There may be nothing that attracts Murphy’s Law better than live entertainment. That’s part of the thrill of any live performance. The audience knows that the performer could fall flat on their ass at any given time. This has actually happened to me. I was singing with my band when my foot got tangled in a cord and I literally fell on my ass right into one of the horn players’ horns. Not only did I bend this poor guys mouth piece, but I almost ended up with a trumpet up my butt (which would have given new meaning to “tooting”!). But I digress. From the performer’s perspective we know that at any time the electricity could blow (which has also happened to me – of course) or a sandbag could fall on their head. It’s navigating this sort of tight-wire dance between performer and audience and how we handle these potentially armageddonous (yes, I made that up) moments that really makes us entertainment professionals.
I’m not talking about back-up gear. That’s easy. Any good, professional DJ already is prepared with back-up systems and gear and there are a multitude of online resources from experts with advice about back-up gear.
But what about performance skills in case of a gear melt down or event disasters, some of which may have nothing to do with your gear at all. Bad weather, delays from the wedding party, even fights can spell disasters in the hands of an unprepared artist. As a theatre veteran and life-long singer, I have seen first hand some of the funniest and unfortunate mishaps on stage that can happen to a performer. Missed entrances, forgotten lines, falling set pieces all are almost expected. I have also learned from the best performers over the years how to handle these crises. Here are a couple pieces of advice from someone who could fill a thousand blogs with embarrassing performance mishaps.
- Create a team with the audience – Once you have created great rapport with the audience, they will be on your side – no matter what happens. The best way to do that is with honesty. I call this the Restaurant Rule. How often have you been at a restaurant that is having some sort of problem in the kitchen? If you’ve been left to sit there with no communication, waiting for a long time or worse, given some line of BS about the food coming out any second, you don’t sympathize at all with the server. There’s nothing they can do right after that. You most certainly won’t leave a tip. But if the server communicates with you about the challenge, shows empathy and offers solutions like a free drink or appetizer and brings you frequent updates, you end up pulling for them. You are more likely to forgive the problem. Everybody makes mistakes, right? Do the same thing with your audience. Create a team with the audience and they will be on your side.
- Don’t panic. Above all else, keep cool. You’re a DJ. You know how to be cool. You can’t do anything if you’re a panicked, unorganized mess.
- Improvise – If any group of entertainers are experts at improvising, it’s DJs. I have seen countless brilliant solutions to challenges related to gear from our community. We invent ways to haul our gear, set-up our gear, even invent… gear. DJs are hustlers that know how to solve problems. But how fast do we think on our feet in performance? If we apply that same do-it-yourself ingenuity to our performance, big problems can seem like little bumps in the road. This is also where a theatre class or improv workshop can help develop these skills and really come in handy.
- Rehearse – Planning for the un-planned is the best tool for handling mishaps. Rather, controlling what can be controlled frees your mind and body to be able to improvise solutions when something goes wrong. The more you know and are familiar with your gear, the event, the venue, etc. the more prepared you will be to come up with spur of the moment solutions. Think about what you would say if the power went out or a fight broke out and practice it. If your event timeline is completely organized, you’re better prepared if it needs to change suddenly.
- Know and LOVE the other vendors – Going back to the Restaurant Rule – there is perhaps no better friend in the world for a struggling restaurant server than the cook. They can choose to quickly change an entree helping the server solve a problem as fast as possible. But only if treated with respect, given information, made part of the team and even maybe given a piece of the tip they helped save. The same is true for other vendors at a special event. Creating an onsite team not only helps the event run smoothly, but can also be a great help in improvising solutions in an emergency. If the power blows, can the photographer improvise some quick and fun group shots? Can the bar deliver everyone a drink? By the way, industry networking events are great ways to create relationships with other vendors. Here in Cleveland, a group of photographers started an informal group called “Super Taco Tuesday“. It was just a chance for them to get together socially. Soon the group grew to include other vendors including entertainment vendors. At the company I work for, Jerry Bruno Productions we have made some great friends through the group. This helps so much when we’re on special event gigs together. It really becomes working with friends. Mutual respect, communication and teamwork can overcome any event glitch.
- Embrace Mistakes – There’s a saying that goes “mistakes are the beginning of discovery”. Everything is a learning experience if you treat it that way. Mistakes can help prepare you for future mishaps and even help you develop new tools.
Finally, I think the most important element in keeping things in your favor in emergencies is experience. Over the years, I have developed an almost innate sense of what to do, or, more accurately how to act when things don’t go as planned on a gig. There’s not a gig that goes by with my band that I don’t forget some lyrics. Dozens of songs, thousands of lyrics all while juggling all the other aspects of being the MC and Band Leader and dropping some lyrics is inevitable. But the audience never knows. Keeping the show moving, being inconspicuous about mistakes and coming up with entertaining ways to cover them have become life-long habits. The same can happen with any veteran performer and will happen with any new performer.
Stuff happens. Especially in show business. And above all else, the show must go on.
But thinking about some of these things may just help you prevent ending up with a trumpet up your butt.
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