DJs are opening their minds to the unusual and grasping a wider and wider range of gig opportunities
The evolution of the mobile disc jockey into a mobile entertainer has reached dimensions that even the most sage forecasters might not have envisioned yet a decade ago!
Years past, the disc jockey’s roles were fairly straightforward and clear-provide an on-site audio system and the ability to program audience-pleasing dance music. Vocal aptitude-at least in the industry’s infancy in the early 1970’s-was a bonus. Games were not even on the radar. Dance instruction was non-existent. Interaction was generally limited to mingling with the guests if the host graciously accorded a meal as part of the deal.
My, how times have changed!
Back to the Future: DJs as Vaudevillians?
Today, the “plain” mobile disc jockey is virtually an aberration, like an 8-track player or vinyl records prominently featured in a home. The new paradigm is the mobile entertainer, a multi-headed, multi-talented beast who can switch at the call of the wild to a comic, dance instructor, games master, emcee, prop fiend or music laureate with grace and often exceptional skill.
My, how we have returned to an old American art form-the new mobile entertainer is the vaudevillian performer of old.
With the new, improved, redefined mobile entertainer, are gigs limited to the rich buffet of wedding receptions and school dances? Not likely; as the mobile entertainer has evolved into a multi-faceted performance animal via out-of-the-box thinking, the types of gigs that mobile entertainers perform might benefit from some creative re-assessment.
All the World’s a Stage
Back in the early 1990s, many entertainers-myself included-sought ways to create more portable, flexible equipment configurations. While technology certainly fueled the ability to pursue this angle, the primary driver originated from the increasing number of facilities offering their space for events.
Art galleries, museums, touring yachts, private residences, gardens, and more evaluated their settings and determined that their facilities might offer something unusual, something personal, something more intimate than the utilitarian function of classic halls and air-walled hotel spaces. And, the public agreed.
So, entertainers had to find ways to work without a defined stage area, to access often ill-designed and cramped performance areas, to often work with less, to re-assess what mobile meant. Thus, smarter, smaller, more adaptable equipment configurations allowed entertainers to comfortably execute shows in the growing number of facilities offering their space for events.
Climbing Out of the DJ Box
Much like the venues that expanded their view of what they offered to expand their revenue stream, would you benefit by escalating your view of your services to, perhaps, tap into unusual and different events for your entertainment skills? Do you see yourself as solely a DJ or a versatile, well-rounded entertainer?
For instance, a couple of years ago, I served as systems engineer at Giants Fantasy Camp for a week in Scottsdale, Arizona. 23 set-ups in seven days (bull sessions, lunch time music, public address announcing at Scottsdale Stadium, meet-and-greet with the ballplayers) created a fairly intense work schedule. But the pay was respectable, the January sunshine wonderful and the opportunity to horse around with former major league baseball players such as Vida Blue, Darrell Evans, Tom Haller and Johnnie LeMaster was priceless.
Other entertainers have embraced the opportunities presented by non-traditional events.
Terry Moran of Crown Entertainment, serving the greater New England area, has spun at the Adult Video News Awards in Las Vegas (“Basically, the Grammys of porn,” he reports), Fantasy Fest in Key West, and during bicycle week in Laconia, New Hampshire for the past ten years. In addition, Moran and his company spin and emcee at more than 100 trivia events at pubs around New England annually. Oh, and Crown Entertainment also performs at 20 to 35 wedding receptions each year.
Matt Bixby of Matt’s Entertainment, serving the Willamette Valley area of Oregon, recently performed at a company party entitled “A Night of Games.”
“We did game shows all night that ranged from Let’s Make a Deal to The Price Is Right to Family Feud,” noted Bixby. “No dancing desired, but it was a scintillating success!”
Many, like Bixby, have embraced the transformation. “When I realized that I was an entertainer and not ‘just a DJ’, it was a huge personal reinvention. Now I focus so much harder on building a rapport with my guests before and during the event so that I don’t think of them as strangers and there’s absolutely no reason to be self-conscious or get stage fright.” Bixby even recently changed his company name from “Williamette Valley DJ” to the more personable “Matt’s Entertainment” to reflect his professional evolution. Bixby is actively marketing for further game show opportunities.
Break On Through
The bottom line is the seeing yourself as “just a disc jockey” may limit the types of events you may attract or the opportunities you might consider pursuing.
In my two decades as a mobile entertainer, I’ve secured work as a mobile DJ, dancer, dance instructor, dance floor “plant,” MC, engineer, public address announcer, character player, engineer, commercial spokesperson, voice actor and radio air personality. Some gigs were a bit more unusual than others, but all offered an opportunity to enhance my entertainment skills, keep my excitement level fresh and earn money.
Wedding receptions and school dances may be the volume leaders in the mobile entertainment industry. But, as more and more professionals are learning, unusual gigs offer fun, engaging and innovative ways to secure business and retain a fresh entertainment perspective. Certainly, the ride will be fun!
Mobile DJ, dance instructor, emcee, voice actor, writer, teacher, and improv comedian, Mike Ficher owns and operates Dance Express, based in Bend, Oregon. A regular presenter and host at Mobile Beat conventions, Mike has been expanding the public’s definition of mobile entertainer since 1986.
“When I realized that I was an entertainer and not ‘just a DJ’, it was a huge personal reinvention.” -Matt Bixby
Filed Under: Issues from 2007, Performing
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