Hey look, it's 2017. How you doin'?
Alright, what's been going on. Let's see...
We had four New Year's Eve parties, and both Acid Rain and Bootie did great. Acid Rain really gave me flashbacks to Thump, since it was trance instead of hardcore as most of our "rave" events have been lately. After Bootie ended on New Year's Eve we had Drums, a circuit party, from 3am to 9am. That was somewhat under-attended. It's been years since we've done a late-night party like that: back in the Thump days, sometimes the headliner wouldn't even go on until 4am, but that's very much out of fashion these days. Kids today, I don't know. That same night, we also had an 18-and-over Mini-Bootie over at Codeword, and that tanked like a big tanky thing. Sigh. Well, two out of four?
Our awesome crew have been busting their butts following up on all the great suggestions and offers for help we've gotten since the apocalypse post -- if we haven't gotten back to you yet, we will soon! There have been many 16 and 23 hour days here lately. Everyone is looking a bit shell-shocked.
To the future -- ("To the future!" Wait, that wasn't a toast? Sorry...)
- Lots of people have offered their help who don't necessarily have money, but do have time, hands and brains, and to facilitate that, we've created a new Facebook group, DNA Lounge Street Team. Go join! Use it for discussion and suggestions. I imagine that we will end up using it to throw out random calls for assistance, like "hey, anyone want to design some flyers?" or "who loves painting the floor?"
- After a very helpful talk with Alan at Borderlands Books about how their sponsorship program works, we came to the conclusion that a sponsorship is not, and should not be, a product that you sell.
I've updated our Patreon page with an explanation of this, so I'll just paste it here:
Your sponsorship helps ensure that we can continue bringing you the kind of awesome, eclectic and weird events that you've come to expect from us! Your sponsorship keeps us independent, and lets us continue to take chances on the kind of local live entertainment that makes San Francisco great."But what's in it for me?"
Unlike most crowdfunding efforts, we are not selling you a "product" here. Your donation allows DNA Lounge to continue to exist, plain and simple. We think that's important. We think that's a pretty big deal. We hope that you do too!
Maybe you're one of those people who finds themselves at DNA Lounge three times a week. Or maybe you only come to three shows a year, but those three shows are really important to you, and you very much want to be able to come to them in the future. We want that too, and that's why we need your help."Wait, you mean I don't get free tickets?"
We thought long and hard about this, and came to the conclusion that doing something like that would send entirely the wrong message. We want you to donate to this cause because you want DNA Lounge to continue to exist. If we offered rewards like, "if you donate X dollars, you get Y free tickets", then what we're really doing is selling you a ticket bundle. That proposal makes you a customer, not a sponsor, not a partner. It forces you to ask the question of whether you're getting your money's worth: whether those tickets are a bargain.
But we don't want you to donate because it's a good bargain. We want you to donate because you believe in our mission, and want it to continue!
We may choose to offer some sponsor-only perks in the future, because you are awesome and we love you, but we don't want that to be the reason you signed up.
- We had an all-hands meeting! I think it went pretty welll, in that we were able to convey a lot of info, and we received a lot of good feedback from our staff. It's been a couple years since we did that, which was an unfortunate oversight. There really are a lot of people who work here. Thank you, DNA co-conspirators. It was good to see all of your faces. Here's Meredith's moody take on it:
- ROT13, Jared's daily craft cocktail happy hour over at Codeword, has a DJ now! Laüs will be spinning for you every Wednesday. Come check it out.
- At the last Peepshow (our drag/burlesque show that happens third Wednesdays at Codeword) at intermission time, Sophilya said something to the effect of, "...so go next store and get a slice", and someone in the audience yelled, "THE TOTS!!" and the whole audience cheered! They cheered our tater tots, man. I mean, yeah, they're pretty great! But I haven't heard that before.
- What's up with the sidewalk? Beats me. After that flurry of activity just before New Year's, they have been MIA for eight days, and haven't even picked up their big plastic barrier wall. I think they're not quite done with the street paving on the other side of the curb. When do we get our bike racks back? Good question. We chained a stanchion to the streetlight as a halfassed substitute.
- It came up in conversation today that that stupid tree in the middle of our sidewalk -- a twig of a tripping hazard on an inverse island in a sea of concrete -- probably ought to have its own Twitter account.
Tree-N-ALounge. "I've seen some shit, man. My roots are soaking in a slurry of candy cane and Fireball. I hate SantaCon."
- This changes everything! Wait, this changes nothing! California Beauty Salons, Barbershops Will Soon Be Allowed to Serve Wine and Beer.
- My new favorite Yelp review demonstrates the eternal healing power of cookies:
Went here last night. Ordered a carnivore pizza and a cookie. The guy behind the counter got a call immediately afterward from some schmo who had ordered delivery pizza but failed to answer the door, which took him a minute or two to sort out. He was super chill and gave me a second cookie for free to make up for the delay.
The pizza was delicious btw.
That's all I got. Carry on.
Here's the thing about our sidewalk. We have a rave tonight, and at these events there is always a gaggle of kids sitting around outside in lingerie they stole from mom, bare asses right on the concrete. It grosses me the hell out -- I want to yell at them, "Don't you know where that sidewalk has been?? Do you want hepatitis? Because this is how you get hepatitis."
Welcome to Fragrant SOMA: our sidewalks are a god damned biohazard. They are a war zone, people.
But tonight! Brand new sidewalk! Nobody has vomited on it yet at all! None of our local crackheads have gifted us with a flowing stream of their prodigious heroin-shits.
I thought about puking on it myself, just to break it in, but I'll leave that to someone else.
Everybody asks, "Did you carve your initials in it?" Pfffff.
When we tag, we tag hard.
Some time very soon we're going to have monthly subscription levels that come with rewards, like tickets to events and whatnot, but we haven't yet worked out what those rewards will be -- and to make that work I still have to write some code. But rather than waiting for that to be done, I decided to add the option of monthly subscriptions right now, and will add the options with rewards later.
Once we add new rewards levels, you can switch to the one that sounds best, but if you want to help us out right now, this option is here! I set the minimum to $5, but by all means feel free to contribute a larger amount. I mean, if $5/month is all that DNA Lounge is worth to you, who am I to argue! We'll take it. That's fine. This is fine.
Please enjoy jwz mixtape 176. For those of you who are new here, this is something I do about once a month: a 90 minute mixtape, a cassette-sized chunk of recent music videos that I have discovered and enjoy. If you've ever been to DNA Pizza and looked on in fascination and/or horror at the music videos that we play there 24/7, these mixtapes are where you get to see the new arrivals.
I added a tip jar to our store! Now when you check out, down at the bottom, it says:
I hope it works. I coded it up very late last night.
You can also point people at https://www.dnalounge.com/donate/ for the same thing.
And hey, big spender, I'm not saying $2,000 is the maximum we will accept. You can go right ahead and change that after you add it to your cart!
This is just phase one; I did this first because it was relatively easy. We're still planning on setting up some kind of membership program, probably using Patreon, but before doing that we have to figure out what the reward levels should be.
The only live music venue I've come across that has a membership program is First Avenue. Do you know of others? Most opera houses have membership programs, but their pricing is so different than ours that they don't really compare very well. (Those tend to include things like, "and for $300k/year, you get to have dinner with the Executive Director!" Tell you what, I'l have dinner with you for way less than that.) I've seen a few dance clubs with membership programs, but those seem to mainly be about super-high-end table service, so that doesn't really apply either. Anyway, the First Avenue program is roughly:
- $45 / year: early access to ticket sales; 10% off food and drink at their attached bar;
- $80 / year: 2 tickets to a main room show; 2 tickets to a small room show;
- $500 / year: free admission to all small room shows; 4 tickets to main room shows; 2 tickets to Halloween and NYE; skip the line.
And they sell only a limited number of them per year, but I don't know how many.
So, I dunno. Maybe something like that!
Anyway, we're still pouring over all of the suggestions and offers for help that are pouring in. I really can't believe the number of responses we got. Again, thank you all so much!
We've had a number of people who have experience with grants offer to help, so we've been trying to wrap our brains around how something like that would work. Spoiler alert: it is hellaciously complicated.
And check this out, we have half of a new sidewalk. It is luxuriously broad. By dumb luck, they happened to pour it on a day when we didn't have an event. ("Did they tell you they were doing this today?" "Of course they did! Eight months ago they told us it was going to happen someday!") I think we might have gotten the other half by now if it hadn't rained on Friday.
This is just a short update to give you all our heartfelt thanks for the outpouring of support that has come in after Monday's bad news. It's really heartening to hear that so many of you love this place as much as we do. Rest assured, we're doing everything in our power to keep it going.
Many of you have expressed interest in some kind of membership program, so we will definitely be doing that. Whether it's Patreon or Gofundme or an in-house thing remains to be determined, but figuring all that out is on the short list.
If you have reached out to us in some way and we haven't gotten back to you yet, my apologies -- we're working on it! We have a lot of messages to sort through right now. (This is a very good problem to have.)
In the meantime, keep spreading the word, and keep coming to our events. And keep the suggestions coming.
Thank you all!
PS: As long as I've got your attention, how about you follow us on the social media? Telling your friends about our events is one of the most effective ways you can help!
I worked in the software industry. In the mid-90s, during the "first bubble", I made a whole lot of money. Not entirely coincidentally, that tech bubble had a dramatically negative impact on the culture of San Francisco. I loved it here (and still do). I didn't like the changes I was seeing (and still don't). So I decided to push back, and put my money where my mouth was.
DNA Lounge has always been a political project: an attempt to move the needle of culture in this city. To provide a forum for a wide variety of art that makes this city a better place. DNA Lounge is putatively a business, but it is also activism.
As it turns out, that's not cheap.
I don't have an opulent lifestyle or particularly expensive tastes. With my winnings in the Startup Lottery, I bought myself a condo, I bought my mom a condo, and I bought a nightclub.
In the 17 years since I signed the lease on DNA Lounge, I've spent about five million dollars on it.
That is a truly gargantuan amount of money, inconceivable to most people, including many of my friends. Including me. Maybe if you'd had that magic briefcase dropped into your lap, you'd have done something more noble with it. Or more venal. Well, this is what I did: I spent most of my adult life running a nightclub, in a near-constant state of panic.
There have been stretches of our history where DNA Lounge was "in the black" (in the sense of: on a day-to-day basis, covering its operating costs, if you completely ignore all past investments), and I could breathe a bit easier. However, DNA has never turned a profit. Though this has been my full time job for almost two decades, I've never collected a salary. The opposite, in fact: through most of our history, the way we make payroll is, I write personal checks to cover it.
Well, here's the thing: I've run out of money.
I'm not about to be out on the street or anything. I would never compare what I'm struggling with to what less financially stable people are going through. So many of my creative peers are barely keeping their heads above water. That includes most of the people I employ for far less than they deserve. My nightclub, like my city, is full of people who put up with a lot more pain and suffering than they should ever have to just to hold onto a sense of community. But it is all connected. We're all together, standing around, watching countless strongholds of alternative culture in the Bay Area, and independently owned and curated creative meeting grounds in cities all across America, fade away. Some of them are literally crashing and burning. It's heartbreaking and horrifying.
I have known for quite some time that I couldn't afford to subsidize this particular stronghold much longer. It's painful to admit, but I'm at the point where I would have to pick between propping up DNA Lounge for another few years at best -- and supporting my mom.
For several years, from basically 2009 through 2014, we were doing reasonably well, financially: we were able to make some improvements. We were able to convert from a 21+ venue to an all ages venue, and we weathered the storm of our retaliatory license suspension that called us a "Disorderly House Injurious to the Public Welfare and Morals". We were able to use DNA Lounge income to cover the creation of DNA Pizza and the expansion of the club into Above DNA. In the end, DNA paid for those projects without me having to increase my investment. Things were looking up. In fact, we were turning business away: we had more people wanting to throw parties than we had nights available, and we were having trouble keeping up with our pizza orders on weekend nights.
So we decided to expand again, and opened a second location of DNA Pizza and an attached all ages dance club, Codeword, trying to replicate what seemed like a winning formula.
We started construction on Codeword in 2014. It took about a year and a half to build everything out. We opened at the end of 2015.
Meanwhile, between 2014 and 2015, DNA Lounge's attendance dropped off by about 9%. By the end of 2016, it had dropped by another 15%. Couple this with the fact that Codeword has no business to speak of, and we're screwed.
To break even, we need to increase our overall attendance by about 800 people a week. (That could be across both venues, or multiple nights: four 200 person events or any other permutation is just as good. It all goes into the same pot.)
Another way of saying that is that we are running at a loss of somewhere in the neighborhood of $380,000 per year. And I don't have it.
And no matter how much I try to wrap my brain around this, I don't know what the hell to do about it. That's the reason for this post. I need help, or we will be out of business soon. I can afford to continue to prop things up for a short amount of time, but not very long without both completely screwing my future, and also not actually solving the problem.
"Sell Codeword" is the obvious thing, and yeah, if I could snap my fingers and make that happen, I'd do it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, to sell something, you have to have a buyer. I've got a long lease on that space, and even if I just locked the doors and sold the liquor license, I'd still owe the landlord every month until I could find a new tenant. We've talked to a few local nightlife people we thought might be interested in taking over the place, but with no bites so far. We're still looking.
Besides, Codeword is only about 1/2 to 2/3rds of our problem. DNA Lounge is losing a ton of money all on its own. So getting rid of Codeword would help, but not enough.
I really don't want to have to close DNA Lounge. We have done some great things here. Not me, we. The umbrella of DNA is host to countless vibrant communities and thousands of regulars. We've had fifteen years of the most diverse, weird, interesting calendar of any venue I've ever seen. A typical month here doesn't include just bands and DJs, but comedy, lecture series, circuses, robotic exhibitions, dance performances, hair shows... We provide a home for a whole lot of truly amazing art. I'm so proud of everyone. I'm immensely grateful to our staff for making it happen. They all clearly have a lot of love for this place too, because there's no other reason someone would put up with the low pay and appalling working conditions!
I started writing a bit calling out some of our incredibly devoted staff by name, but it's impossible to do so without the crippling horror that I'd insult someone by leaving them out, and if I didn't, this would we so long it would start looking like a memorial wall. So I'll just say that this place could not exist without the blood, sweat and tears of hundreds of people who have devoted their lives to it (and that's not just because the dark machines in the basement are literally powered by tears).
Some nights, even on nights where I'm not personally a fan of the music, I will look out over the balcony and see a room full of people moving as one, and I think, "This is what we do. This is why we did it." I try to take a mental snapshot of those moments.
I've heard from so many people over the years, customers and employees alike, that DNA Lounge has been a huge part of their lives: that they have a sense of community here, and that they feel safe here in a way that they don't anywhere else.
It's always funny, talking to different people firmly embedded in their own particular subcultures, who all see this place completely differently. To some people, DNA is "the goth club", because that's all they listen to and this is the only place they see those bands play. To others, DNA does nothing but the most brutal metal shows. To some, it is candy raves. We used to be that place that only did Deep House dance parties. I have heard actual people say with their actual mouth-holes, "I'm at Bootie, where DNA Lounge used to be".
They're all right, it's all of those things.
And in this city, historically notorious for its hostility to small businesses in general and to nightlife in particular, I think places like this need to exist. Places like this matter. The value of a thing is not its monetary cost.
But how do we make enough money to keep us alive?
One time-honored method is to find an "investor". But can you call it an "investment" with a straight face when there is literally no chance of getting your money back? Yeah, no. By "investor", I really mean "philanthropist".
Some form of crowdfunding is a possibility, I suppose. Most people want something in return for their Kickstarters and whatnot: it tends to be viewed as commerce more than charity. So at the low end, this would probably look a lot like: buying a spot on the guest list for a year, or a stack of "get in free" cards, or something. It would be easy to mis-design those rewards in such a way as to not actually make any money from them. But maybe at the high end, there would be enough people willing to kick down substantial contributions: people who feel it's worth more to them than $12 per show to keep DNA Lounge in existence.
Another possibility is looking for grants. Grants for the arts are out there. A few years back, Yoshi's somehow convinced the City to just give them $7.2 million. And then they went out of business anyway. So.... we know that's possible, I guess? But writing grant proposals is a specialized skill. I don't possess it and I don't know anyone who does. Do you? By all means, send 'em by.
There are also a number of businesses that DNA Lounge could or should be in, but is not; or rather, variants of our core business. E.g., we almost never book corporate parties, conferences, film shoots, that sort of thing. Why? Well, we're bad at it. Ok, that's not a real answer. I guess the answer is that it's a slightly different skill set than booking bands and DJs and we don't have anyone who works here who has the right contacts.
"So hire that person!" you say. Sure! But hiring is hard. Really, really hard. And that person is probably quite expensive, if they actually know what they're doing.
The problem with many of the business development ideas we've had over the years is that they take the form of: invest a bunch of money and then wait a year or longer before it is possible to even have a guess as to whether it is working, or even whether we hired the right person in the first place. That is, unfortunately, often how things work. That is often the reality. The world does not always provide you with quick fixes. But we need a quick fix, because I am out of money. I can't make long term investments because I don't know how I'm keeping the lights on in the short term.
(Ugh, while I was writing this, I had my Mac read it out loud to me, and it sounded like HAL 9000 begging for its life.)
So maybe you were hoping this would end with some big call to action, or some kind of hopeful note. I wish it did. I need ideas. I need suggestions. And I need your patience, too. Please, bear with me.
I know that with this level of transparency and vulnerability I'm setting myself up for a bunch of wisecracks from people who are all too eager to tell me what I did wrong and how they totally would have done it differently, having created nothing of lasting value themselves. How this situation or that was "obvious". Haters gonna hate, I know how it goes.
But if you have suggestions, please have them be about things I can do in 2016 and 2017, not things I should have done in 2004.
If you don't have suggestions, there are always the obvious things you can do:
- Attend our events.
- Buy tickets.
- Buy drinks.
- Buy pizza.
- Bring your friends.
- Get them to bring their friends.
If you don't support DNA Lounge, in a tangible way, it won't be here any more.
Hitting "Like" isn't enough.
If you're too broke, too crippled by existential despair, or too geographically incompatible to show up in person, how about at least posting a fond memory of your time at DNA in the comments below? It won't keep the lights on, but it will be nice to hear.
Update, Christmas Day:
Hey, if you've made it this far, you should know that I've made a few followup posts on this blog and will continue to do so. Short version: among all of the other leads for increasing our business that we are following up on, we're in the process of designing some kind of subscription membership program, probably using Patreon. But in the meantime, I've added the ability to accept donations to the DNA Lounge store, so if you are feeling generous, you can help us out right now!
Thank you again for the outpouring of sympathy and support, and stay tuned!
Update 2: We also have a DNA Lounge Patreon now, so you can contribute on a monthly basis.
Look, this happened! Today must be July 1st!
The action we are now reporting may well bring the war within measurable distance of its end. Here is the newsflash.
When I started this blog back in 2000, it wasn't necessarily my intention that mine would be the only voice here, though that's how it turned out. I had always thought that something that would be really cool would be for this blog to have an interview with every band who ever played here. After all, they're in the building: we've got access. But I'm not a music journalist or a reporter. It's not my strong suit. I had hoped that somehow, magically, I would run into the person who had a fire in their belly to do this: someone whose first two Dream Jeopardy Categories are "writing" and "musicians". Someone who would be excited by the proposal of: you want to write about music, and I can put you in a room with all the music. Done.
I've never met that person, so that never happened.
We've had over six thousand different bands and headliner-level DJs since then, so that would have been a hell of a thing.
That's just not right.
Hey, remember when we used to have a parklet? On November 16, Barry wrote them again:
It has been since Sept 9 (8 weeks) since I have gotten any response.
It has been 19 weeks since we removed our parklet.
When can I put it back in?
When will construction actually start on our side of the street?
We had one of the construction workers ask us to sign a waiver that allows them to continue during the "Holiday Moratorium". We, of course, are happy to have that happen so we can get this over with.
Please get me some info.
Thank you for your email. As you know, we've encountered some slight delays on the project. We appreciate you supporting the project moving forward during the holidays. The City typically doesn't allow work to occur between Thanksgiving Day and New Years Day on any block in which 50% or more of ground floor frontage is dedicated to retail unless business owners are in support of the work moving forward. At present, the contractor is contacting additional business owners on your block to ensure they're also in support of the work moving forward during the holidays. If the contractor has the necessary support to allow work between November 24 - January 1, crews may begin working on your block as early as November 28th. We'll be in contact in a few days to let you know if the contractor has been issued a waiver to the holiday moratorium or if work will be postponed until January.
Let's just let that sink in for a minute. The City does not allow any work to happen during "the holidays", which are defined to run from November 24th through January 1st. (And I guarantee you that when they say January 1st they really mean January 9th.)
"Slight delays" means "the construction you told us was starting on July 1 has not yet begun as of December 9, more than 5 months later".
"We'll be in contact in a few days" means "three weeks go by with no response". Then today, after getting "out of office autoreply" from nearly every person on the interminable CC list, we finally got:
The contractor is scheduled to commence demo work at your corner next week barring any weather delays. Please feel free to call me if you have additional questions/concerns. Thank you for your continued patience.
So "As early as November 29th" means "maybe by December 12th, unless there is Weather."
(Spoiler alert, there is Weather.)
That "thank you" is completely unwarranted, because if I have mistakenly given the impression that we are experiencing "patience" of any kind with this process, I must not have been clear.
Here, have some photos!
As has become traditional, we set up a full sized wrestling rink at the Bootie after Thanksgiving, since that is usually our slowest Bootie of the year by far. In that regard, it did not disappoint by failing to disappoint.
Hey, come see this show tonight! I say this not only because I think it will be really good, but also because we don't have a whole lot of live music in the next two months, since the whole world just shuts down between Halloween and New Year's Eve.
Anyway, Ruby is awesome and I think the last time she played in SF was probably in 1996, and that was probably with Pigface. Here are some video reminders of how great the album Salt Peter was:
And here are some clips of her singing with the Pigface 25 year reunion a few weeks ago, so hopefully we'll get some of that:
Perennial favorites Halou are opening, and it will be their 11th time here, I think. They seem to have only ever made one video as Halou and that was a cartoon, so instead here are some videos by their alter ego, Stripmall Architecture: