Easy Money or More Trouble than They’re Worth?
Many times the inspiration for my Play Something We Can Dance To articles comes from a recent event that we performed where something unique happened or helped me see part of our regular routine in a different light. This past week was one of the busiest weeks in the year for my cmpany, as is often the case as the school year draws to a close and the wedding season is in full swing. Each year we can count on our “regular” schools to call us for their end-of-the-year parties. The term “regular” simply means that once a year these institutes of learning request our services for their final event. None of the celebrations that took place this week were proms or school dances. Instead they included a beach blast, a harbor cruise and carnival type parties. This article will explore both the reasons to undertake these types of youth events as well as the issues to consider prior to pursing these gigs.
REASONS TO PURSUE END-OF-SCHOOL-YEAR EVENTS
1. Minimum Prep Time. Events such as wedding receptions often require an enormous amount of time preparing for the event. Multiple consultations are held beforehand, and then several more hours are spent to ensure that all the requested music is available for the event. Some brides want their first dance to be edited, shortened, or even pre-mixed with another song, which takes additional time. Fortunately, school year-end events take very little prep time. Basically if your music library includes today’s popular hits, you’ve done most of the prep work already. The toughest part will be to make sure that the music is edited and suitable for the age group you are playing to.
2. Small Opportunity Cost. From your Economics 101 course you might recall the term “opportunity cost.” This is a cost that considers what else you could be doing at that same time or with those resources. Each end-of-school-year party last week was held in the morning and early afternoon hours. No high-priced events were going to take place at those early times and many of the activities took place in the early days of the week where we rarely book an event. This equates to a very small opportunity cost.
3. Laid-Back Atmosphere. Compared to almost any other event, year-ending parties are relatively easy to orchestrate. For the most part, your sole job is to provide music along with a little bit of announcing, as required by the teachers to inform the students about lunch or some other activity.
4. Great Training Ground for New Hires. If you are a multi-system operator, this type of laid-back event provides an ideal time for to allow your newest hire the opportunity to spread his wings and fly solo. Any bumps in the road that he might encounter can usually be quickly resolved without the pressure that most events entail, such as pronouncing all the names correctly in a wedding party.
5. Better than a Walk in the Park. Although the Elementary School carnival-type parties are held on school grounds, the schools usually take the seniors on a field trip of sorts for their special occasion. This week we helped create a festive atmosphere for the one pending graduates’ party just outside a beach house and another on a tour boat for a harbor cruise. While most people would gladly pay for a day at the beach or a ride on a tour boat around the harbor, we were making money with the bonus of enjoying the scenery.
6. Community Service. The difference between our regular price and the discounted price we charge is more than compensated by the community service that we are providing with our music. Part of my mission is to have a positive influence on others and providing our services at a reduced rate for these events, while delivering excellent service, is one way to fulfill that mission.
7. Smiling Faces = Personal Fulfillment. At any event where the client is happy and smiling, it should give you a sense of personal fulfillment. Of course one reason that the youth are smiling at these particular events is that they are still in school, yet are not spending the day inside the classroom. It is a day that they have looked forward to for many weeks and a day that they will remember for many years. To be a part of that memory should be one of the reasons that you take pride in being a mobile disc jockey.
8. Only Basic Equipment is Required. The setup for these events is about as simple as they come. Other than speakers, music player, mixer and a microphone, nothing else is required. Since these events are all outside, no light show, fog or bubble machine, video screens, etc. are required. This saves setup time along with wear and tear on equipment.
9. Broad Exposure for Future Events. Word-of-mouth advertising is still the best form of exposure you can generate. When these youth tell their parents what a great time they had at the event, you can count on them asking the school officials who they hired when the parents are considering hiring a DJ for their child’s birthday party or graduation party, or some other event for which they need a DJ.
10. “Steady” Annual Income. One of the biggest challenges mobile disc jockeys face is the uncertainty of future events, especially if weddings are your primary source of business. Even if these schools hire you for only one or two events during the year, at least you can typically count on them to hire you each year.
ISSUES TO CONSIDER PRIOR TO PURSING END of SCHOOL YEAR EVENTS
1. Longer Hours for Less Pay. Time is valuable and even though the opportunity cost is small, some DJs may rationalize that the time required is not worth the pay. Keep in mind that if you try to charge your normal fee, many schools will opt to simply put the music on a iPod and rent a speaker instead of hiring your services. Except for the two-hour harbor cruise, most of the other parties were six-hour events, longer than the standard party. More time for less pay may not make much sense, but keep in mind the idea of opportunity cost and since it is small, the benefits (beyond the monetary ones) outweigh the costs.
2. Early to Rise. The elementary school carnivals we did started when the first class bell rang. That meant that the DJ had to be ready to play music at 8:00 in the morning. Not only was this a flip-flop of the typical DJ start time from PM to AM, it could only be done by someone that didn’t have a “day job.” Since many mobile DJs also work a 9-to-5, it limits who can be assigned to do these events.
3. Music Choice. One of the greatest challenges of playing at any youth event is the fine line between playing the music they want to hear and playing music that does not have objectionable lyrics or content. The school sponsoring the harbor cruise solved that issue last year by creating a theme requiring us to only play music from the 1960s, which gave the event a fun atmosphere. A unique situation, but it did work surprisingly well for the boating venture.
4. Weather Conditions. For the day at the beach and the carnival style events, if it rains, then the event is postponed to a “rain date.” This causes two days to be booked instead of one day which is an inconvenience, to say the least, for scheduling the DJ. We were blessed with beautiful weather for this year’s events, but it is always a week of praying for clear skies and paying close attention to the forecast.
5. Damaging Environmental Elements. Per our contractual agreement with the client, a shelter must be provided for any outside event. However, even with a shelter, here in South Carolina, the temperature can get rather warm in May, which can be uncomfortable for the DJ. Perhaps worse is the proximity to the beach with the salt air and sand which could potentially damage the equipment.
Unlike a prom or school dance where the objective is to keep people dancing the entire night, the DJ’s job at an end of the school year party is often more to create a festive atmosphere instead of whipping the students into a dancing frenzy. There are times when schools have other non-dance events such as beginning-of-year parties or Halloween festivals when the same opportunities and issues arise. Of course the attitude of the DJ should still be one where his professionalism shows by dressing appropriately, having a friendly personality, and actively engaging in MCing the events. Naturally, the DJ should also be flexible about, music choices because there is always the possibility that sometime during the event someone will shout out, “Play Something We Can Dance To!”
Mobile Beat’s resident musicologist since 1992 (issue #11), Jay Maxwell runs the multi-talent entertainment company, Jay Maxwell’s Music by Request, LLC, in Charleston, South Carolina. He is also a professor of Business at Charleston Southern University. His passion for detail and continuous research of clients’ requests can be found not only in this column, but also in his annually updated music guide, Play Something We Can Dance To.
Filed Under: Exclusive Online News and Content, Issue #157, School Dances
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