Backthird won't survive the pandemic. Here's what that means.

In mid-October, Backthird Entertainment is closing for good.

Here’s why that’s happening – and a bit of what it means to me, the founder, after 15 years of weddings and events.

Click here to Click here to skip to the "why" part. Or read on for how we're caring for existing Backthird clients.

Backthird will perform events through October 10.

If you’ve got an event booked with us on or before October 10, 2020, and you’re following the state’s COVID-19 guidelines (see page 4 of this document) we’ll be there to help you celebrate just as planned. Nothing changes for you.

 

We'll transfer contracts for events after October 10.

If you’ve got an event booked with us after October 10, 2020, we’ll be transferring your contract directly to your DJ or lead musician.

With this transfer of contract, your terms remain essentially the same. The balance due for your services remains the same, too. You’ll still owe what you owed. And in most cases, you’ll still have the same DJ or same musicians you would have had with Backthird. They’ll just be independent now.

If your event is after October 10, your Account Manager will reach out with an updated contract in the next week or two to complete this transfer. We’re working through our calendar in order – so if your booking is for 2021 or 2022, please be patient. We’re juggling a lot here.

Read more about how contract transfers will work in this FAQ.

 

If you don’t want to keep your booking…

Transferring your contract means you keep the services you already booked at the price you already agreed to pay. There’s not much reason NOT do to this.

Still, we won’t force you.

  • You can cancel your existing contract and release us from further financial obligation. Just send me an email that says that – “I’m cancelling my contract and releasing Backthird from further financial obligation" – and we’ll call it done.
  • You can accuse us of defaulting on your contract and demand a refund of whatever you’ve paid us so far. Send me an email (or have your lawyer do it) with your contact info and ask to be added to our list of creditors.

I don't know why you'd take the second option when you could keep your same performers at your same fee. It makes my life harder. But it's your choice.

If you take the second option above, be aware that you’re not likely to get much money back if we go bankrupt. We’ll have to wait and see – but my prediction is, when we shut down, there will be nothing left.

There will be nothing left. 

 

All work and no pay

Backthird Entertainment incorporated in 2003. We were a recording studio at first; we started doing weddings in 2005. In fifteen years, the wedding business grew from me and a few bandmates to a 4-person office team supporting almost 30 DJs and musicians.

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2020 should have been our best year ever. We worked hard all 2019, filling up our 2020 calendar. We updated and refurbished DJ rigs and trained new musical ensemble leaders over Winter to make sure we would be ready for the huge year of event work we had booked.

You already know what happened next.

The pandemic meant a different kind of work for us – the unpaid kind. I’m proud of how our office team has spent long hours these last 6 months rescheduling and reassuring our existing clients, keeping up with changing state and local safety guidelines, and taking costly ethical stands when clients and industry peers asked us to bend or break those guidelines and put individuals and communities at risk of outbreaks.

We’ve spent the last 6 months taking care of people as well as we could. We’ve tried to keep love as our guide. I’m proud of how we’ve navigated this long storm.

But no one paid us to do that.

In the events business, you get paid for going to events. Not for rescheduling them. Not for reassuring clients. Not for learning and enforcing public health guidelines.

So we’ve worked hard, but without revenue.

You can’t do that forever.

 

Re-imagining the wedding

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I’m also proud of how we’ve hustled, innovated and created something wholly new these past 6 months. Huge Little Wedding is a novel and unprecedented way to get the interactions and emotions of a wedding gathering WITHOUT having to gather 150 people in the same physical space.

We stripped down the elements we felt comprised a wedding – shared laughs, beauty, words of affirmation – and we reassembled them in an entirely new way.

Launching Huge Little Wedding was a LOT of work, like trying to build a brand-new business even as we watched the old one burning down around us. There was no time for market research. We created a new sort of online celebration – not because our clients asked for one, but because there was literally no other way to do the things we do and help create the feelings we create at weddings without putting public health at risk. We drew on 15 years of industry experience, then took a chance on something new. We had no choice; the old thing wasn’t safe.

We spent six months on one long shot, one huge Hail Mary pass.

I joked, when we kicked off Huge Little Wedding, that it’d either be an Apple iPhone or an Apple Newton. It turned out to be the Newton – an intriguing, innovative product hardly anyone has wanted.

Couples - at least those we've tried our concept on - aren't ready to re-imagine weddings. They're still grieving, or denying, that they can't have the traditional in-person wedding our industry has spent decades teaching them to want.

They want what they can't have. My team went out and built a wedding couples CAN have - but it isn't what what they want.

That hurts.

But it’s ok. We had to try.

And now we’re out of time.

 

The end, and after that

Our sales these last few months have dropped to about 10% of what they used to be. Performance revenue is next to nothing, since most 2020 clients either have postponed their weddings or are planning parties we can’t ethically participate in.

Where's that leave us? We can’t safely do the work we’ve been booked for, and we can’t get booked for the work that we can safely do.

I guess we're done.

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America has done an awful job of managing coronavirus, and an awful job of backing up the little businesses – especially events businesses like mine – that have been most affected by it. Early on, our national leaders chose denial as a strategy, which requires them to be blind to those most hurt by the pandemic in this country. More than half a year in, they’re still spending energy recasting death statistics and promoting lies about recovery instead of casting vision for acceptance and for national unity in shared sacrifice.

We could have come together to protect those whose health makes them vulnerable. We could have come together to protect those whose particular business markets make them vulnerable. We could have set a goal of “leave no one behind.”

Instead, we’ve chosen “everybody for themselves.”

We might have stood together. But we fall apart.

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And so, it seems like this thing’s going to stretch on for a while yet. We can’t sit here, running payroll without income, while we wait. We’re out of time.

Not every wedding business is like Backthird Entertainment – lots of wedding vendors WILL get through this. Some will just keep working, meeting the financial threat of the pandemic by ignoring the health threat large parties pose to the most vulnerable among us. But most will opt for austerity instead: They’ll cut and cut expenses until they’re not really businesses at all, just individuals with wedding skills who work side hustles and part-time jobs while they wait for the pandemic to subside and parties to come back.

When parties come back, they’ll rebuild.

We thought about this option. At Backthird, we called it “hibernation”: Shut down everything you can, then try to slumber through the long financial winter. I considered firing everybody in my office, cutting overhead and marketing expenses to the bone, and running everything alone for next to no pay for a year or two in hopes that parties might come back strong after that.

If they came back, I could rebuild then. I would be ready.

But I’d be alone.

Backthird would still exist on paper, but my friends and co-conspirators would mostly have moved on. I’d have to regrow, re-establish, re-attract, re-train. We wouldn’t be the oak we are today; we’d be an acorn. Waking up and putting down new roots would take a long time.

That’s a lovely process – but I lived it once already, 15 years ago. I built this business. I’ve had that adventure.

I don’t need the same adventure twice.

I’d rather find a new one. Let someone else who loves music and loves weddings build in this spot now. Let other dreams take root in this particular soil.

I hope they will. We’re closing down the Backthird office on September 25; our office team’s last act will be to hand off more than 180 contracts – worth almost $200,000 – to the DJs, jazz and string musicians who’ve worked faithfully with us for years. My office can’t subsist until events come back, but individuals can. They will.

Some of them will take enough Backthird contracts on to make a modest living from events in 2021 – and they can funnel that head-start into their own new music businesses when the pandemic ends, if that’s what they decide to do. They're dreaming new plans up already over socially distanced drinks. They're asking what begins when this thing ends.

Perhaps not much; nobody knows yet. But perhaps new businesses will sprout, here or elsewhere, as this one dies. Backthird won’t be an oak, but we can be a dandelion. We can go up in a puff, leaving a cloud of opportunity behind us for the wind to catch and carry.

Who knows where it lands, or what will grow in years to come. I hope I get to see it.


b-selfs-2005-2020-dt- Benjie Hughes, Backthird Entertainment