My challenge of the year: organising a gig from scratch

HHMM 4/10

When I was 14, teachers at school started bothering us with that horrible question: “what do you want to do later?”. Nothing to do with the cute classic “what do you wanna be when you grow up?” no no, this one is about your higher education path of choice and career prospects. I think you need to be crazy to expect 14-year-old kids to have their futures all figured out, but I played with the rules and answered very honestly: “I want to work in a record store”. Of course nobody took me seriously. But I was totally picturing myself hanging around massive shelves filled with LPs  and listening to Led Zeppelin all day. Then I started going to gigs quite often, and I realised that  listening to music all the time was cool, but listening to LIVE music all the time was even cooler. So I decided I wanted to make my life out of gigs: to become a live music events organiser.

6 years later, in spring this year, I saw this ad saying “organise your own gig!”. Whaaaat? For real? Yes, for real. Every year the charity Oxfam organises the Oxjam festival. It consists of having hundreds of events throughout the UK in October each year, with the aim of raising money for Oxfam. It happens that they give the opportunity to anyone – they gave it to me, so I swear, ANYONE – to organise their own thing.

At this time of the year I was in some kind of “AMY’S IN DA PLACE” phase. I created a Twitter account, started writing for Tune Love and was posting wanna-be-postmodernist articles on my tumblr. So when I saw that ad, I thought “THIS IS MY MOMENT OF GLORY” and I randomly committed to organise an event that would raise £500 for Oxfam.

Honestly, I was pumped about it the first week, but then I got absorbed  back to my daily routine and added the preparation of the gig to my mental “to do later” list. Because, as passionate as you can be, it’s hard to focus on things that are not integral parts of your life, like university or finding a job.

Then came the training day: one day meeting with the Oxjam regional team and having lectures about different aspects of the organisation of a gig. This is when you realise that this is happening, that you have to get started now and that you don’t have a clue how to. The training day turned out to be quite useful, we covered brainstorming on the event, setting up, promoting and fundraising. The overall idea was to be daring and stubborn. Unfortunately, I am neither, but we had a very good speech about the work of Oxfam, and how we, buy organising those gigs, were going to make a difference in some people’s lives, and I felt like I had to make it, I didn’t have a choice.

So I eventually got started… and realised (yeah that’s a lot of “realisation”, I was completely clueless) what the actual biggest challenge was: that it was for charity = no budget, have to do EVERYTHING without money or with fundraising money. As I was alone in London this summer, the fundraising was pretty impossible. So I actually had to make it with no money at all.
Here come the countless bands turning off your offers for them to play. The thing is: most small bands cannot afford playing for free, and most big bands are unreachable and will hardly be willing to play for free anyway. Not mentioning the bands that are willing to play, but completely disregarding because there is no money at stake, and end up letting you down without notice. As a result, I didn’t have my final line-up until last month.

Finding a venue was not as difficult as finding the bands. Most venues got back to me very quickly with all the details about bookings. Only thing here is that having a venue for free is nearly impossible. Thus, I booked my venue with the condition that they will get 10% of the ticket sale. It’s a bit painful when you think that getting 100% of the ticket sale to Oxfam would have been the easiest way to reach the £500 I committed to raise without fundraising, but it was impossible to do it differently.

Bands and venue checked, next step was what seemed to be the funnier part: promotion! Well, this is no fun. At all. First: two keywords: no-money. We live in a world where advertising is probably one of the biggest money generators. Well, try getting your thing advertised with no money. Second: people are incredibly disregarding and passive. When you ask for services, a lot of people are generally determined to make as little of an effort as possible, but when you dare pointing out that there is no money involved, they just stop listening. On the top of that, if you mention charity, they will assume that you will ask them for something without giving in return. So when I went around looking for sponsors or trying to get a sponsoring deal out of printing companies (for flyers and posters), I would get a big fat “NO” thrown to my face not even halfway through my sweet little volunteer speech.

The only easy part here is that I got a really cool poster design without having to pay for it, as one of my friends is a professional graphic designer. But it happens that I had to invest my own money to get the posters and flyers printed. Hopefully I will get it back by fundraising on the night of the gig, but nothing is more unsure.

So here I am now. Gig is in 10 days, and all I have left to do is to get as many people to come as possible. Maybe it’s not the hardest part, but it sure isn’t easy.  “Hard”, “difficult”, “intimidating” are the words I would use to describe the experience so far. For the first time, I had an overview of what it is to be a professional. It is stressful, and you often feel like giving up. But you actually can’t, because this isn’t just about you. On the other hand, maybe there are lots of failures, but this makes the slightest success feel amazingly good. And this is the thrill of it: the self-satisfaction when you make it. It is worth facing all the downs.

If my gig is a success, I will feel more fulfilled than ever before in my life. Because I made it from scratch.

If you ever feel like being a witness of this success, or failure, find the details about my gig here. Also, let me know what you think about the flyer:

Moral: Get yourself “IN DA PLACE”: don’t wait for opportunities, TAKE them.

Amanda, Media student at London College of Communication, aspiring live music event manager, somewhere between Paris, Fr, London, UK and Austin, TX. I love music (surprised?) and banana milkshakes.