Hello, HarmonyCon! The Newest Convention.

Part One: Meeting the Chairs and HarmonyCon's History
Foal Duke, International Affairs Correspondent, Addison, Texas, 10 Feb 2019

GeekBrony's set at the Friday night rave. Thanks to ASP Productions who filmed it all.
(Image taken from video by Foal Duke for HN).

At HarmonyCon back in Feb, I was able to sit down with the Chairs of HarmonyCon, the newest convention in the fandom and the successor to the much vaunted Nightmare Nights Dallas. They gave us the history of the convention and some very impportant advice for you if you wish to run one yourself. Did it fill the Stetsons?
    See the video and article after the break to find out! Don't forget to comment, follow, subscribe, and catch us at @HorseNewsMLP and our vids at Horse News TV #horsenewsMLP. For a story, tip, or question, @RealFDuke.

Foal Duke: 'How did you guys get into the fandom? What's your history?'
    Tyler: 'For me, when I was at UT, my friend Michael who I did history courses with, was training to be a Navy Seal, but sadly had to quit because his eyesight grew bad. We were hanging out one day and he asked me to watch the show with him. I'm thinking, 'Really? My Little Pony? Come on, man! You're going into the Army!'
    'It wasn't a huge stretch as I've always been into cartoons. But I was still a bit skeptical. So I watched the first couple episodes... OK, this wasn't as bad as I expected. I go home, there's nothing on TV I want to watch. I look around... no-one else is home right?
And I figured, well, if there's nothing else on I might as well have to watch an episode. And then, after, I thought, now I have to see the next one. And then, the next and the next... and then I have to watch all the episodes! And even then it was... like, a really good show,'
    Pepper is sniggering at this.
    Tyler continues. 'But what got me into the fandom aspect of it was the song 20% Cooler by Ken Ashcorp. I'd been listening to his previous music and ended up favoriting the son and I didn't even think about it being a brony song at first, which is funny! Considering how widespread that meme is.
    'And then Youtube started suggesting MORE Brony music, and I thought, 'this sounds interesting, what's Daddy Discord? Oh, OK! I started listening to more and more and thought, what is going on here? What is all of this stuff?'
    Pepper: 'Youtube made you a brony with its algorithms!'
    Tyler: [Puts his hands up]. 'Youtube made me a brony!'
    Pepper: 'Youtube's algorith is written by bronies. I can confirm. I got into the fandom in Feb 2011. My brother introduced me to the show via the original 4Chan threads [laughs cautiously]! And, basically, I was bored, and homeschooled at the time (a sophomore in high school I think?) and he made me watch Sonic Rainboom. That was my first episode, I think I had actually just come out, and the first pony I saw was Rainbow Dash, and she's still best pony to this day!'
    He laughs, nervously, because he knows she's worst pony really...
    FD: 'We'll have to edit that out. So sorry!' He is of course joking... he loves all ponies because he is a pleb.*
    Pepper: 'Anyway, Rainbow Dash is best pony, and after the episode OF COURSE I binge-watched the rest for the next 5 hours that night and the next day after that I just watched the rest of the episodes. It was only Season 1 so it didn't take as long as others would take I suppose. After that I can across Eq***tria D**ly and I saw all the fanction posted there... And I saw Odyssey, the first big brony musician, and his songs on there, and I saw Luna on there...
    'I just instantly thought, "Woah, this is cool!' There's all these people making high-quality songs about little cartoon ponies!" As I mentioned, I was homeschooled, so I found myself staying at home and I had nothing better to do! So I just got into the pony fandom that way, you know? I made good friends, and started a local meetup group in Arlington, Texas.
    'It was originally called North Texas Bronies. Chef Sandy** actually ran that group! And I just I met my group of friends there. We're still friends, but most of them aren't in the fandom anymore, but hey, we still have close bonds!'

*This article was edited by Chelis.
**Chair of Nightmare Nights Dallas (2013 - 2017)

FD: Did that become Dallas Fort Worth bronies?
    Pepper: [Thinks for a moment]. 'No, I don't think so, but then, I think NTB did spread out into multiple groups over time. So, I was with my local group - NTB were a far drive and I'd just started driving, so I actually got people to meet up closer to Arlington. And that was a little private group we started, not a big public group.'
    'From there, more online, I was involved with MY LITTLE PONY MINECRAFT SERVERS!' After laughing at his own nerdiness, he justifies it: 'Well, Minecraft was popular back then! And it still is! And I helped staff the servers. I helped build Equestria maps on there, and worldbuilding and so on.
    'As for the social part of the community, I worked for Poniverse for a while as a social media manager. I worked for Ponyville Live for a little while, helping stream at cons. I just... dunno... I did all kinds of things and ended up running a con one day even though I told myself "I'll never do that! I'm not crazy!"'
    Tyler: 'We are!'
    Pepper: 'We are though, yeah!    '

FD: 'What made you want to start this con? Apart from the fact NND had ended? What made you guys think "Hey, we could do this!"? Were there any hurdles in the set-up? Did some things come easier than expected? E.g., the local pre-existing staff from NND?'
    Tyler: 'Obviously, after NND, a lot of people wanted to see something carry it on. So local groups like the DFW bronies, UT and others got some representatives together and began talking about it. We didn't want a knee-jerk reaction, so we waited a couple of months before our first meeting in December 2017, when we met at IHOP.'
    Pepper: 'At the meeting, most people just threw out whatever they wanted as a suggestion!'
    Tyler: 'So we called Bob up and asked him some non-biased questions about what we needed going into this.'
    NOTE: Around this time there was another meetup group, UC Merced Bronies, starting up, and they helped me make a little video with some comprehensive advice on what to do when starting a group.
    Pepper: 'We were very cautious from the beginning, and always asking, 'How viable is this, at all?'   
    Tyler: 'At that point we started setting things up, and discussing the times and dates for our activities.'
    Pepper: '...Which we had to change because we were slow on it, but we got there...'
    Tyler: 'We wanted at least a year to plan things, and we also didn't want it in Summer, competing with the conventions!'
    Pepper: 'Even spring. As for our roles, they all fell together over time too.'
    Tyler: 'We felt like nobody really was really stepping forward into the role.
    Pepper: 'I was actually one of the biggest opponents of another convention, at first. I feared I might scare everybody away! (Because I had knowledge of some cons not being followed through on).'

It's important to note that Chef Sandy couldn't find anyone when he tried to look for a new NND chair before leaving, which is why NND had to shut down. The fandom needs to be more proactive. We rely on each other. We rely on you, reader. Get out there and do something for it, us and yourself, while you're still young!
--Foal Duke

Part Two: Set Up, Strategy, and Learning How to Run a Con

 Pepper: 'I've heard people say they were going to start a con all the time. And that's great, I'm sure people would love it, but... I've had experience as part of a group that wanted to, but as soon as I joined I realised just how easy a mistake it is to make! I think that helped a lot, as it made me question everything we did! Even if I had faith in something, I thought it might be wrong. PROBABLY wrong!
    Tyler: 'You were just the most vocal reporter of every problem that could come up!'
    Pepper: 'I was just starting to continue my education at University after community college, and I was urging myself to focus on school. And how I had to start a career, or whatever! I won't get involved in a project like this that'll take up all my time!'
    FD: 'And then you do...'
    Pepper: 'I felt like I wanted to but I didn't want to... but if these people are going to do it anyway then I should at least help.'
    FD: 'So it's almost like you say 'I'm not going to do this,' knowing you secretly want to.'
    Pepper:  'I want to, but I don't!' [Laughs].
    FD: 'It crosses your mind...'
    Pepper: 'My mind's telling me no, but my body's telling me yes!'
    Tyler: 'It's like, you want this to happen, but you don't really want to do it yourself. Yet you realise, if you don't, it's not gonna happen.'
    Pepper: 'But people are going to do it anyway, so at least try to make sure it's done right. When I first set out to help these guys, I didn't hang around and think, 'Hey, I'm gonna be Chair!' but 'I'm gonna see how I can help.'

FD: ''It's the same with watching Pony in the first place. You think, "Huh, I might want to watch that... No, I don't wanna watch it! That's stupid!"... and within a week, you're watching it.
    Pepper: 'For a good month or two, I wasn't the Chair. I just ended up slowly building up to having more say in how things were discussed, and eventually I said, 'Hmm, maybe this guy should be the other chair!'
    Tyler: 'I must've impressed the group, because I said, 'If this is going to happen, I don't want to do it by myself. I want at least one other person. I'm not going to be able to do it myself. I'm not going to take on the financial responsibility by myself!'
    Pepper: 'We had to share it right?'
    Tyler: 'So if HC hadn't done well, we'd both be chairing that debt. Luckily, we've done very well, especially on expenses.'
    Pepper: 'We've done far better than I thought we would.'

FD: 'Could we have a breakdown of your expenditures and how much you've made back?'
    Pepper: 'That's hard to say without looking at paper, but we broke even many months ago.'
    Tyler: 'I mean there are little things that probably popped up that hampered it a bit...'
    Pepper: 'Yes. But we've remained skeptical about everything up to this point. So we set margins. 'It looks like it'll cost this much, so we'll double it just in case.'
    Tyler: 'Factoring in the numbers I was given... Estimate $4 unexpected costs per projected attendee. So, we initially projected only 300, maybe 400.'
    Pepper:  'I think we were shooting a little high at first, for 500-600, but given small cons at this point in the fandom, I said to aim for 300-400, max.'
    Tyler:  'Based on input and advice from other con heads.'

FD: 'What were the final attendance figures?'
    Pepper: 'I think just over 500. We shot low and achieved something better. Awesome, y'know?'
    Tyler: 'A lot of that came in those last few weeks.'
    So be prepared for a peak near the end of ticket sales! See also our Everfree Encore 2018 Staff Interview on HorseNewsTV at #horsenewsMLP
    Pepper: [Laughs, knowing the pain of con work.] Everyone registers in the last few weeks!'
    Tyler: 'Honestly, if they'd registered SOONER, we probably could've done a bit more in terms of guests.* But that's fine, we expected that, and we can use that data for a future year (or whenever we do decide to do this again) and it'll go to charity.'

* i.e. more money, earlier on, plus a clearer picture of finances/projections too

FD: 'OK. Obviously you can't be too detailed yet, but what were your expenditures?'
    Pepper: '[Thinks.]. I want to say $25,000 - $35,000. I could be wrong - that was how it looked last on the spreadsheet, but there were unexpected costs over the weekend.'
    Tyler: 'For example, during the incident on Friday night, we had to get a new room for one of our VIP guests.'
    FD: 'Was that one of the doors that got kicked in?'
    Tyler: 'No, but it was freezing outside and we didn't know when they'd be allowed back into the hotel. We had to do this right.
    Pepper: 'We have to treat our VIPs well. Take care of them, and such.'
    Tyler: 'Stuff like that. Or doing a water run, although that was sorted by Fiore Tankgirl.'
    Pepper: 'That was just the fan community helping out.'

FD: 'Why did you choose to hold the con in February, rather than October or November like NND?
    Pepper: 'To be honest, a little competition. He is then interrupted by the door again.'
    Tyler: 'A little bit of competition, but also, at the time, if we were to aim for October, we'd only have SIX MONTHS from announcement. Or a year and a half, which would be way too long, and we might feel there would probably be diminishing interest then, and we needed to engage the community and keep them active.'
    For the record, the con was announced in April 2018.
    Pepper: 'We were originally shooting for November, but at that point there was not enough time. So we decided to push it up. It's hard to go into Spring, extremely hard to go into Summer. We just tried to stay away from everyone else. We were going to be the first con of the year but Canada pops back up with Vanhoover, which is cool*, and I heard people had a great time there.'

*He is shaking with quiet rage as he says this.

FD: 'Who would you be competing with in October?'
    Pepper: 'Ciderfest. We knew people would probably go there instead - well, not instead, but with NND gone, people would take it as a chance to see Ciderfest. They're bigger, more established, and even I would probably do the same. Not if I LIVED here, but if I was in between, and it would cost similar amounts to see both, so I'd probably go there.
    'So that's another thing: we put ourselves in attendee's shoes.'

Part Three: Facts, Figures & Filling the Shoes from Nightmare Nights

in the next bit of our interview, we got the breakdown of their attendees and ticket types, and so on to see if they lived up to the expectations of Nightmare Nights Dallas in the latest of my nitpicking escapades. By most accounts given to me by staff and attendees, the answer would have to be a resounding yes.

FD: 'Obviously, some of your staff were carry-overs from Nightmare Nights. How much of your staff fell into that category?'
    Pepper: 'That's hard to say completely...'
    Tyler: 'Element of Smash was second in command for vendors at NND. He's our vendor lead. Chris Mnuchin worked security. Security called themselves Royal Guard. He was highly recommended as well. He's done an excellent job.'
    Pepper: 'When it came to staffing, we knew we were unexperienced as chairs and needed strong leadership. Getting these guys was a bonus. Especially on vending and security, you don't just say you trust a random guy - get someone who's done it before.'
    Tyler: 'Same for Fred in VIP Relations. He couldn't make it, but he came recommended by the Chair of EQLA.'
    Pepper: 'It's funny how we came across him, though.'
    Tyler: 'Yeah! He was part of an attempt to host a convention on a Youtube channel CALLED HARMONYCON. EQLA had supposedly been cancelled that year, so they were starting a HarmonyCon in LA.
    Pepper: 'But we didn't even know that existed! Not until we thought of the name and Googled it to be sure. Through that, someone found Fred.'
    Tyler: 'Chris Mnuchin contacted them to ask to use the name, and it turns out Fred is an established VIP handler!'

FD: 'So, was there anything you think you could've improved on, or done well in? Anything you might've improved on from Nightmare Nights, or mistakes avoided?'
    Tyler: 'I feel we did a good job in musical talent, given the fact it's first year con, and we had a large pool of talent. We did an excellent job making sure they could come without ruining other areas of our budget.
    'And also our response to the incident on the first night. Given how it went, we could've done a lot worse making sure everyone was out, safe, and a timely response as soon as we got info. I feel we could've most improved on the charity auction, which was a bit disorganised at the start. Could've done better.'
    Pepper: 'There were a few incidents, but we resolved each in about an hour. Probably should've trained and planned more a little bit beforehand. Still, with all those experienced staff helping us, we managed.'

FD: 'Was there anything you did differently to Nightmare Nights and why'
    Pepper: 'Just, well, every con has its specialties, based on who the staff know and who runs it. I have deep-rooted connections with a lot of fan musicians. That's how this started I think - I knew how to contact a bunch of people. And LuckRock (sp?) was amazing, helping us to put it together.
    'Originally I was going to plan the concert, but I figured it'd be best if he did it!* Basically, I wanted more horse music at the NND concerts (not that they were bad, but it's a genre choice). I always had a good time at those concerts and wanted to put more in.
    'And I think, in our circumstance, where we were trying to budget tightly and could only get a few VIPs, I made the connection and figured if we have to specialize, music would be a good avenue for that.So I think our concert was better than Nightmare Nights, but it's like, a little!' [Laughs. Nervously.]

*So don't forget to delegate!   

FD: 'I noticed the layout was a little different to NND. Why was that?'
    Tyler:  'We had about a third of NND's attendees. So, having NND's layout would feel too empty. And our programming wouldn't fill it all. So it was more about basing it on projected attendance.'
    Pepper: 'In our experience, vendor hall was nearly always in the same location. There was one year where they split it in two - the artist's alley and the vendor halls.'
    Tyler: 'But, we actually followed their layout. With the main events in Trinity Hall, and then the vendor hall.'
    Pepper: 'The only differences? No rooms downstairs, and we had those three in the back area.'

FD: 'Why choose those three at the back instead?'
    Pepper: 'They are smaller, but we and the hotel agreed it would be easier to have it all on the same floor. Plus, of course, a smaller attendance for a smaller con.'
    FD: 'Yes. It's closer, basically.'
    Pepper: 'Yes, and it also turned out to be a better deal. As far as I know, it worked out. There's been no negative feedback. It was easier for us to monitor and do rounds, too.'
    FD: 'Especially after the  bomb hoax incident on Friday night!'
    Tyler: 'Because then we had to go and make sure everyone was OK, check for damage and so on.'
    Pepper: 'We had Oak split into 3 rooms instead of 2, like NND did. Again, smaller attendance, smaller panels.'

FD: 'How much did you make in charity proceeds [for Ronald McDonald House]?'
Tyler: 'Just over $7500. PurpleTinkr came in with a bit more, so over $7550.'

FD: 'In terms of tickets, how many people had regular tickets, and sponsor tickets?'
    Tyler: 'That was actually surprising to me. We sold a LOT of Producer (top-tier sponsor) tickets. We planned to cap those at 6 based on our number of showguests (three). We want a good ratio.'
    Pepper: 'For a special event, like the VIP dinner, we don't want too many attendees there. They're paying that much for a closer, friendlier setting. We sold a lot of Showponies: you got a pen, a shirt, and faster access to Mane Events, the most important thing, as we're still small.
    'That was very popular. I think people just wanted to get their shirt for the first con. We ended up selling about 70 of those.'
    Tyler: 'We sold 70 regular sponsors (Showponies), 7 Lead Singers, and 6 Top Tier tickets. So closer to 80 if you take those too.'

FD: 'What were the other major ticket types?'
Pepper: 'Just Showpony, Lead Singer, and Producer - $100, $250, $500.'

FD: 'Favorite ponies?'
Pepper: 'Rainbow Dash.'
Tyler: 'Pinkie Pie.'

FD: 'Worst ponies?'
Pepper: 'Um...'
Tyler: 'Rainbow Dash...?'
Pepper puts up his Dukes: 'Fight me! I'll just go with Blueblood because that's easy.'

FD: 'One-percenters, right? OK, favorite episodes?'
    Pepper: 'Sonic Rainboom, first one I saw.'
    Tyler: 'Obviously it changes every Season but probably that one where Applebloom figures out what she wants to do and all the CMCs have their cutie marks - that solo song of hers was especially good.'

FD: 'That was pretty nice. Funniest and cringiest things you've seen in the fandom?'
    Pepper: 'Oh boy...'
    Tyler: 'Probably both, for me, would be at the BronyCon 2016 BURLESQUE SHOW with Ingrid Nelson (Maud Pie's VA) when MA Larson SIGNED HER POSTERIOR.'
    Pepper: 'That was... interesting.' he can only look nonplussed.
    FD: 'Knowing MA Larson, he probably discussed it with her beforehand. They probably did it to make us cringe for a joke.'
    Pepper: 'I'm sure! They're just wild. As for me? It's hard. I've seen the cringe compilations, but you're asking about what I saw in person. So... I really don't know. I've seen some crazy stuff online, but it's unavoidable. It's like these eight years of Horse has jumbled together and I can't pick something out!'

    FD: 'Maybe this interview, perhaps'
    Pepper: 'Well, well...'
    FD: 'Me, this outfit? I mean I am cringe.'
    Pepper: 'I've seen cringier than that! Come on.'
    FD: 'But this is a Hunter S Thompson cosplay, so...'

FD: 'Finally, do you have any advice for anyone thinking of starting a convention? Do you have any messages for our readers at Horse News?'
    Tyler: 'Don't do it!'
    Pepper: 'That's what we hear all the time. But if you're crazy enough to try, then establish a strong group of staff leaders first. Get people who can make it happen. Obviously, finances are the other big one.'
    Tyler:     'You've gotta be realistic, you've gotta think it through, and what can you really expect for attendance based on other conventions, other first year ones, especially, your location, the time of year, and how effectively you can advertise.'
    'You have to be reasonable with what you feel you can achieve: the number of showguests, the perks for staff, other more structural things like that.'

FD: 'Anything you want to say to Horse News readers?'
    Pepper: 'Hmm... Just... keep going to cons,* and I don't think the fandom's dying. Keep enjoying them, and look out to see if we have a HarmonyCon 2!'

*This may be the money talking. Either way, they deserve it, so give it to them! Nice of them to end on a positive note. And there you have it! Remember, share this with as many people as you can sa I am doing this for the fans only. I spend a lot of time and money on documenting as much of our pop culture history as possible and I want you all to see it.
    Peace out.

--Foal Duke

Comments (3)

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