on picket lines or pass out leaflets it is second nature. You already know people are into punk or hardcore if they are at a show… it is not scary or intimidating to hand them a flyer and say “hey you punk, come to this show next week.”
2. A ROOM
As a promoter, you have to first know your audience. Know the type of people showing up to your event because you are the one the responsibility falls on. Know your room. Can I book the Champion reunion show in this storage room? No. Should I book Blood For Blood in the choir room at a church? Probably not. You have to be very aware of the room itself and the surrounding area. What goes on outside of the show can still come back on the venue and get it shut down and that ultimately falls on you the promoter. We lost a long running venue, The West Seattle Legion Hall a couple years back because band members and show goers threw up graffiti tags and pieces all over the neighboring businesses and work trucks. The same night holes were put in walls from people dancing too hard. There was no way to foresee this but ultimately it came back on me the promoter. I had to spend the money from a fund I had been putting together to purchase a PA for the venue in addition to taking a collection to pay a drywaller and buy painting supplies. Matt Weltner and I had to spend our time buffing walls to try and keep the space open to hardcore shows but it was of no use. The Veterans that ran the Legion Hall felt completely disrespected by our community.
How do you find spaces? Try a house with a basement. Start out by having a band practice there and seeing what it sounds like outside during the day. Try your first show on a weekend. Tell your neighbors about it before hand and make sure they contact you and not the cops when idiots inevitably piss or park in their driveways, light off fireworks, graffiti their fence and every other stupid thing that happens when booking events for renegade youth.
Our community is always looking for spaces to be developed into potential venues that will house our angry, rambunctious music and audience. It is important to maintain good working relationships with neighboring businesses and communities. Since we don’t want police around, we have to police ourselves. We need to monitor where people are parking. We have to agree to clean up after our shows and repair any damage or vandalism; things that cast our community in a responsible light, because the sound of our music isn’t going to win many folks over. Another measure of responsibility is limiting the amount of strain any one venue has to carry. Move shows around between houses and DIY spots. Otherwise you will be lucky to get one good summer out of a space and it’s gone like that. We need to be thinking long term and developing open, safe, responsible spaces for our community.
What we are doing is truly revolutionary from a societal standpoint. Think about your co-workers or parents telling you about how they went and saw Macklemore or some dumbshit last weekend. How could you possibly convey the notion of a punk show with no rules, no bosses, no middle people, no barriers, no stage and you and your friends dancing and swinging from the rafters to your favorite bands?
A show where if you don’t have $10 but have $7 you are good to go, or better yet, you can help clean up after the show or help stamp hands at the door in return for entry to the show. I get that there may be an unspoken set of rules that tend to be the mantra of our scene… we are often reminded not to be sexist, racist, homophobic, violent, on drugs yada yada. Those I suppose are provisional rules but they are all laid out to make the most people feel comfortable attending a show and truly have the best interest and the long term in mind. Without a doubt, the majority of show spaces I have seen shut down over the years have all been due to violence, underage drinking or graffiti.
3. A SIMPLE PA SET UP
Find a local band with a PA and agree to book them on the show if you can use the PA. Borrow one from a buddy, or if you think you got this booking thing figured out, buy one. A PA is the Holy Grail of our community. If you are going to be borrowing one, treat it with respect and return it in the condition you got it in. Microphones and mic stands get broken, but more often than not this is because of drunk assholes or weird accidents. Make assholes cough up the dough or take a collection at the show. Also, if you own the PA and you book a huge show? Take $25-$50 every once in awhile for a fund to buy new mics or cables. We all collectively use the PA for our shows so why shouldn’t we all collectively maintain this necessary tool?
How about shows at “proper” venues you ask? Clubs with nice sound systems and security guards and all that jazz? Hardcore does fit in these spaces, and some of the more violent, thuggy kinds of shows I have booked I wish I had just dealt with the extra overhead cost for a club show for peace of mind to have paid security. These venues aren’t as common for hardcore simply because they cost so much more to operate. You are paying for sound techs, security, venue rental and there is a whole additional bureaucratic side that makes booking DIY shows rather joyless. I have to reiterate here that we all need to police ourselves and keep violence out of our spaces and community.
Some thoughts on Promoter Profit and transparency.
I believe in creating trust and transparency between promoters and bands. The moment a band is represented by a booking agent the dialogue between promoter and band has been severed. I am now having a dialogue with an agent that could really give two shits about me so long as I come correct for their bands. When this happens I have ZERO problem taking promoter profit from a show. If I have to sign my name and put the terms of a DIY HC show into a legal contract that spells out what a band is going to make, and what their agent is going to make it is like a slap in my face. So you better believe that the contract is going to spell out that I am taking 15% of any overages from the show. What a stupid waste of community and networking to have a middle person represent your band. This is the trend. It is what’s happening. Agents love hardcore bands because they know there is a MARKET here. I would suggest building a solid local reputation before willingly getting pushed around by these hacks. The irony is if bands were dealing direct with promoters and their agents weren’t pulling 10% and negotiating back end overages, the band would have walked away with more money. Suit yourself.
I am from Tacoma, so if I book a Seattle or Olympia show that has a huge attendance with more than enough money to go around, I will reimburse myself $10-$20 for gas and any posters, flyers I made. If a show is in my own town, or didn’t do so hot, I would never consider taking a single dollar. When I do payouts with bands, I always try and get a member of every band in the same room so I can explain the entire financial breakdown of the show. This is a great way to do this because if there are any issues, there are witnesses and open communication taking place. Also if there is extra money to pay local bands it gives them an opportunity to donate their money to the touring bands, which is one of the great parts of this community we are in. Many of us go on DIY tours and understand how it goes. Meeting bands in these spaces isn’t just about a show, it’s about making a connection and creating a bridge to a different city and scene; one that we very well might traverse down the road.
The older I get the more I understand the influence that I have established for myself as somebody that is responsible, trustworthy and occasionally books good shows. When I see things that I don’t agree with like pay to play promoters, or things that don’t belong in our community, I have a more direct platform to leverage my opinions than most people in our community. The more fed up I get with the schisms, middle people and drama inherent in our little community the more I see the importance in keeping my foot in the door to weigh in from time to time. I am more than open to talking to anybody about this kind of stuff, especially if you need advice about booking shows. You better believe I will raise a stink if you or your band are taking advantage of kids or pulling some weird shit. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, just what I have learned from my experiences. These days most of my energy goes into booking Rain Fest and occasionally a bigger hardcore tour or when any of my friend’s new bands roll through town. I get excited when kids pass me flyers at shows. Feels like it has all come full circle.
Best of luck!
Thanks Skiff! If anyone else has any tips to add for booking shows, please feel free to add to the comments section.