There Comes A Time In Every Collective's Life When . . .

"I was there..."

by Josef Brinckmann


Josef Brinckman and the Conspiracy of Equals

Up to the point I became involved (mid-1988) Komotion had perpetuated itself 'month to month' without much planning and/or structure, which worked fine in many ways. Had Komotion prospered financially through its seemingly haphazard modus operandi, I'm sure we would have left it alone and never seriously discussed a new organizational structure. Unfortunately the monthly burden and panic to make ends meet typically fell on Mat and Robin's shoulders. Due to their very high level of commitment to the collective, along with their creativity, they always worked things out somehow. (Though I'm sure it was a pain in the but for them.)

Actually, my initial hit was that Komotion attracted a fair share of magical good fortune. It seemed that every time the bills came due, windfalls in the form of donations, grants, or Looters publishing advance funds would coincide. I didn't feel, however, that Komotion could count on a continuous future of anomalies.

Anyway, it was sometime in 1987 or 1988 that Mat Callahan encouraged me to join and participate actively in the collective. Though Komotion was comprised mostly of artists coming from the Bay Area's World-Beat scene, and I had come from the Pop-Rock scene, we shared common ground when it came to politics and the music bit. I had just finished six years of 'do-it-yourself' self-produced records and self-promoted tours with my group the Defectors, and I was fairly disillusioned and battle scarred from that experience. I longed to develop creatively distanced from the judgment and influence of investors, managers, talent buyers, A&R representatives and entertainment critics.

I came into Komotion initially only to rent rehearsal space with my friend Federico Gil-Sola, who had also developed a healthy dose of cynicism during his years on CBS Records as drummer for Wire Train. Fedi and I plotted many decidedly non-commercial, eclectic and multi-cultural projects on the Komotion stage (HET, Las Madres del Che, Tribe, Wasreal, Zendiks, etc.). Together we joined Penelope Houston's band as well. It was really a great time. We were more excited about performing at Komotion, New College, or some south-of-market art gallery than any regular gig. Well it didn't take too long for me to get interested in a more active participation within the collective.

With my exceptionally anal organizational skills and my partner Bonnie Kirkpatrick's penchant for budgeting, we realized, together, that we had some talents that the collective could benefit from. Bonnie and I eventually volunteered to assist in the management of the day-to-day business operations of the collective. Initially we worked closely with Mat and Robin to build a financial history in order to discover our actual 'costs to operate' and to ultimately define an operating budget for the future. This exercise enabled us to identify our various sources of income and to project how much money we needed to consistently earn from each source of income in order for the collective to remain solvent. These projections were the tools we used each month to establish our goals for each potential income source. Bonnie used basic bookkeeping skills to keep a ledger and to run spreadsheets on our Macintosh. (Bonnie still manages my personal finances today and gives me a weekly allowance.)

Around this time period Robin took responsibility for the large tasks of coordinating activities related to obtaining legal non-profit status, establishing a board of directors, grant writing, etc. If memory serves me right Robin also coordinated writing the initial job descriptions for each volunteer position and the basic Standard Operating Procedures for running an event from beginning to end. It was sometimes challenging getting enough qualified people to regularly and enthusiastically volunteer for the late house manager positions for live events. One of the position's responsibilities was to fill out a nifty worksheet, that I had designed, to itemize the evening's expenses and earnings. The completed worksheet and money was then to be promptly turned in to Bonnie for bookkeeping purposes. For some reason we experienced only limited compliance from house managers so this system didn't really work too well. We did a lot of after the fact guess work and reconstructing for the books. I suspect their was some resistance to becoming too organized or businesslike, or perhaps too much good generic beer occasionally obfuscated the house manager's otherwise sound judgment.

Komotion's sources of income at the time included: live event net receipts including concessions, rehearsal hall monthly rental fees, recording studio hourly rental fees, membership fees, donations, grants, publication subscriptions, merchandise. For the most part we relied heavily on the live events and the rehearsal hall for most of our projected income. At times these two income activities functioned to subsidize the other operations of the collective which were not consistently profitable.

Despite the harsh financial realities that faced us from time to time we still managed to keep creativity a higher priority than money. We agreed to entertain occasional spec-time recording projects wherein there was no guarantee of a return on our investment of studio time plus producer and engineer labor. In this way the collective supported the development of certain member artists who were attracting record label attention but at the same time were unable to finance the costs of producing a professional recording. If Komotion and/or the artist were successful in selling the tapes to a label, only then would Komotion studio recover the investment. The last performing group that Bonnie and I were members of, before leaving San Francisco, the Conspiracy of Equals (1990-92), were gracious recipients of a Komotion spec-time deal which was produced by Mat. Though the Conspiracy did quite well in the clubs we were not successful at all in securing any real support for our recordings from the record labels, which was really too bad. It was a worthy project.

Eventually the Komotion recording studio became fully integrated into the collective as a contributing source of income and we established goals for the studio to bring in its share. This was not as easy as it sounds by virtue of the physical design and layout of the warehouse space. In order for the studio to book a recording session it had to work around the schedules of our member bands' rehearsal sessions as well as around the schedule of live events. This was because the recording sessions usually required use of the main stage and hallway (art gallery). This often brought up questions of which activity was more important. The studio could not take advantage of opportunities to lure in projects requiring a block of time because of compromises it had to make with the other regular users of the hall. Studio activity was further limited by having to finish recording sessions by 10 PM because of audible bleed-through to the neighbors' bedroom behind the main stage wall.

Bonnie and I were typically able to negotiate the conflicting schedules effectively and lobby one another on behalf of our constituents who were requesting use of the space. I managed the rehearsal hall scheduling and was also an active member of the live- events booking committee. Bonnie managed the recording studio schedule and Celeste managed scheduling for the art gallery. This all usually worked pretty well. On rare occasions people would show up to use the space unannounced or unscheduled. This simply led to the printing, distributing and posting of monthly schedules in order to resolve any space-use conflicts on the spot. I even recall some occasions where non-members arrived to the space with keys that they had copied from some former member. They innocently assumed that Komotion was a loose enough scene that could just drop by and use the space. Needless to say keys had a way of duplicating themselves quickly and we therefore changed the locks whenever things got out of hand.

Basic math. We eventually settled on some rough equations for monthly projected income. At the time we required the performance space to pull in around $400 per weekend event and about $200 per weeknight event with and overall goal of around $1500 per month income. Though our live events were typically fund-raising benefits for activist groups in our community we still needed to take our fair share from the gross in order to exist for our community. We needed the rehearsal hall to generate at least $1000 per month by charging each member band $200 per month for eight 4 hour rehearsal slots. We needed the recording studio to bring in at least $500 per month through any creative means possible.

Projecting is one thing. Collecting is another. Bonnie and I shared the occasionally unsavory task of collecting money owed to the collective each month, from member bands as well as form outside groups paying to record at our studio. Invariably on the 29th and 30th of the month we'd start the phone calling. Sometimes we'd find that a member troup was suddenly out of town doing a gig and not expected back for a week or so. They just forgot to get their rent paid before they left town. Sometimes a member band would decide one week into the month that they weren't going to use all of their rehearsal time and would therefore like a refund or credit towards the following month. We eventually tried a policy that made each band responsible to pay their full monthly fee whether they actually used their scheduled time or not. They could choose to sub-let the time to another band if they wanted but the financial responsibility was still theirs. That worked sometimes.

The office. In the early years the office was Mat and Robin's living room, phone and answering machine by default. We had all felt that an office space at the actual warehouse was not manageable for a wide variety of reasons. At some point I offered to let my home phone and answering machine become the office. My phone began to ring so much, day and night, that we thought it would be a good idea to establish regular office hours to conduct business on behalf of the collective. The idea was that it might be cheaper and more efficient to answer the phone when it rings rather than always trying to return calls later when you get around to it.

This idea merely required a dedicated location with a desk, phone, answering machine, filing cabinet, and some volunteer labor. Somehow the idea of an actual office with somebody answering the phone and actually responding to phone and mail messages made it all seem a bit more real to me. Bonnie and I set up one of the bedrooms in our flat to function as the Komotion office. At first we tried to stick to regular office hours of 3 to 6 PM. We left the office hours information on the answering machine message so that people calling in would know when they could reach a human being. That human being was usually John Zaro, Caroleen Beatty, Bonnie or myself. The office became the conduit for collective materials, publications, orders for merchandise, accounts receivable and accounts payable. Around this time we also began to boldly mail out regular press releases to the media in order to publicize our activities and special events.

By the early 1990s many of our regular volunteer laborers had heavier demands placed on their time due to their own musical careers gaining momentum. At the same time Komotion's success as a viable venue and commercial recording studio warranted more time and energy than ever before. These two factors justified our decision to create a new part-time paid position for an office administrator. This was a difficult process and decision to make because their were many people who volunteered their labor regularly who felt that some compensation to them might be reasonable as well if the collective could afford it. I recall that we also began to compensate the sound engineers for their work at live events. Bonnie and I left San Francisco in 1992. Before we left we assisted in the transition which moved the Komotion office from our flat to an actual office building located near the building. We handed the bookkeeping responsibilities over to Fred and the office administration over to Ann.

In closing I want to comment on some of the important roles Komotion has played for artists. Because the booking committee was good humored and generally open to most any creative performance idea, the stage served as a 'safe' environment for me to gradually develop characters, concepts and themes in a way that would have been virtually impossible within the constraints of commercial nightclub gigging. At Komotion one could find support for artistic ideas that fall outside the narrow scope that defines what is commercially marketable. What is commercially marketable is a constantly moving target. Too many artists try to mold their work into those narrow parameters established by unqualified booking agents, talent scouts and A&R reps. That brand of creativity is analogous to commissioned art which one gets compensated for handsomely only if the King likes it. However, you are off to the guillotine if the King disapproves.

Whether during rehearsal time, open-mike night, or scheduled performance the Komotion stage offered the opportunity to try new ideas on an audience of one's peers and benefit from generally constructive and honest critique. All of this without worrying about whether the bar sold enough booze during your show for the club owner to justify booking your act again.

I recall trying some ideas at Komotion which may have actually "tried" the patience of those in attendance. The 'Nude Show' comes to mind as it was designed to challenge and provoke active audience participation. The setting was intended to be intentionally uncomfortable in order to Push people's buttons for the sake of sparking an interesting banter. With no regard to political correctness I portrayed a mini-skirted female talk show host with an irritatingly exaggerated French accent and my guests were two naked, cigarette smoking men. We engaged in a pre-rehearsed sociopolitical dialogue that was intended to tweak the audience as they were expecting some form of comedy or performance art because of our costumes, or lack of costumes. We wanted to challenge the notion that serious social discourse only occurs amongst properly dressed "straight" individuals and only in certain smoky cafes where poets and thinkers sip coffee all day. I recall the 'Nude Show' ended rather abruptly after I asked my naked guests something like: "Do you believe that the proletariat masses are unsophisticated or stupid and therefore need to be guided by and intelligentsia?" Before the naked men could begin to answer this question my friend Jess Grant, seated in the audience, shouted to the stage: "Are the comedians stupid and therefore need to be shown what to do?" At which point a naked Nathan Yrizarri stood up and sharply contested: "What? Do you see any comedians? I don't see any comedians!" And he proceeded into a mini-improvised tirade as the show came to a logical conclusion. This show was not exactly successful but it remains a very funny memory that I keep. And then there was the "12 Bass Guitars of Christmas." A one time only performance that produced an ominous low frequency hum not unlike the sound that generates from below the earth's surface in the seconds just before a magnitude 7.0 earthquake. The intoxicating sound of impending doom disguised within a familiar and seemingly harmless holiday carol.

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