Oakey-Eyed View of Burning Man [Update]

Paul Oakenfold is one of the few DJs who has been big in the 80’s, 90’s, Naughties, and is still going strong into the Teenies. He is as big today as he was 20 years ago, currently ranked the #69 DJ in the world. I don’t think he has ever been out of DJ Magazine’s Top 100 since the poll began. He has been the opening act for U2 and Madonna on their world tours, and remixed everything from Elvis to the James Bond theme. He also signed Salt-n-Pepa, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and “Fresh Prince” Will Smith when he was an A & R guy in New York, and he was the agent for the Beastie Boys in the UK before he was known as a DJ. He found the rave sound in Ibiza and Goa and spread it to every country in the world. He also threw the biggest rave ever in America, in Fresno.

DJ Paul Oakenfold at the Green Man, Burning Man 2007

DJ Paul Oakenfold at the Green Man, Burning Man 2007

I saw him playing in a stonehenge-type circle at Burning Man in 2004, playing whatever he wanted for about 7 hours to 50 or so people. It was one of the best nights I’ve ever had at Burning Man. He played a few times at Cargo Cult, I caught a bit of his set at White Ocean but was sadly disappointed. Simon Patterson and Asterix blew him out of the water, in my opinion. He is brilliant at playing to the crowd and he did seem to be giving them what they wanted. He’s one of the biggest names in the whole music business, in some circles even bigger than Diddy, and it’s great to have him still supporting the party.

Now we can all see a bit of what it’s like to be Oakey at Burning Man, thanks to the magic of Google Glass – yes, Oakey has joined the pack of Glassholes. Look for more “Burning Man from the DJ’s perspective” videos coming soon, I would like to see some Robot Heart sunrise ones perhaps.

The best place to see Paul Oakenfold is in Las Vegas, recently he was inducted into the Hard Rock Hotel Hall of Fame, for his services to Rehab…

[Update 11/19/13] Oakenfold has posted his set from Cargo Cult online.

2012 Financials [Update with Profit Estimate]

The Afterburn 2012 report has been published. The financials are there, but the census data isn’t. There may be other things missing too. I don’t have time tonight to go through keep the artistthe whole thing for y’all, but I did notice one thing that I wanted to point out. Currently, almost all of the art at Burning Man is community funded. The BMOrg awards art grants to a few dozen lucky artists a year, who get on average about $13,000. In 2012 the total amount of the grant was “more than $700,000”, according to Burning Man. They said it at the time in the JRS and they say it again here in this report. Well, the actual amount handed out according to the books is less than than that, $681k. What about that $19k, Burning Man? That could’ve funded 2 or 3 art projects for us to enjoy.

With the hundreds of art works and art cars coming to Burning Man each year, you’d think the BMOrg would find a way to hand that out some support to more than a chosen 47 artists. After all, they spent $84,000 on phone calls, in this age of Skype and Instagram and Snapchat…and $70,000 on uniforms and costumes (radical self-reliance at work?) I hope they enjoyed their $430,000 of travel, that’s $6 from each of us, and about $9000 per employee! Add to that another $1.27 million of meals, mmm, yummy!



2012 Cash Expenditures


Event-related expenditures:
BLM and other usage fees


Rental Equipment (heavy machinery, portable buildings, staff radio gear, cars and trucks)


Toilets (and related costs)


Honoraria provided to artists


Local Agencies (County law enforcement, Paiute Nation, Nevada Highway Patrol)


Materials and Supplies (shade structures, signage, lighting, décor, cleaning supplies, photography, archiving)


Cost of Goods for Ice, Café and Merch sales


Watering for dust abatement (equipment rental, contractor services)


Ticket sales/processing/printing fees paid to outside ticketing firm


The Man and Platform (materials, pyrotechnics, technicians, labor)


Medical Services and Supplies


Fire Safety




Small Equipment and Tools (including radio comm equip, safety & signage)


Printing (newsletter, survival guide, gate materials, postcards, stickers)


Vehicles (registration, repair, and maintenance)


Equipment Repairs, Maintenance, Cleaning


Costumes / Uniforms


Fees, Agency permits, royalties, Damages & Losses


Total event-related expenditures


Expense Categories that include both Event-related and Organizational:


Outside Services: Independent contractors


Insurance (property, liability, workers comp, vehicle)


Tax and Licenses (state and federal, payroll, misc)


Meals and Food (meetings, playa commissary, non travel)


Total Expense Categories that include both Event-related and Organizational


Total Outreach Expenses – Off-Playa Events, Regionals, Other


Year-round Expenditures of the Managing Corporation:
Outside Services (legal, consultants, accounting)


Facilities Rent


Travel (airfare, mileage reimbursements, food while traveling, accommodations for meetings, agency relations, public relations, training, etc)


Office and Computer Supplies


Utilities (San Francisco and Nevada)


Donations to local Nevada schools and organizations




Internet (hosting fees, POP accounts, high speed line)


Telephone (San Francisco and Nevada Offices, reimbursements, conference calls)


Shipping / Freight


Gifts, Promotions


Education and Training




Total year-round Expenditures of the Managing Corporation


Expenditures for Fixed Assets:


Computers and Electronics (including radio equipment)


Machinery and Equipment


Trailers and Portable Buildings


Land and Building Improvements


Furniture and Fixtures


Total Expenditures for Fixed Assets $444,631

Total Expenditures – 2012


Since BMOrg don’t want to share, we do the math, so you don’t have to.

Originally, there were just 50,000 tickets in 2012. BMOrg’s gate revenue for that was $18.5 million. Then, the special permit was increased, meaning more tickets. But, the event didn’t actually sell out, in fact attendance was slightly down on the previous year. The final attendance was 56,149, so assuming that the extra 6,149 all paid full price of $390 and there were no cash gate sales in addition, then 2012 ticket sales were $20.9m.  Did Burning Man actually lose money in 2012, when attendance dropped after the lottery fiasco?  Remember they found another $1.3 million in revenues after the event, that they forgot to account for. I believe I have those numbers included in the 56,149.

This year Cargo Cult Burners forked out more than $1 million, just on ice at Arctica. In 2012, the cost of providing ice AND coffee was $369,000, meaning this is quite likely the most profitable cafe in the entire world.

We don’t know how much additional moolah was earned from photo shoots ($150k a pop), movie royalties, and YouTube viewings…let alone equipment rental, plug-n-play camping, utilities, commissions…the list goes on, and is not public. We have to infer some of these things, from the economy we can see out there. The BLM fee is 3% of BMOrg’s total take from the event on their land. Note that there is a separate accounting line item for the other authorities. The Feds get paid $1.9 million for the use of their little patch of desert, that would otherwise just be sitting there waiting for a few land sailors to show.

[Update 10/27/13] – we have gained some further information on the breakdown of costs. The BLM Permit states that Burning Man has to cover the Feds’ costs, AND pay a 3% cut on top of that, so not all of the $1.9 million is from the commercial use fee. Here’s a more detailed breakdown of the split:

“Black Rock City LLC is responsible for payment of the actual costs of administering the Special Recreation Permit, including all direct and indirect costs, in addition to the commercial use fees.  The fees that BLM collected for the designated event period in 2008, 2009 and 2010 ranged from $989,000 to nearly $1.3 million.  In 2010, the BLM’s cost recovery from BRC for issuing the permit totaled $795,533.55, and BRC’s commercial use fees totaled $500,483.98 (Aspen 2011).

Agency, city and county personnel get paid overtime, and Black Rock City reimburses this cost.”

(This means BLM employees get paid overtime and Black Rock City foots the bill.)  This almost seems like giving “bribes” to the agency, city and county, doesn’t it?

More from the June 2012 Environmental Assessment (EA) for Burning Man.

So, now we have some data on the 2010 cost recovery item. Total BLM costs were $1,296,017, and the total revenue for the 3% commercial fee calculation was $16,682,799. The commercial use fees are 38.6% of the total. Assuming that this ratio still holds true for 2012, this would give us commercial use fees of $721,379.

Bringing the total take including tickets, ice, coffee, and donations, to $24,045,986. A nice profit for Burning Man of  $1,934,406 – before taxes, but after they’ve taken out about $8.5 million in salaries.

Transformoney Tree

Transformoney Tree

The actual cost of putting on the party appears to have gone up substantially this year, to $8.1m – meaning it won’t be surprising if it exceeds $10 million for the first time when 2013’s results come out. This year’s numbers will be underpinned by higher attendance of almost 70,000, offset with higher legal costs and payments to authorities. Total take by the Feds and the local authorities, including Paiute Indians and donations to schools and other local organizations, was $2,779,887. Take that stuff out and really, it’s costing $5.3 million to put on a party for 70,000 people with no commerce that brings in  over $24 million.

youtube-moneyOf course, we don’t know how much revenue gets brought in from the year-round activities like photo licensing, merchandise sales, fine art, and broadcast and YouTube royalties. Presumably this is enough to offset at least some of the $2.7m in organizational overhead costs that are not event-related.

breaking bad moneyIt sure seems like several great big piles of dough, for a week in the inhospitable wilderness. Burning Man’s all grown up now, we don’t begrudge them any of it, it’s theirs to spend however they see fit. If they think the year round activities make the week of the party better, beyond the event costs, that’s their right. Hopefully when the event completes its transition to a non-profit, we can all see some public, audited accounts – just like other cities like San Francisco publish for their taxpayers. $390 is cheap when you consider that it’s tax AND rent combined.

One thing’s for sure: the banks are getting almost ALL of this money. As it flows into the community and back out, between us all and the BMOrg and Wal-Mart and Chevron and El Monte RV and so on in this symbiotic economy… the banks get paid, again and again and again.

Imagine what a different world we’d have, if instead of all the year-round activities, the Burning Man Organization just threw the week-long annual party, then invested half the profits in buying land and infrastructure in other places around the world for Burners to throw Regional events at. The founders could still pull out $8 million a year profits for themselves, and the Burner universe would be getting $8 million of new, permanent, cultural infrastructure every year. The event would be underpinned by permanent infrastructure and land that would appreciate in value over time, as Burners improved it and up-cycled it with new, more profitable uses.

Rich White Trash

by Whatsblem the Pro

"Great burn. . . see you back at the sty, Larry!"

“Great burn. . . see you back at the sty, Larry!”

MOOP is “matter out of place,” the burner slang for litter. It’s very highly frowned-upon to litter at Burning Man; you will likely have a nasty confrontation with someone if you MOOP deliberately, or even if you wear things that are MOOP-prone, like feathered headdresses. The event takes place on federal land that belongs to all Americans, and not littering the place up is a condition of the permit issued by the Bureau of Land Management, originators of the slogan “leave no trace.”

Each year after the burn, the mighty Playa Restoration Team spends a month or more on the playa, gridding out the abandoned skeleton of the city and doing an astonishing job of picking up and properly disposing of even the smallest bits of MOOP, like carpet fibers and cigarette butts (and they even seem to manage to make a good time out of it). Using GPS, they mark problem areas on a map; the camps that get marked yellow or red on the annual MOOP map may have serious problems getting placement from the corporation that runs Burning Man the next year.

Check out this detail of the Restoration Team’s final MOOP map for 2013, and note the two circled camps:


See the yellow and red marking “Ego, Ergo Frum Camp” and “Camp Whatever” as main MOOP offenders? It’s not the first year these camps have left behind significant amounts of litter and detritus — their MOOP footprint was similar in 2010, for instance — but the name of the main camp has been listed differently on the MOOP map each year.

Why? Because “Ego, Ergo Frum Camp” and “Whatever Camp” are actually the public and private sides of First Camp, where the Board of Directors spend their burn. These are the people who adapted “leave no trace” from a Bureau of Land Management slogan to one of the Ten Principles that many burners consider sacred, holy writ. It’s kind of like the way the Board of Directors tells you not to commodify Burning Man. . . while they commodify Burning Man.

These aren’t people who lack the resources to have someone else pick up after them, if they just can’t do it themselves; some of them have social secretaries camping with them, for god’s sake. . . but if First Camp was your camp, you wouldn’t be allowed back after leaving behind that kind of mess multiple times in recent years.

Burner, these people aren’t like you. They don’t represent you, and they have no problem with double standards that treat you as lesser beings and hold you to a higher standard than them. They don’t deserve all the loyalty and support you give them. . . but if you have the will, they can be replaced.

We need new leadership! Out with the corporatists! Burning Man for burners!