The Unfortunate Problem with Conventions

Wax Chaotic’s first ever concert was performed at InConJunction in 2011. InCon is one of our local science-fiction conventions, and the two of us have attended it every year for over a decade now. It’s one of the few conventions we plan on attending every year, whether or not we make it onto the schedule. We would love to attend more cons as just ourselves and not as Wax Chaotic, but it’s just not in the budget. Sadly, we’ve reached the point at which attending cons even as the band isn’t within the budget, either. Which is why in 2015, the number of conventions for which Wax Chaotic volunteers will be drastically reduced.

Since that particular InCon, we’ve had the good fortune to perform at many fine conventions around the Midwest and beyond. In fact, we’ve played at more conventions than we have any other type of event or venue. On the whole, it’s been a lot of fun. These are events put on by people who really love a lot of the stuff we love, and they’re all dedicated to giving everyone a fun weekend. But the end of our 2014 tour will mark the end of an era, at least for us.

Because while conventions are a lot of fun to play at, they are also unfortunately very expensive for us. We normally don’t like talking about money in such a public manner—it feels too much like airing our dirty laundry. But money is what currently makes most of the Western world go ’round, and so it’s a necessary evil that everyone has to deal with. And as independent musicians, we don’t have a great deal of it.

Sadly, neither do a lot of fan-run conventions. Conventions are frequently only ever able to pay for things like lodging and travel expenses for their honorary attendees, which of course we do understand. But this means that the financial end of things is pretty painful for us. At any given con, we usually have to pay at least $100 in registration fees; at least twice that for a hotel room; and $40 to $80 for gas, depending on where the event is (and we drive a Prius V that has really good gas mileage). Then there’s also food, parking fees, and vehicle maintenance. And if we want dedicated vending space for the entire weekend, there’s usually an additional fee involved there, too. That all adds up pretty quickly.

So it’s pretty painful all around. On the one hand, the convention people want to put on a good event for their attendees, with a variety of programming and activities to enjoy. And on the other hand, people like us just can’t keep volunteering for events at which they have to pay to play.

Another problem with playing at conventions is that we are by far not the only thing there is to see at such an event. As a result, we don’t tend to recoup the related expenses through merch sales. That sort of business model is only sustainable for so long, and we’ve about reached our limit.

So in 2015, we intend to focus more on other venue and event types. We would love to hear about your favorite coffee house, bookstore, festival, or library, and we would also be thrilled to come perform in your home or worship space (we fit in well at Pagan events and UU churches).

And please, if you’re doing programming for a con and you want us to come, don’t let that stop you from inviting us—that’s different than if we send a cold email with our hands up looking to get on the schedule. We know your finances are just as tight as ours, but if you want us badly enough to go to the trouble of inviting us, maybe we can work something out.

We’ve had a lot of great fun at various conventions over the last few years, and we can’t thank all of them enough for giving us spaces to play. They’ve been really welcoming (and forgiving) as we’ve worked to find our way. But it’s time to take a break from volunteering for them for a little while. In the meantime, if you’re looking for new cons to go to, ask us about our favorites. We’ll talk your ear off.

And we look forward to seeing you in 2015 at a café, in a bookstore, or maybe even in your own backyard.

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2 thoughts on “The Unfortunate Problem with Conventions

  1. Yes, I have to agree that “pay for play” equals volunteering. That’s a generous thing to do, but volunteering doesn’t put food on the table at home. Wax Chaotic is performing at a level that deserves to be professionally compensated. I look forward to seeing Wax Chaotic appearing in new venues.

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