|Whitby Gothic Weekend - a rant
||[Aug. 2nd, 2013|03:46 pm]
This started out as an item on Facebook but then it got very long so I figured this would be a better place to put it! Feel free to link to it, argue with me or otherwise engage.
Anyone who’s been following the huge shitstorm on the Whitby Gothic Weekend Facebook community about other promoters coming in will probably have noticed that I have some fairly forthright opinions on the subject. I’ve been thinking a lot about how music festivals, conventions and businesses operate, and what the overlap is, and how the different elements can come together in an event like WGW.
First of all, let me say that I am very loyal to WGW. I have been going twice a year since 1998 which probably makes me one of the longest-standing regulars now! I still enjoy the event and love seeing my friends there, but nobody can deny there have been problems, and I think it's important to be a critical friend rather than just being blindly loyal to the event and its organiser.
When I first started going to WGW, way back in 1998, it offered two nights of bands at the Spa, an official Thursday night club night with DJs in the back of a pub (run in conjunction with Bats & Red Velvet, a Newcastle-based goth shop and promoter), an official 80s night, a fancy dress competition at the Spa, and the Bizarre Bazaar downstairs in the Spa. Ticket-holders also received a glossy brochure for the event which was paid for by ads for goth businesses.
In 2013, WGW offers two nights of bands at the spa, the Bizarre Bazaar at the Spa and the Leisure Centre, and the Steampunk Market at the Rifle Club. There are a number of ‘fringe’ events that run in Whitby alongside WGW, some of which are semi-official or run by people who have previously been involved with WGW (Jo Magenta, Martin Oldgoth) but none of them offer discounts or benefits to people who hold WGW tickets.
In short, WGW’s offering has got smaller, rather than larger, but ticket prices have gone up.
There are a number of reasons for the ticket price increase. One is simply that WGW’s costs for the hire of the Spa, equipment and bands have increased. The Spa has WGW over a barrel – they’re the only large venue in town, so if you want to run a big festival in Whitby, you have to use them, so they can charge whatever they like. I’m not sure what impact the change in management of the Spa will have had either (it’s now run by SIV rather than the Council). The other reason is that Jo Hampshire, the organiser, now draws her sole income from the running of WGW, so she needs to get enough in from ticket sales to live on as well as cover running costs.
However, Jo herself admits that WGW has made a loss for the past couple of years, and that she has been reliant on investment from elsewhere (though not sure where?) to keep WGW afloat. So there’s clearly a problem here – the official WGW events are not attracting enough punters to cover the costs.
It’s very easy when you’re struggling and feeling frustrated to look for people to blame. Blame other promoters muscling in and offering good-quality, cheaper alternatives to the events at the Spa. Blame the cosplayers, fancy dress enthusiasts, day-trippers and photographers for booking up all the accommodation so WGW-attendees can’t find places to stay. Blame the Council/SIV for putting costs up. Blame ‘the scene’ for not being ‘supportive’ enough of your efforts. Blame, in short, everyone else. But actually that uses energy that could be better spent on making the event better.
So, on a positive note, here’s a few suggestions for WGW.
1. Find out what your punters want. Set up a survey (find free or cheap survey creation tools online, or get someone to code one up), and publicise it heavily before, after and during Whitby Goth Weekend. Not just on the WGW pages and official FB page, but on other goth, Victoriana and steampunk pages and communities, on the photographers’ forums, by flyering cosplay/Victoriana people in Whitby itself (QR codes are your friend) – in short, anywhere that there might be people who attend, or who would consider attending, WGW’s events. Listen to what people are telling you.
2. Instead of being dismissive or negative about the cosplayers, day-trippers and photographers, think about how they could be catered for, and included. They are not going to go away just because we wish really hard, so let’s bring them into the fold (and take their folding). Daytime events like craft workshops, talks on history, fashion, music and literature, photoshoots or tutorials for the photographers and budding models are very inexpensive, and can be held in all sorts of venues (bookshops, cafes, church halls, back rooms of pubs). Make them free or discounted for WGW wristband holders, and charge a sensible fee (maybe £5 or so) for others. Publicise them in the local press, and put posters up. Put them on the website. Advertise them on the aforementioned forums and groups.
3. Consider more ‘official’ evening events rather than just the Spa. Partner with existing clubnights and agree a profit-share, and see if they can offer discounts or a drinks voucher for wristband holders. This will make attendees feel they're getting more for their money.
4. Book other live music venues as well as the Spa. This will not only increase choice for attendees and give opportunities to more bands, but also increase the number of tickets that can be sold. WGW says that Scarborough Council will not permit them to operate as a multi-venue festival but surely this cannot be a closed topic – other festivals in Whitby, such as Whitby Folk Week, have been operating on this basis for many years, very successfully and with the Council’s blessing. Find out exactly what the barriers are to doing this, and negotiate. Talk to the folk week organisers about how they manage it.
5. The European alternative music festivals receive EU subsidies to help with costs and promotion. WGW should look for these revenue streams – for example Arts Council grants. The Arts Council gave nearly 3000 grants last year, some for as much as £100,000. Look at local arts charities and grant-making bodies too. There is money out there for the asking. If you're not confident writing funding bids yourself, get advice or help from someone who is.
6. Realise that bitching and complaining about other promoters, ‘the scene’, bands, and people on the fringes of the event is rude, unprofessional, petty and counterproductive - as is bringing your rivalries and personal dislikes into consideration when booking bands and DJs. Is that really the image you want to present?
Of course, I’m not saying that WGW should do all of these things all at once (apart from #6, which just needs to stop!). Jo Hampshire is only one woman and most of the crew give their time for free or very little. But even just trying one or two of these things, perhaps for next year’s events, could make all the difference in improving and strengthening WGW for the future. It cannot survive as a one-trick pony. It MUST move with the times and reflect the changing needs of the community.