Our Creative Process: Dots+Loops

Our Creative Process: Dots+Loops

Dots+Loops' founder Kieran Welch on fundraising, curation and learning to roll with the punches. 

Kieran Welch
Brisbane, Australia

Our Creative Process: Dots+Loops

Dots+Loops' founder Kieran Welch on fundraising, curation and learning to roll with the punches. 

How did Dots+Loops begin, and what were the initial steps that you took to make the series happen?

The Dots+Loops series began as a single concept concert in 2014, based on the idea "from the concert hall to the dance floor". Held in a converted warehouse space, the show started at the "concert hall" end of the spectrum, with Philip Glass' String Quartet No. 5, before moving into the area in-between. Brisbane indie-chamber septet Nonsemble (with whom I play viola) premiered a new major work by Chris Perren called "Go Seigen vs Fujisawa Kuranosuke". Finally, the night ended with a DJ set of electronica and techno conceptually flowing on from the rest of the concert, while the performers and audience members were encouraged to stay and mingle in the venue, with a bar open all night.

However, the concept for this first concert and the overall series have stemmed from a much longer artistic journey. Though a majority of my formal education has been in classical viola performance, I also started DJing in my early teens and quickly became interested in a broad range of electronic music. I spent years searching for a way to combine these two seemingly disparate worlds, and for me, this initial Dots+Loops concert was the first successful culmination of this.

In terms of actually putting on this first concert, I was really lucky to be working with a friend who was already putting on his own rock shows, Nonsemble composer and guitarist (and Dots+Loops team member) Chris Perren. He’d been working on the show’s headline piece, “Go Seigen vs Fujisawa Kuranosuke”, for a few months when I came up with the idea for the show, and thankfully he agreed that it sounded like a great way to premiere the work. Aside from the composition, Chris was also a huge help in organising and promoting. It wasn’t the first concert I’d organised, but it at the time was definitely the biggest, and having someone who’d been putting on rock shows for years who could help and give advice was invaluable.

Chris wasn’t the only person who contributed to making the show a success, though. All the performers were just good friends of mine, who believed in the concert idea, and generously gave their time and expertise to make it a reality. I think that’s been the most important theme throughout the Dots+Loops series—it’s all a bunch of friends putting on some fantastic music together, and sharing it with other music lovers, no matter what particular genre they (the performers or audience members) may normally be into. 

Perhaps the biggest thing for me has been switching my thinking from an “I wish” to an “I will”, and having the determination to put ideas into practice. You’d be really surprised by how much you can achieve, and how many things just fall into place, if you just take that first step and put things into motion.

You wear several different hats while promoting and producing each concert - what have you learnt about event organisation and management since your first Dots+Loops performance?

The first thing I’ve learnt is to organise everything as far in advance as possible. The bigger the show becomes, or the steeper you anticipate the learning curve will be to make it happen, the earlier you need to start putting things into motion. I’m still very much learning this, to be honest.

Second is to roll with the punches. Every single show throws up its own unanticipated challenges and of course, one can’t foresee what they will be but you need to expect them. When I was organising the first couple of shows, it seemed like a catastrophe every time we had a last minute performer cancellation or a sudden venue change. But doing more of these concerts has helped me take this in my stride more and just work around it, and to me, it often ends up seeming that the change ends up with a positive effect on the end result. Organising in advance also gives you a lot more room to work around these challenges with less stress.

Thirdly, I've learnt to triple confirm everything with everyone involved. I think my job as a concert producer is to make it as easy and enjoyable as possible for the performers involved to do their job—performing. But everyone's busy and everyone forgets things, you really need to confirm schedules as soon as possible, put these in multiple places (we often use Facebook groups, email and Dropbox), and send reminder messages to everyone a day out or so from any rehearsals or events.

Leading on from this, I think it’s really important to acknowledge and be thankful for the contribution everyone makes to the show, whether it’s the performers, composers, audiences, financial supporters, or technical and venue staff. Whether or not you’re paying them (and especially if they're paying you), they’ve each chosen to be a part of the show, and it would be a lesser experience, or just not possible, without them.

I think the final thing I’ve learnt is there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to approach promotion. The best results we’ve had come from a lot of time writing individual emails and messages, making it easy for the performers involved in the show to promote using their own channels, and encouraging word-of-mouth. One of the best things about being so community-focused is that we now have a bunch of regular audiences and performers who are happy to chat to friends and family about coming to our shows.

You are a performer as well: how has that influenced the way you program each concert? How do you choose who to collaborate with?

I’ve performed in every concert I’ve put on so far, and more than once I’ve been a part of every act. A big (and slightly selfish) reason I started the shows was to give myself an opportunity to perform a bunch of fantastic music I was listening to and absolutely loving but had no other outlet to present. But I think being very passionate about every piece we put on helps everyone else involved become passionate about it too.

I also very much try and program the concert in the frame of an audience member, asking myself what I would like to do on a Friday night. For me, watching a couple of awesome live performances, while hanging out and chatting with friends, and perhaps partaking in a beverage or two, is pretty ideal. This is a big reason why we focus on making socialising easy and give people a break in between each act to chat, digest the music, and grab a drink from the bar if they want.

In terms of choosing people to collaborate with, I try to work with people who are at least open to trying things a different way, and experiencing different kinds of music. A lot of the performers we’ve featured may have never played in an amplified setting, or without a stage, or even seen a band or DJ set before. Vice versa, a lot of our audiences may have never been to a traditional classical concert. But I think what matters the most is a willingness to try something new. Then it’s my job to make that experience as easy and rewarding as possible.

Can you tell me a bit about the commissions you've worked on already for Dots+Loops, and how you approach commissioning overall?

Every single commission has been by a good friend, who writes music I’m really excited about. Chris Perren has been a big one, two of his three major works for Nonsemble were kindly written for and premiered at Dots+Loops shows. Composer and performer Ben Heim is another friend who wrote a piece for viola and electronics we premiered last year. And this year, we’re also commissioning a work from a friend I met as a performer in the Bang on a Can Summer Festival, Brechtje. Trained in classical composition, she also plays in a super cool band called Jerboah and has this really quirky, unique and endearing musical language. I can’t wait to hear her piece in September.

In terms of directly commissioning a piece, it’s really important to ensure the composer will have as many benefits as possible, to make the time they’ve spent creating the piece worth it. There are heaps of grants available to fund new commissions, and it’s really important to look into and apply for those. But even if there isn’t a lot of money involved, make sure they have a list of definite benefits they’ll receive, such as a guaranteed performance to a certain amount of people, a good recording and promotional opportunities.

You're currently crowdfunding to help produce your 2017 season. What has your experience with fundraising been like so far, and what do you want people to know about where their money is going this year? 

Fundraising is one of the hardest aspects for me. We’ve been quite lucky to receive grants for our last couple of shows. But I’m always mindful that, like an audition, we may have an unsuccessful application due to no fault of our own. Even if we follow the criteria and guidelines closely, we don’t know who else is applying, or what the panel will be specifically looking for.

Grant applications can be a bit of a catch-22, in that it really helps to show significant development in the show concept to be competitive, such as having confirmations from venues and artists. But by that point, the ball can already be rolling, whether you end up being successful with the applications or not. Furthermore, grant panels are very much looking for applicants who are able to source funds from a variety of sources—almost every grant will have a stipulation that they will only fund a certain percentage of a project.

Our Kickstarter is an absolutely vital part of putting on the amazing concerts we have planned for 2017. Even relatively large and successful arts groups don’t receive all the grants they apply for, and in the case that we’re unsuccessful with ours, the Kickstarter will give us the bare minimum we need to put on our April and May shows. During this time, we’ll be able to obtain advice from the funding bodies to ensure we can successfully resubmit in good time for our September mini-festival. And on the chance we are successful with all our first-round grant applications, the Kickstarter will go directly to paying artists involved for rehearsals and travel they are currently taking in-kind, in support of the series. Either way, it's an absolutely vital aspect to us creating this year of fantastic music, and all money raised will go directly to the artists involved. Plus there’s a bunch of exclusive rewards you can pick up, whether or not you’re able to make it to our shows!

Help make the Dots+Loops 2017 series happen! Head to http://bit.ly/dlkickstarter before March 23 to pledge, and pick up a bunch of great rewards in the process.