With the holiday season in full swing, many are working to combat some of the Holiday's more consumerism leaning elements through their support of charities and benefits. Here Jason Gross recounts some the challenges associated with organizing a benefit show, and offers some tips for those looking to do good in a similar vein.
Guest post by Jason Gross
During the holiday season, we try to think that we're good people by donating and helping others as we otherwise gorge for presents in the name of Christ. If you really want to build up karma points though, why not go whole hog and put on a show to help out your favorite charity? And while you're at it, get a lobotomy too- it'll be less painful and you'll feel good too. Still, if you're still an incorrigible do-gooder and a masochist to boot, a benefit show is right up your alley.
I learned it all the hard way and at the very least, maybe I can be a cautionary example.
During the previous US presidential campaign, if you want to remember all the fun, Planned Parenthood was a popular scapegoat as a supposedly evil organization that had to be defunded for the good for the country, or so we were told again and again. Like most bleeding hearts, I was upset to see these attacks and vowed to donate to boost PP. But when the attacks against them wouldn't stop, I wanted to do more.
For whatever reason, as a lapsed Jew, I had some kind of affection for Christmas music (maybe because the Hanukah music pickings were slim). For a while, I had the crazy idea of putting together a Christmas music album but not the sanguine crap that you listen to millions of times in stores that test your gag reflex.
(I should pause for a sec to say that I ain't no musician myself. I'm a music writer and music editor who's had a lot of interactions with all sorts of musicians, labels, PR people, etc.. so I thought I'd reach out to some of them to see if they'd be interested.)
The idea was to have a Christmas album of traditional songs done in unconventional ways that people might actually listen to and enjoy without getting sick, all benefiting Planned Parenthood. To go with that, I wanted to also put together a holiday concert to promote the record and get even more dough for PP.
The next 6-7 months of my life were a blur and a nightmare and you don't want to know all the details (I'll save it for a shrink someday). Suffice it to say, the album idea didn't pan out when we found out that there were too many legal hoops to jump through but I stuck with the concert idea instead. I can boil down some hard-learned lessons from the experience that might be helpful to my fellow well-meaning kooks who want to do this too.
1) YOUR LIFE AS A JUGGLER AND FIREMAN
If you signed on to be the ring-master, you have to get the circus in order. That means contacting people, reaching out to people, problem solving, coordinating, getting everyone on the same page and pleading as well as all the not-so-glamorous stuff like wiping butts and burping the kids when needs be. I was lucky that with the final group of people I wound up working with, they were an extremely kind and understanding and helpful bunch, as you'd hope and wish, including Cindy Wilson of the B-52's, Kaki King and Amy Rigby. But getting to that point ain't easy, so stock up on the aspirin along the way (a little wine helped too).
2) BE UNDERSTANDING ABOUT ARTISTS AND DON'T TAKE SH** PERSONALLY
I started out with a list of about 60 artists who I contacted, who I hoped would be down with the cause. As it turns out, about half replied and then half of that group were actually interested in participating. From that fraction, many had to drop out because of touring, recording, other commitments. To be honest, I was amazed at some of the artists who said no or didn't responding, thinking 'this is right up their alley!' but it just wasn't gonna happen. For the acts who wanted to but couldn't participate because of other stuff they were doing, I was disappointed again but I thought 'they might be able to do another benefit at some other point' so I had to be understanding and thankful that they did have interest, so I just said to them 'thanks anyway.' After all, I might lose my mind again and try to do another benefit show (God help me).
3) EXPECT OTHER DISAPPOINTMENTS
So I don't burn my bridges, I have to REALLY hold my tongue here but suffice it to say that plenty of other points of contact can and will fall through for you all along the food chain. You'd think that a benefit show that's also a holiday show, happening on an otherwise slow week, would be an easy sell but you'd be wrong.
Still, I did find a great press team to help get the word out- thank you to TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS PR!! Plus, I did find a couple of writers who were nice enough to pitch stories about the show. As somebody who comes from a marketing background, I have to remind myself of the sad fact that even a 0.10% response from a campaign is actually considered a success (go figure).
4) KNOW WHO'S WHO
After a while, it was getting confusing about who I was supposed to ask for this thing or that. There were touring managers and personal managers and stage managers and label reps and personal PR people and… how the hell do you remember all of that? I had to make a cast of characters like you would for a play or movie so I knew who everyone involved was and who I had to contact to ask different questions.
5) DON'T DRIVE PEOPLE NUTS
This is especially true if you're working with people who are helping out for a reduced price for a good cause. Lot of patience is required. You need info and commitments from them but you can't be an ass-pain about it so make sure you give them some breathing room to answer your questions and follow up after a few days if needs be, always be mindful about the time frame and deadlines for everything.
6) IT'S ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS
Do you know about gross box office receipts or what percentage goes to the venue and what percentage goes to the acts? Guess what- you'll get to learn all of that fun stuff real quick. Even for a benefit, the venue has to stay in businesses and the artists do what they do for a living so there has to be SOME cut for them, which is only fair.
7) TIME HAS COME TODAY
For the show, everyone just shows up and it magically happens, right? Nope. Here's an example of what I had to come up with alongside the venue for the schedule for the day:
4:00 PM 1st act load in
4:30-5:30 PM 1st act check sound check
5:30-6:00 PM 2nd act sound check
6:00-6:30 PM 3rd act sound check
6:30 PM reset 2nd act's set up
6:40 PM DJ Check.
7PM - Doors, DJ starts
7:50 PM- MC greeting + announcements
8PM - 1st act
8:50 PM- MC greeting
9PM- 2nd act
10PM- 3rd act
11:30PM - crawl into a cab to go home
Luckily, the venue (thank you Bell House) serves food so there might be time to shove some food in my face somewhere there (fingers crossed).
8) BE CREATIVE ABOUT PUBLICITY
There's this thing called social media out there that you might want to use and ask others (friends, family, enemies) to use to spread the word too. Use pics too as that catch's peoples' eye. You know the drill- Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, newsgroups, mailing lists, etc.. Get the acts themselves to spread the word too. You could also write an article about the whole experience, like what you're reading right now!
9) SEEK COUNSEL FOR SANITY
Luckily, I knew some friends who has done this before and they were able to level out my brain somewhat. One friend said that everyone's nervous and full of panic when organizing these things. Another assured me that I'd be an expert after I did this first show. And any kind of pat on the back or confidence building is always helpful too.
10) REMEMBER WHY YOU'RE DOING ALL OF THIS
It's for a good cause and you're helping people so even if you don't get a sell-out crowd, you've still done something really admirable.
And speaking of creative publicity, I might as well tell you about the show itself below here. Hope you can make it- at the very least, you'll get to see me become a babbling, nervous wreck on the stage.
Planned Parenthood NYC benefit/holiday show
Cindy Wilson (The B-52's), Kaki King and Amy Rigby
Bell House, Brooklyn, NY - December 6, 2017, 7PM
Perfect Sound Forever, the longest running online music magazine, is holding its first offline event with a benefit for Planned Parenthood NYC, which will double as a holiday show with Santa hats, candy canes, Xmas songs and ridiculous holiday outfits. Performances by Cindy Wilson of the B-52’s, guitarist/composer Kaki King and singer/songwriter Amy Rigby plus MC Emmy Blotnick (Comedy Central) and DJ Rimarkable. Tickets are $20.