Imagine the following three party situations:
A. your guests are very successful salespeople;
B. the bride’s family lives in Tennessee;
C. the groom’s family is Japanese.
With this information what can you do in advance to plan for successful parties in each situation? If you’ve done your homework you can:
A. expect a lot of networking;
B. have some country and blues music ready to play;
C. include a few popular Japanese songs by artists like Bump of Chicken or Kara.
Here’s an example of not doing your homework: The other day I was approached by a couple high school students who asked if I would answer a few questions for their school project. I agreed. I wanted to help them, but it became immediately clear they weren’t prepared, not even close. One student asked me a rambling question only to be interrupted by the other who announced that the battery in his cell phone, being used to record my answers, was dead. I told them to go home, organize their questions, charge up the phone and start over.
Being prepared (doing your homework) can make a professional stand out among the crowd of “human jukeboxes.” The following examples of homework have saved me from being a class clown many times over.
Extra Credit. Today’s brides and grooms are doing their own homework online before they even talk to you, so they’ll appreciate that you’ve done yours. At a recent wedding I knew in advance that some guests were coming from Colorado; I played “Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver and they went bonkers. At another wedding, where the groom was a Cadillac car salesman, I found a popular song that was being used on one of his company’s television commercials (“1901” by Phoenix). While most guests didn’t get the connection, the groom caught my eye and nodded his approval. Homework can equal kudos…and often a big tip.
Hats Off to Props. If I know in advance that children will be present at an event I always bring my collection of funny hats (thanks to Primo DJs for the idea). I hide them under the table until the kids start to get antsy (and they will get antsy). Adults like the hats too. An added benefit is it makes for great photo opportunities.
Musical Props: If I know that the groom and his friends are rock ‘n rollers, along with all the blow-up balloon guitars, I’ll bring a real electric guitar (I like the Squire Telecaster; it looks the part and is inexpensive, under $200) and set it up so the groom can play “air guitar” to AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” or “Eruption” by Eddie Van Halen. Again another great photo (and video) opportunity. I also have s set of bongos that I’ll occasionally bring.
Enchanted Evenings. I always find out what the time sunset is and announce it with great fanfare: “Our newlyweds are now experiencing their first sunset as husband and wife…” Sunsets are romantic and the mention of it always gets an “aaah” from the reception guests.
Knowing Nuptial Tunes. It goes without saying DJs have to have pre-requested songs ready to go, such as the first dance, parent dances etc. Often, however, they might thinking of a different version of a certain song; you have to have the right version. If I can’t find a certain song I’ll tell the couple as soon as possible so they can find another song.
I always check for songs with the names of the bride and groom. Example: A recent bride’s first name was Collette, a bit unusual, but I was able to find six songs that included her name. The bride really enjoyed and appreciated that I made the effort to find them.
The Honeymooners. if I know in advance where the honeymoon will be, I try to have a related song to play. Example: Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” obviously works great for honeymoons in Hawaii.
Special Stuff. I always ask if there are any special announcements or special recognitions for the guest(s). Recent birthdays and or anniversaries are great to know in advance as well.
Color Coordination. Weddings are almost always decorated in specific colors. I have a variety of different-colored dress shirts, and will always try to wear a color that is
close that of the wedding. It’s a classy touch and adds to the ambiance. I’ll even use the same colored mic wind sock if I have the right color.
Ethnic Prep. If I’m doing a wedding with nationalities I’m not familiar with, I check the Billboard charts; there you’ll find weekly top hits for Japan, the UK, Germany, France, Canada, Australia, Italy, Spain, Greece, Ireland, Sweden (don’t just play ABBA!), Finland, Norway, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Portugal and Mexico. Billboard now also has charts on social streaming, AOL Radio and Yahoo songs.
Here’s a cheat sheet trick I discovered: I had an Italian wedding scheduled and the host gave me a list of Italian artists; no song titles, just the artist’s names. Not being familiar with the artists or their songs I went to Wikipedia and entered each singer’s name, and the site pointed out their most popular hits. Doing my homework made me look brillante!
It’s Elementary. If I’m going to DJ an elementary school event, I check the online Radio Disney charts to see what songs Mickey and Minnie are dancing to these days. It’s also a good idea to check out MobileBeat.com’s regularly posted list of the Top 30 Safe Songs for Schools, courtesy of of SchoolDanceNetwork.com.
I recently did an event for a teachers group. I spent several days organizing songs because I knew in advance that the audience would be grading my performance, that’s what teachers do. Because I did my homework, the party rocked and the teachers gave me an A+++!
In the Know at the Car Show. I do lots of car show, I know cars. If you are asked to do a car show and you don’t know difference between a ’55, and ’57 Chevy, do you homework and load up on 50’s music. It’s better to appear to be a car-nut rather than a lug-nut. I also like to have funny car stories and jokes handy to spice up the show.
In Good Company. I’ve done my share of corporate gigs and have lots of “let’s work together”-type songs to cheer them on: e.g. “Taking Care of Business,” “Shinning Star,” “We Are Family,” “It’s 5 O’clock Somewhere,” “Bang on the Drum,” etc.
Cooperative Extension. Believe me, you’ll thank yourself if you know in advance that you’ll need extra lengths of extension cords. I used to DJ for a team building company, and more often than not I would need football field lengths worth of audio and electrical cords, and sometime even longer.
Is It Real or Is It… I use real gaffer’s tape, yes it’s expensive, but well worth it. I like the widest tape I can find, in black, and at least one roll in green. Green tape works great on artificial turf and in and around gardens for outdoor events and wedding ceremonies. I’ve even used green tape on real grass (it kind of works.)
Here’s where someone who didn’t do his homework left me in a sticky situation: I filled in for a friend at a sporting event using his equipment. He left me cheap, inch-and-a-half wide, colored duct tape. It wouldn’t hold the cords down and left an awful mess of residual glue. But worse, the tape was being used to keep the 1/4-inch cable plugs together…which it didn’t, and cables keep coming unplugged, causing the speakers so shut off, which made me look like a dunce.
I’ve also learned to tape all my cords down if there’s even the slightest chance of someone tripping over them and having a cord come unplugged. The last thing I want is for the photographer to move behind me and accidently kick my power cord loose. At that point it’s too late to explain why I have “dead air!” I also tape all cord connections and even my plugs in wall sockets. This is especially important during evening events where the last thing I want to do is hunt down an unplugged cord in the dark.
Batteries Included: I replace my batteries every single time I DJ. It’s not worth running out of battery power during an event. I also tape a pair of batteries inside my system just in case of an emergency. Fresh batteries are always on my “homework” list. I like the Duracells in large multi-packs. I buy them at places like Home Depot where I know they?re probably the freshest.
As a professional, in any business, preparing for work is part of your job, but as a DJ, doing your homework can help erase mistakes, improve your proficiency and help you move to the front of the class. MB
Mike Ryan started out writing for news radio, and has been a SoCal DJ on KGB and KSDS. He mobiles as Mike on the Mike. He is also the inventor/owner of Frankenstand Powered Speaker Stands. He is currently the president of the San Diego Chapter of the ADJA.
Filed Under: Issue #140
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