Heavy Rotation

PRINT DESIGN & EVENT PRODUCTION

I wrote and designed this book to commemorate a monthly hip-hop event that I used to produce in Chicago. I have a very DIY foundation, as far as my involvement in the local music and art scene and this event series was born out of my initial desire to be a part of this amazing community of creatives. The text below is pulled from the book.

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Prelude

From May of 2013 until July of 2014 I threw a monthly hip-hop event, solely showcasing artists from the Chicago scene. In that time I booked, produced, promoted, designed for, and performed at all 11 volumes. Along the way, I also collaborated on an hour long mix, highlighting the various performers.

The events took place at The Tonic Room, a 100 capacity venue located in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, and nearly a stones throw from Lincoln Hall, a coveted milestone venue for local acts hoping to breach the National scene. Heavy Rotation only lasted 14 months, but in that short time I brought together some of Chicago’s most currently buzzing individuals for a string of memorable gigs.

Not only was I able to meet an incredible amount of talented artists, I was able to learn important elements of business and production as well - situations that I still reflect on for inspiration and knowledge.

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The Issue

Heavy Rotation grew out of the necessity to book shows. By 2013 I had been making music for several years, yet it wasn't until then that I really started to develop my own sound. At the time, I was studying Design at DePaul University, while also pursuing music. I knew I was coming into my own as an artist, but I lacked the proper platform to showcase that growth and provide me with the opportunities to progress further. 

I'd played a fair share of campus gigs and house parties but, at a certain point, there's a ceiling to those type of events. Booking shows at legitimate venues was the obvious next step. I knew I needed to target local crowds, filled with people interested in the genre and culture, if I expected to build a fan base. I needed to be in front of people open to hearing out unknown acts. However, I knew no one in the local scene and, up until the summer prior, my age shut me out of many events I so desperately wanted to attend. Even as of age, I'd visited venues and done an immense amount of cold emailing and submissions. The majority of talent buyers and promoters were unresponsive. Those who did reply failed to see the value in the ideas I was proposing. This was definitely a frustrating time; however, that continual rejection taught me to refine my pitch.

I realized that I had to present a package. I had no reference turn-out numbers from previous shows, so I had to rely on the strength of a plan so cut and dry that someone would have to give me a chance. I also realized that I had to think smaller and more realistic to my caliber as an artist.

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The Idea

With no luck booking a set on a venue promoted show, I decided that I would just start throwing my own. Promoters and talent buyers weren't giving me time but, if I booked and promoted the show, I could play as long as I wanted. With that in mind, I sought out the smallest local venue I could find - The Tonic Room. Located just down the street from DePaul, it was the perfect spot. My pitch nearly wrote itself.

I was freshly twenty-one years old, tapping into the young, bar-going crowd of my peers. This wasn't exactly my target market, but I knew it was enough of a foundation to warrant a reply. With a base of supporters that consisted mostly of friends and acquaintances I felt I could, at the very least, leverage the event as a natural progression from the circuit of house parties that routinely attracted a significant amount of the student body. From there, I would be able to flex my knowledge of up-and-comers, based in Chicago, that could add to my draw. Though I wasn't able to attend many local events up until that time, as a fan I still kept a very close eye on the scene through blogs and social media. I wanted to be a part of it so bad.

I decided I would focus the event on Chicago hip-hop and call it Heavy Rotation. I imagined a definitive analog supplement to the dense digital landscape that social media had been fostering. This way, I could book artists I admired and wanted to collaborate with. It also became an outlet for me to hone my skills in marketing, booking, production, design, brand development, and especially performance. I handled everything.

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The Mission

After relentlessly contacting The Tonic Room, they agreed to give me a Wednesday evening. This wasn't my first choice, but I was in no position to complain. A venue was allowing me to dictate the course of an entire night. I was geeked.

From inception, I always envisioned Heavy Rotation as a monthly residency. I pictured an outlet for the music community, focused on quality. Local hip-hop events tend to be grossly overbooked, and that's something I wanted to combat.

Another point of focus was money. I never wanted anyone to have to break their bank to participate. With a 100 capacity venue, it was about the experience, not the revenue. Awesome drink specials and a ticket price that remained at $5 were both very important elements.

Volume One

The first volume was rocky. I thought I had pulled out all of the stops, but less than 40 people attended. I left feeling defeated. For the first time I understood the difficulty in squaring up with city nightlife, lobbying for the time and support of people being courted in every direction by a plethora of options and obligations. However, the Heavy Rotation tone was definitely set. If nothing else, I knew that the level of care I upheld was apparent throughout the entire evening. If this venue pulled, I could develop the model further and find a new home.

Surprisingly, that wasn't the case. The Tonic Room was very pleased with the outcome and how I handled a Wednesday. In fact, they offered me a new date in that same email. I decided to take a month off to improve on my faults and strengthen the plan, with the intent of returning for Volume Two on the second Thursday in July. Given the first experience, I knew there was a lot of preparation needed if I was going to turn this into a monthly residency. The following were the key elements to my new strategy.

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  • I designed and built a website that would showcase the rotating monthly line-up, along with photo recaps of each event, contact information, and the option to register for a monthly newsletter.

  • I found a reliable print shop that would handle short runs and allow for local pick-up. I saved money on shipping, while only buying the necessary amount of print marketing collateral, which I distributed across the city via bike.

  • I handmade 50 commemorative buttons for each volume, which also served as an incentive for the first 50 attendees. These were gifted while attached to a small card, which highlighted the twitter handles of HR and the night's acts.

  • I also curated a unique, Chicago-only playlist of up-and-comers, for each Volume, to be played during set changes. Submissions were accepted via Twitter, prior to each event, in an attempt to showcase acts I wasn't able to book.

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The Result

Volume Two kicked off the residency. It fell on the night of my 22nd birthday, which was the perfect additional marketing element. I was the headliner, stepping out for the first time at the top of a bill, and the room was nearly packed to capacity. It was a beautiful feeling. Not only had I reached a milestone as a performer, that night was the culmination of an immense amount of critical thinking, planning, and strategizing. I had never had a larger vision come into fruition like that. It was the beginning of a wave of shows that I will forever remember.

In the year following, I shared the stage with the majority of Chicago's rising hip-hop talent. Among the long list of participants was regional buzzmakers ShowYouSuck and The Palmers Squares, along with now nationally recognized artists Saba and Mick Jenkins. I only broke for the two coldest months, over which I collaborated with Chicago-based DJ Step to create and release an hour-long mix, made up of songs by Heavy Rotation participants.

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While it was a bummer to take a break, I felt it was best not to compete with the brutal Chicago weather. In turn, this mix provided an awesome moment of reflection on my accomplishments up until that point - achievements that wouldn't have been possible without my good friend DJ Step, who lent a tremendous amount of time to spinning at nearly every volume. We called the project Heavy Rotape, a reference to hip-hop's once predominant mixtape culture. Followers enjoyed the showcase of local talent and it was the perfect way to keep my event relevant during the off months. From then, I went strong until July of 2014, when I held the last volume.

The End

After eleven successful volumes of Heavy Rotation, I decided it was time to lay my residency to rest. I was planning some major brand changes and I didn't want to become known as "the artist that throws awesome shows but also makes music on the side." I had made my intended statement among the local scene, and it was time to continue the progression with new endeavors.

Beyond being a platform for my live performance, the event had become an environment where artists, producers, designers, videographers, and fans could foster initial relationships, with plans for future collaboration. It felt really cool to have built something of value to the scene. This was among my original goals and it's a concept that I fully used to my advantage. Over that year I had spent a lot of my time recording new material, with the help of people I'd met through these events.

Until then, I had always performed under my initials DK; however, I knew this wasn't a lucrative long-term name. On the heels of Heavy Rotation, I announced that I would be changing my name to Dan Kanvis, which would be followed by the release of a new album at the end of 2015. The transition went smoothly, and my brand and development as an artist is now stronger than ever.

Those fourteen months made an incredible impact on me as a person. I learned so many valuable lessons about navigating the music industry, as well as dealing with people in a professional setting, on a day-to-day basis. For the first time in my life I had beared the weight of protecting and nurturing something bigger than me. The unknown can be a terrifying place, until you realize your path is no less familiar than that of your peers.

Stream Heavy Rotape