PROMOTER FOCUS: KING CAMEL AKA JEFFREY BROWN
The rise of technology, the internet, and the fundamental lack of sustainable jobs available has infused this generation with a self-determination and a universal DIY attitude unique, and at times, inscrutable to that of our parents' generation. The need to survive and the steep growth of the side hustle has incidentally split open the creative vein. Though the bad economy has forced many of our generation to take on jobs that don’t provide livable wages, it has also emphasized an inner tenacity to get what we want and need for our lives through the DIY ethic, and to not rely on the unreliable system to take care of us. If we are going to be broke, we might as well be broke doing what we love.
In the music industry, DIY is reigning queen in the value system to achieving success in the business. This, coupled with everyone and their sister living out the term #strugglebus, makes the community who work together a pretty tight knit one. When one of us ventures out to create, we rally behind them. When we make mistakes, self-taught as we are, we quickly forgive. If the economy cannot provide us what we need, we have learned to provide it for ourselves and those around us.
In 2014, I threw my first show, and through the process of booking bands, scouting venues, renting out PA systems, configuring guarantees for payment, and designing flyers, I found myself needing assistance and meeting the DFW local “promoter” heroes- such as DIY baron 1919’s Christopher Cotter and King Camel’s Jeffrey Brown. Their warmth and encouragement was unlimited, and there was no sense of underlying negative motive for assistance or a competitive vibe. These two men were true blue soldiers of the industry and were hardly obnoxious territorials. When I booked my first out of state band, Christopher Cotter used his time and resources to supply me with the information I needed to produce a guarantee and gave options for sponsorship. When I was confronted with the challenges of the industry, Jeffrey Brown gave sincere advice and encouragement. In this game, carrying our egos at the outer waistline and pulling some voodoo manipulation to get ahead, will be the death blow to the community’s respect for you and willingness to work with you. A promoter's job is behind the scenes, requiring multiple hats for one head. Jeffrey Brown's sweet mug poured out a fresh break down of what it's like to balance these jobs as head creator of the DFW music scene for label King Camel.
Jeffrey Brown was born and raised in TX, only departing for California for less than 2 years in his twenties before scrambling to come back to Dallas, the place he now calls home. Brown is the creator of King Camel, the bulletproof, prolific label that is known for working with dozens of DFW bands locally, creating the beloved Local Education Fest as well as booking the likes of Mac Demarco, Turbo Fruits, Thee Oh Sees, and many more.
Three years ago, Brown experienced some “personal and professional changes” that pushed him to a more meaningful career existence that carried more weight than just, as he states, “marketing a bunch of crap I didn’t care about.” Brown knew, as a young lad of 10 years, listening to Green Day’s “Dookie” on his boombox repetitively that music was and would be the most important thing to him, other than “family and God”. When making this transition to a more enlightened existence, he began talking to the local bands, gauging what they were like, what he liked, and what the scene needed. In August of 2013, he threw his first show, and for the next two years, under the name King Camel, he would average 7-12 shows a month, which is, frankly insane. “Now, I’m set up to where I’m doing about 3-5 shows a month,” Brown states about his current work load, “Focusing more on quality than quantity.” Brown doesn’t regret the amount of shows he did for those first two years, though, believing that “hitting it hard at first was a big part of getting my name out there”. Without the competitive vibe of that even of Austin, TX, there is the more distinctive issue that has to be addressed- and that is the one of standing out. With so many Facebook invitations, posters, posts, and pictures providing a grand number of options per night, it’s hard to become a household name unless you are a promoter with a different flavor.
But what does being a “promoter” really mean? In conversing with Brown, it becomes clear that having such a behind the scenes job means that it is quite consistently misunderstood. The first aspect of being a promoter is the motive. Going into the promoting game with the interest of fame and opportunism will guarantee a lack of trust between the artists you are working with, so only those who are OCD about music and put passion first, can even truly get their foot in the door. “I’ve always liked being surrounded by people having a good time,” says Brown lightheartedly, “and it just seemed like the most logical choice. Not the most sound financial choice, but it feels good in the soul.” It’s these reflections that make Brown, aka King Camel, one of the most trusted sources of promoting shows. As a promoter, your responsibility lies in the long term good for both the business and the artist. The misperceived idea that the promoter goes into this field wanting to siphon off of the artist’s fame or press is, in fact, contradictory to even logical business goals. “Quite the opposite,” Brown states, “We want them to get all the press because it helps bring people out when we book them.” In a professional world, when artist and promoter treat one another with respect, they run along parallel lines to achieve their goals. If communication is sound, there is no one upping the other.
The job title of “promoter” entails a slew of obligations that renders the term itself near demeaning. In order to organize a show, depending on the style, these responsibilities run the gamut from booking agent, sales, marketing, graphic design, curating, accounting, inventory, promoting and more. For each of these jobs, there are even more varied demands. Depending on the type of show, there may be extra barriers such as promotional teams, booking agents, outside sponsors. Time is also typically not on a promoter’s side. Being a promoter, organizing shows, means being one’s own boss and having to maintain relationships with a slew of people daily in preparation for a show. “I kinda do mostly everything because I am the only one in King Camel,” states Brown, “Don’t get me wrong, I have a veritable army of kickass humans that help me in many ways such as promo and support. Mainly, however, it’s me. I talk to the booking agents and the artists to set up shows. I get the local support. I get the venue. I make the posters and all other promo materials for the show…long story short I do just about everything you do and don’t see at a King Camel concert.”
Thus comes the issue of job sustainability as a promoter. What an attendee doesn’t see is right, being that the most common misconception of promoters is the idea that promoters make a lot of money. Just as a single promoter takes on all of these responsibilities, this also means that they take on all financial bills as well. “Couldn’t be farther from the fucking truth,” says Brown, “That’s the #1 misconception: I make lots of money.” Although promoters learn along the way different potentials to cut costs, and try to book at venues that have included sound guys, bars, and don’t charge an overhead, there are still hundreds to thousands of dollars coming out of a single person’s pocket. At a local level, this is even more difficult. Promoters frequently find it laughable when confronted with the idea that if a large event was successful, that meant the promoter made a lot of money. One detail frequently excluded is the way that, for example, if ticket sales exceed expectations, that does not mean automatically the promoter keeps the remaining amount of money. In fact, typically bands agree on a guarantee. For example, if Band A decided on $200 for their guaranteed fee, then there is an understanding that if ticket sales provide over that guarantee, then a standard number is paying out 85% of that overage to the bands and only keeping what remains after that. Profit, particularly at the local level, is minimal to none. Breaking even is a dance local promoters hardly accept, paying sponsors aren’t as easy as they come, and the bigger a show, the bigger the expense. If a promoter has been in the game for a few years at a local level, they are more likely to be trustworthy because it shows their passion and commitment to the artists, despite not getting their dues. Many nights are spent where promoters will take nothing for themselves, and just make sure the bands are paid. This may not be reflective of big time promoters in Parade of Flesh or working for Club Dada, but at the local level you can bet it is.
“Plainly, it is very competitive and can be brutal at times, but when you know you did a good job and helped an artist out it makes it all worth it,” Brown states. That said, in regards to working with other promoters, “there’s a lot of upfront support, but a lot more behind the scenes backstabbing disguised as ‘that’s how the business is’ type of stuff going on.” In general, Brown believes in the power of respect. This includes the respect between artist and promoter and the way that promoters interact between one another. For DFW, Brown believes the music scene has “a lot of good going on”, but agrees that the “music industry is definitely not for the faint of heart.” When asked what DFW could improve upon in the scene, he responds by stating “We just need more honest and reliable people in the prominent positions here locally and nationally,” Brown continues, “There are a ton of great people like Scott Beggs who is relentless about always making the best decision he can when it comes to treating artists and the people he works with well. On the flip side, there are a TON of people that don’t give a damn about the artist that overinflate the market, the artist and their own egos, and continually suppress growth by putting their own greedy desires first. Believe it or not, there’s enough money for everyone.”
Ultimately, as Brown agrees, the intention is to further the local scene by creating memorable experiences showcasing the talent this community believes in. Just like the artists, promoters hope to make a living out of what they are passionate about, and are comfortable with the fact that the living made won’t be monetarily surplus. As long as promoters like Brown, Cotter, and more continue to support the local industry, DFW seems to be in pretty good shape. Brown recently finished Local Education Fest, and on November 22nd, King Camel will be hosting an event at RBC with Drab Majesty, Troller, Dead Mockingbirds, Mink Coats, Psychic Killers and Rei Clone. Make sure to come on out!