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Demoparty organizing for Dummies - UK edition

category: parties [glöplog]
I've done a fucking long post about organising a demoparty here:

I'll be a loon and paste the contents of the post here too. Feel free to laugh, cry, argue and moan about pissy little things and stuff I've observed wrongly if you like. 'Twas literally a brain dump, a stream of consciousness, but might be useful to some...

The dust has mostly settled on Sundown 2010, and I've had a little time to review my thoughts on Sundown's potential successor. There are quite a few concerns I have and I feel the need to articulate them publicly so that they can be treated with consideration.

I think, first and foremost I will be the first to admit that I'm not the best party organiser, but despite that I get mostly good feedback every year. Sundown has become quite a unique staple of the demoscene; I only really put it on hiatus as I felt I needed to free my commitments up next year. I may well have another party, but really I just fancied the year off.

My main concern is that of people underestimating how much is involved with the party; and how I've leveraged favours / circumstances to make the party happen. The basic party's tenets are:

- Venue Hire
- Power Distribution
- Insurance
- LAN Hire
- LAN Setup
- PA Hire
- PA Setup
- Lighting Hire
- Lighting Setup
- Projection and Screen Hire
- Projection and Screen Setup
- Competition Systems
- Social Media
- Forum watching / outreach
- Partnering
- Sponsorship
- Logistics
- "Shuttle" management
- Web Site
- Branding
- Invite
- Scheduling
- Security
- Legal obligations
- Competition Entry Management
- Q&A
- Intranet
- Food / Drink Facilities
- Accommodation
- Dealing with local authorities
And most importantly:
- Relationship with the demoscene

Typically I have been very lucky because I can spin all of these plates traditionally due to my working arrangements. For the first few parties I was self-employed and could flexibly work my time around party management, and for the last three parties I have been lucky enough to have a business partner who supports the party by letting me deal with issues / commitments as they appear. The accumulation of interruptions and to-do's can weigh in reasonably heavily on a day-to-day basis; and tasks can range from notifying the fire service of your event, to arranging lifts for sceners from various stations to party place.

I'll step through each individual point and make some comments about what you may encounter with each and also give some advice that may suit.

Venue Hire
Venue hire is probably the most difficult thing to arrange. Sundown has always taken place at Budleigh purely because the council has been liberal enough to let us have people sleeping in the hall. For pretty much all other venues, this is a no-go, and will be your strongest point of resistance. Other venues have complications like being too expensive, requiring elaborate security (expect a requirement of two guards at £18 p/h for the duration of your event minimum).

Making your case directly to an events co-ordinator for bigger councils is probably the best strategy. It's always difficult to communicate what the demoscene is about, so pointing out relations with people like nVidia, Intel and Pixar may help.

At the same time you may find some venues just simply do not have the right layout, or cannot provide adequate tables and chairs. You need to physically see every potential venue before considering running a party there.

Also, very important is making sure you can get an adequate and unfiltered internet connection, for obvious reasons.

Power Distribution
The venue you choose must have decent power, so make sure you have access to at least one three-phase socket to power the equipment for the party. You will need to hire a distribution board to put into this three-phase, and requisite sockets can be used to power client equipment. I'd highly recommend abstracting network equipment / PA / projection and client systems onto their own separate circuits.

Not having three-phase is a big risk. Having 64 computers of varying age coupled with PA and projection means that power requirements are unpredictable and highly varying. One rogue device can easily knock down a sensitive basic distribution board's circuit meaning swathes of devices can get shut off without warning. This is risky with PC's for obvious reasons, but also Projector bulbs can be damaged as they will not receive adequate cool-down meaning they could fail immediately or have their lifespan drastically reduced.

Another thing to note is distribution boards coupled with incredibly thick three-phase supply cable are quite heavy. Think about this with your logistical efforts.

Insurance is a tricky one, you have to make sure what your venue expects you to cover, and that you choose the appropriate policy and this takes some time and consideration. I personally recommend Hiscox for events insurance as their premiums aren't massively expensive. You also have to put thought into how you declare food service and alcohol. Speaking with an adviser directly can ensure you have a policy that is completely valid for your event.

LAN Hire
Typically you will require at least a 48 Port Switch and some form of WLAN bridge, as well as the cables / socket supply to each run of tables. You may also require a router. My best suggestion is to approach a well established LAN party host and negotiate a hire fee with them directly. Sundown has partnered with WestLAN since 2005 and they typically provide us with about 25 4-socket powerstrips, 2x48 port routers with GB uplink, a WLAN access point - we supply our own router, and around 10 of their own self-built cable bunches with wall sockets on one end and rj45 plugs on the other.

LAN Setup
You'll need to have a router configured to supply DHCP, and optionally a routing appliance to enforce Quality of Service and possibly firewalling and content filtering. Depending on the internet connection you receive, you might have to enforce pretty heavy policies to ensure you can receive remote entries well and in a timely fashion, while balancing the needs of your party visitors who might want to catch up on their e-mail and RSS feeds.

Another point of concern is making sure you have the right router. "Domestic" class routers like the Netgear DG834 or even the most meaty of custom firmware WRT54 based routers simply will not do. Something as simple as an MSN signin is quite a heavy load on a router, and multiplied by 64 it can cause most basic routers to run out of RAM maintaining it's own list of connections. Try to get a Cisco if you can or at least a Dreytek or reputed business class router.

I've typically had people help me out with the network in the form of Kris Sum and Stavros; two guys who you may not know but have helped massively over the years.

PA Hire
Having the assistance of someone who is well versed in PA hire will help massively. You will have to become familiar with XLR cables, mixing consoles, microphones, stands, placements, subs etc.; you'd be best to have an ally in someone who can instinctually work hand in hand on setting up the party's audio requirements. Personally I'd recommend getting the "self-powered" Mackie style speakers, couple them with subs (bass speakers) and use an analogue mixer made by Allen & Heath with adequate inputs to accommodate your event.

Traditionally I've used Stage Electrics for PA hire. Try not to skimp or use venue provided PA, you might find it just doesn't cut it for having the impact needed by a party.

PA Setup
On the day you need a team of guys who can handle the heavy lifting and cabling. Also consider getting a dedicated sound guy who is sensitive to the balance between volume and fidelity; as well as one who can inform people about good microphone technique and is happy to man a console for long stretches.

I've typically used Dan Barber (danbee) for this task.

Lighting Hire
Lighting really adds to the atmosphere of a party when done properly. Sundown is pretty small so we typically use LED based uplighters on the walls of the side of the hall. You can optionally network these together using DMX cables to synchronise lighting - these can also be master controlled by a dedicated console. Speak to your PA/lighting/projection hire salesperson for more guidance.

Lighting Setup
Cabling of lighting is a tricky one as it will usually go around the perimeter of your venue. You have to ensure it is adequately secured so that people cannot trip over it, kick it over, or get caught on it. I opted not to have DMX networking this year due to this concern, the lights were unsynchronised but set to a slow cplour cycle fade pattern throughout the event.

Projection and Screen Hire
You absolutely must have a professional projector screen. Using a white wall or hung bedsheet is frankly horrible and shouldn't be considered.

The projector itself, I'd recommend going for at least a 2500 lumen, front projection solution. You'll find HD is still prohibitively expensive unless you manage to strike up a relationship with a very considerate HD projection specialist.

Also consider the aspect ratio and how it relates with the stage and whether your screen can be accommodated.

Projection and Screen Setup
I recommend using Stumpfl fastfold screens which are easily transported and can be set up with two people. It's a bit of an exhausting job but well worth it. Also make ABSOLUTELY SURE that the screen itself fits the stage you are working with.

Competition Systems
The compobox itself needs to be a monster of a machine, cutting edge in every way and highly specified, plus setup with a clean operating system installation and the latest runtimes required to run Demos. You must test this box thoroughly and ensure it is properly configured for interacting with Partymeister.

In addition, you may have oldschool entries - these systems need to be tested with the projector, or optionally captured to a video file for showing in the competition. This requires a LOT of consideration and interacting with competition entrants. If it is not checked adequately it can cause major delays party wise.

Sundown's biggest Achilles heel is probably dealing with competition entries. You absolutely need to be on the ball with this and have at least one person fully focused on assisting people with getting the entries on the intranet. Simply saying "submit them through the intranet" is not enough. Some of the best entries are party made and entrants will be too concerned with working on these than to figure out how to submit something through PartyMeister, so do EVERYTHING in your power to assist them. Allowing for serendipitous late-breaking entries really adds to the party atmosphere. Evoking tension is something I highly recommend.

Social Media
Social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook are great for getting the word out and should be utilised fully and monitored very often. I'd recommend using Tweetdeck to track replies / messages.

Forum watching / outreach
I'd also recommend approaching forums that may be interested in your event. Obviously the most important ones are Bitfellas, Pouet and Demoparty.net but there are a whole load of smaller / alternative forums that may be interested like Lemon 64, CSDB, Boondocks, Amiga Forums, DBF GVY forums, Nehe, gamedev, Llamasoft etc. Get right in with these communities, don't act like a shill and it might get some more people coming along. Make sure your approach is sensitive to the audience you are courting.

Be vocal and advocate your relationships with commercial entities and you'll get more "mindshare" - talk with people like Taktik from Renoise, or Temis from nVidia. They may be able to help with competition prizes, they've been very good in the past but be sure to remain humble and courteous!

There may be arts grants available for the event if you can pitch it well enough. Also it may be worth talking to people like Sony SCEE, Microsoft, Intel, AMD, nVidia - reach out to the scene in IRC to network with these companies and see what you can do.

Companies such as these prefer succinct guidance on what they can receive for what, so by all means offer a tiered menu for them to consider.

On the day of your party you will most definitely have a huge amount of equipment to move around. Sundown typically enlists an army of car owners (Kris, Stavs, me, Zeb and others) to co-ordinate the transportation of equipment to the venue. You'll also have to consider that some equipment may arrive at an indeterminate time and may have to work around this. Also some venues do not like equipment stored on-site before and after an event.

"Shuttle" management
Your visitors may require assistance getting to the party venue and back. You should consider setting up or enlisting someone to help with managing all transport enquiries. Over the years Sundown has used Vampire & Vespa for London pickups and recommending the forums for people to arrange other trips amongst themselves. For Exeter to Budleigh trips, we used to have a fleet of cars but have used Zeb to manage every trip from there in. He seems to enjoy the job almost too much! :)

Web Site
Your web site must be up to date constantly, and accurate. Not only that it should be stylish so perhaps enlist someone to help with that. Use something like WordPress and customise a template from there.

Most demoparties have a really memorable brand, think of Evoke with it's abstract lettering and the massively familiar Breakpoint logo. It's worth considering getting a solid and stable brand. Sundown hasn't been that strong on brand usage but h2o did help us massively with his very unique styling for Sundown.

We haven't had an invite for a while but this can massively help if you have one. You need to approach groups early and convince them to help you out. TRSI are probably one of the most friendliest groups out there if you ply them with alcohol. You could also consider asking Alcatraz or Brainstorm.

Having a three or four day party changes the dynamic considerably. Pay attention to when you expect people to arrive and how they occupy their time. You have to manage their expectations as well as have accommodated your organisation and logistical obligations.

Your venue may have requirements for a security guard but while there isn't you need to have a few people you can enlist just in case anything awry kicks off. Drunk people can get a bit lairy, and sometimes people just dicking about can be a cause for concern so on occasion you'll need to tell someone firmly to cool off. You'll also have to be firm in what you deem acceptable at a party.

In addition, external influences can come into play; in previous years we have observed people vandalising outside the party. Speaking with other organisers can help greatly with how you manage this.

Legal obligations
Your venue will typically provide a hire agreement explaining all your legal obligations, whether you need to have the permission of MCPS/PRS to run your event, alcohol concerns, fire prevention advice. Be sure to review these thoroughly and take adequate precautions. Also, have a first aid kit accessible, someone who can resuscitate and deal with health emergencies.

Competition Entry Management
Two things - PartyMeister and E-mail are the two beasts you'll have to deal with. I recommend using Gmail as attachments are stored on-line and the mailboxes can be simultaneously accessed from multiple systems.

PartyMeister is a two component system, consisting of an Intranet which manages entries, voting and information slides; and Screens, which is the system that displays Powerpoint style slides and information. It's quite a quirky beast so try to get VERY familiar with it. Set up a VM, network it with a Windows PC and set up a mock party at the very least.

Prepare for a reasonably steady stream of e-mails about the party, regarding entries, rules, getting to the party, social greets etc. Make sure you're on top of these - I'd recommend having a smart-phone that accepts e-mail.

Pretty much covered by Competition Entry Managment above (!).

Food / Drink Facilities
Your venue might have facilities to cook food, or not. You need to be clear about how people can use these facilities. Concerns lie mainly around safe operation of oven equipment, recycling and hygiene and this will vary venue to venue. You may opt to sub-contract someone else to do catering or just let people know the local places to eat.

Many sceners will prefer to use a hotel so speak with hoteliers or local tourist boards directly to cater for an influx of tourists. You may be able to negotiate special rates. Another concern is late arrivals, ensure that wherever people stay can be flexible with late nights and arrivals.

Dealing with local authorities
Many councils are best dealt in a positive and upbeat manner. Be aware that they are often juggling many things at once and go above and beyond their expectations to make your event as easy as possible for THEM. You may even consider buying a gift for the ladies at the office who help you put the event together. :)

And most importantly:
Relationship with the demoscene
This is a particularly sensitive point, and I have to stress the importance of getting this right. There are two types of organiser I've seen. One is Scamp who pretty much lays down the law, pisses off people in the process on occasion but never fails to setup an incredible party. Others are less notorious and are still capable of putting on a great party. This I suppose is my preference.

The party is most definitely not about YOU at all (if you're Mr. Chief Organiser). The party will not make you any money and is thoroughly exhausting but very rewarding if you pull it off successfully. Never assume that the decisions you make reflect the interests and approval of your audience, always make sure to check with level headed sceners. I personally highly respect the input of ne7, syphus and meteorik.

There are also fledgling communities who may be interested so try to take on their interests and input too. Such people are people like Deathboy and also the Retro Computer Museum chaps who are very friendly and can also be VERY helpful in regards to Old School competitions and equipment.

The demoscene is typically cynical so you need to sensitively appeal to things of interest and motivate influential sceners to your cause. Having the approval of Smash can encourage high-profile competition. Mega social sceners like ne7 can bring in remote entries. Syphus has influence in many different communities like the chiptune scene and is strongly networked there.

My strategy (so to speak) is to let these influencers know that it really IS their party and they can have input on making it the best possible. At the last Sundown a few people said I was just standing about (at the time I felt really offended by that!) - but that I suppose is part of the job. You need to be the guy who can deal with anything that comes up there and then, and if not have trusted and reliable FRIENDSHIPS with people as passionate about the party and its efficiency as you are.

You'll need to make sure you fully solidify your genuine friendships with your allies working with you on the party and keep them pumped in regards to helping you out so do what you need to in that regard.

In conclusion
Demoparties are exhausting, complicated, but wicked fun to setup, and thrilling to see come together. If your approach is optimistic, upbeat and sensitive to your audience you can be onto a winner. I loved organising Sundown and I would prefer that it wasn't the last demoscene event I ever manage, so whoever takes on the next party, GOOD LUCK! :D
added on the 2010-09-13 13:52:21 by rc55 rc55
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added on the 2010-09-13 14:23:29 by dotwaffle dotwaffle
Good writeup. It seems like there are more regulatory issues for UK organizers to be aware of than that are necessary for Norwegian parties. Here's a few points drawn from the experiences of being a part of the Kindergarden organizing team for the last years:

Have a social network/good friends
Knowing someone that runs a PA rental business, a club, community center or whatever may have a decent PA is a good idea. Planning in advance makes sure that the system is available for the party.

We hire PA for cheap, because "I know a guy" who has a PA rental business. He also transports the PA to the party place, sets it up and tunes the system to the room for us.
He also takes care of the power, because he have power tables that can be connected to a three phase outlet.

Co-operate with other parties
KG bought an HD projector, Solskogen bought a proper screen. As a result, both parties have an HD projector and a proper screen.

Encourage and care for people that creates the mood you want for your party
The atmosphere of the party is facilitated by you, but created by the partygoers. Make sure you take extra good care of the people that makes the party special.

Darklite needs power and space for their latest crazy installment? Make it happen.
Brainstorm needs somewhere to park their camper? Find a good spot.
Finns coming? Buy plenty of wood for the bonfire (because if you don't, they will find material for the fire themselves)

added on the 2010-09-13 14:25:21 by lug00ber lug00ber
Oh, and:

added on the 2010-09-13 14:26:03 by lug00ber lug00ber
All excellent points, thanks for the input! :)
added on the 2010-09-13 14:40:06 by rc55 rc55
Due to a stupid omission on my part I forgot to mention dotwaffle's contribution to Sundown on the Partymeister side. I suppose subconsciously I was writing the post to him as he'll probably be taking up the reigns for a new party, so big apologies there!
added on the 2010-09-13 22:43:10 by rc55 rc55
Cheers mate ;)
added on the 2010-09-14 01:06:58 by dotwaffle dotwaffle
Because it's on the telly right now...

added on the 2010-09-14 01:11:54 by CiH CiH
And thanks for the party we just had ruairi, no complaints or issues from me :-)
added on the 2010-09-14 01:12:46 by CiH CiH

Clearly Robocop would be put to better use as a compo machine.
added on the 2010-09-14 08:21:19 by doomdoom doomdoom
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added on the 2010-09-14 10:06:33 by gloom gloom
you forgot bog roll!
added on the 2010-09-14 13:49:12 by MeteoriK MeteoriK
Excellent piece of writing regarding organising a party. No problems at Sundown 2010 for me either, in actual fact, it was very enjoyable for all four of us. The only negative point was that some of us ended up with a bad cold afterwards - but these things happen.
added on the 2010-09-14 22:47:58 by Felice Felice
What about the virus?
added on the 2010-09-14 23:23:47 by xernobyl xernobyl
@rc55 (and all other party organizers) kudos for organizing! I always suspected it to be a sh*tload of work; your list makes it all the more clear.

added on the 2010-09-15 09:29:16 by trc_wm trc_wm
^ agreed, hats off to the guys behind all the parties, I've always had a good time at Sundown, and hopefully will at whatever the next UK party is too :)
added on the 2010-09-15 16:53:15 by spiny spiny
that list gives me the impression sundown is kindof overorganized- which is not necessarily a bad thing, but still, organizing a good party doesn't have to be quite so complicated if you make different choices.
added on the 2010-09-15 18:47:13 by havoc havoc

Arrange a team
You can not do everything on your own, that's impossible. You need a team and if the event grows you may also need some sort of a hierarchy.

At the MS we succeeded with a setup like this (BP was similar here, I think):
- Mainorganizerteam (consisted of the heads of the other teams)
- Compoteam (collecting entries, preparing and running compos)
- Beamteam (for beam&screen, pa, announcements, etc.)
- Networkteam (for network, power and infrastructure)
- Infoteam (infodesk, handyman, entrance fee, etc.)

We also implemented a shiftsystem, so nobody get's too tired and you
always got enough people around-the-clock to run the event smoothly.

Just my two cents here and thanks for the great writeup.

added on the 2010-09-15 22:51:33 by decca decca
Pizza für Jonas Wagner!
added on the 2010-09-15 23:52:47 by Sir Sir
Venue people are dicks - they keep sending me emails to get me to call them. My phone has been beside me all the time. I try phoning, and it's engaged. I phone again, and get through to the wrong person, and leave a message. I then get an email saying they're free now if I want to call.

All I want is a bloody quote! =)
added on the 2010-09-16 01:20:16 by dotwaffle dotwaffle
Thanks for the write up and spending your time on this Ruairi!
added on the 2010-09-16 03:57:27 by mrdoob mrdoob
Wow..! Sundown must be really well organized for a party in the 50-100 ppl scale... Thumbs up!
added on the 2010-09-16 14:08:54 by malmix malmix


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