So, You Want to Put on a Bass Festival?
If you are a little bit “off” like me, you may have the wild idea of putting on a bass festival. Before I get into ways of how to get started putting on a show of your own, let me tell you about the event I do. BassUp! is a bass-centric show in Atlanta. The 2012 event will take place on Saturday, November 10th, at Atlanta Bass Gallery, located at 4451 Atlanta Road, Suite 124, Smyrna, GA 30080. This year we are focusing on solo bass and have gathered performers from around the United States. There are all sorts of solo bassists at this BassUp!—from virtuosos and jazzers to singer/songwriters and loopers. Many of the performers are a mixture of all of the above and several shades in between. Aside from the great music, BassUp! will have some cool raffles and just be a downright fun hang for bassists and bass enthusiasts. All ages are welcome and there is a suggested donation of $10. The show starts at 1PM. More information about the players and the schedule are at the BassUp! website, www.bassup.net.
It takes a great deal of time and effort putting on a bass festival. The notion of doing a fest started brewing in me while I was in music school. At school, I had access to a library that had every bass guitar periodical you could imagine. I would flip through the pages of many an issue and stumble across glossy adverts for huge concerts featuring nothing but big-deal bassists who were often featured in these magazines. Over and over I would sit there, mouth agape and star-eyed, daydreaming about attending one of these spectacles. Since these shows always took place in some faraway destination like New York City or Los Angeles, I could never seem to find the funds or the time to make what during those days seemed like an epic trip away from my home in Atlanta. The other nagging thing about these bass shows was that it seemed to be the same group of players performing them over and over. I wondered where the new talent got a foothold in the bass world. These bass events never seemed to let noobs onto their stages. All of this is what led me to make my own bass event.
Organizing something like this can seem like a daunting task, and, well, it is. Just like learning music, though, this task can be broken down into simpler parts. With a little devotion and application of incremental gain, the goal can be accomplished. Although I am not the most qualified fellow to put on a bass show, I do get them done. My way of doing it is I start by breaking it down into four basic elements. These are location, players, promotion, and support.
I have been putting together BassUp! in some form or another since 2004. The venues have been clubs, schools, coffeehouses, and now an all-bass retail store. Each location has had its pluses and minuses. For example, using a club meant not having to worry about having a decent PA, but I had to do the show during the club’s typical hours. Plus it was not a good scene for the underage crowd. Now I try to find locations that fit in the budget, let the show run as long as needed, and are easily accessible for a broad-ranging crowd.
After making sure I have a location for the show, I then try to assemble a roster. I love to focus on seasoned players who I think need more exposure or new players on the scene, and I work to have a variety of styles. BassUp! has had its share of famous bassists performing its stage, but we also get a lot of local heroes and players making a solo debut. The bigger names always attract more attendees, but you have to book those players well in advance since demand keeps their schedules full. It can also be difficult to find ways to fund big names. Paying out of your own pocket or having gear companies sponsor a player are easy answers to this problem. If you work with a gear company, they might want to know who the other players are and how many people are expected to attend. Don’t inflate the numbers—just be honest with them. Companies also need a good lead time, so start contacting them several months in advance.
The most important element in putting on a fest is promotion. If no one knows about your show, your players will be performing to an empty room. Each show I do, I feel I could have done more promotion, and I am pretty certain I am right. Be sure to have a website outside of Facebook. I also send press releases to bass-focused websites and publications. I post to bass forums and even Craigslist. If the budget is there, I run ads and do a flyer campaign. Search the web for good ideas on how to promote and ask promoters for tips on what to do. You can never, ever promote enough.
The last element is support. It is a broad category and can be as time consuming as promoting. Support is the infrastructure of the actual show. Making sure there is a good PA, having a person to run sound, getting someone to run the door, organizing performers’ setups and teardowns, having food and drink for the performers, and even cleaning up after the show are all things included in support. If you make a big enough event, it may be difficult to do these things alone. Do not ever be afraid to ask others for help. Bad support can equal a bad show.
My last piece of advice is that if you have uncertainties in aspects of your show, seek out others more knowledgeable in those areas. If you are fuzzy on what would be the best PA, find someone who knows all about them. If promotion seems too boggling, hire someone to do it. Build the community around your event by getting others involved. Community is what it is all about anyway.
I hope these ideas help you do your own bass festival. Remember, this is just my take on how to get organized. Everything here can be added to, simplified further, or thrown out altogether. After all, it will be your event you are putting on, so have fun and do it your way. Whether you are planning something vast or just a concert in your living room, making these shows happen is a great thing to do for the bass community and helps it continue to grow. Get out there and make it happen.