Gear is exciting. Gear is sexy. Gear is cool. Gear is the hot sports car on the road of mobile entertainment. Always the buzz at tradeshows and on chat boards, gear, in the non-contextual words of Gordon Gecko of Wall Street fame, is good.
But, if a mobile entertainer relies solely on gear to impress clients, and thus to make a living, well, the stocks of his or her company will probably not be inclining “upward and to the right.” And, that would not make Gordon a happy investor.The Way You Do the Things You Do
Think about all the entertainment and presentations where gear is a minor or non-existent part of the equation:
Improv players perform and entertain with no props and the art appears quite popular, with almost every major city-and many smaller and mid-sized regions-boasting a professional troupe or two or three.
Mimes use space, movement and the viewer’s imagination to create worlds and convey emotions.
Stand-up comedians rely on their routines, their wit, their observations of current events and human nature and their awareness to entertain.
Dancers engage their practice, their passion and their artistic and athletic skill to entertain friends, audiences and, occasionally, to impress judges.
Public speakers may be armed with PowerPoint slides and laser pointers, but their success will ultimately be judged on their ability to verbally communicate the goals of the presentation.
So what do mobile entertainers really count on to succeed at an event?
Think about how many times someone said to you after a gig, “That was the coolest sound system ever!” Maybe there were a few, and those were probably the same dudes in high school who leaned over the hood of the exposed engine and muttered, “That is the most rad chrome thing I’ve ever seen!”
Now, think about how many times someone said to you after a gig, “Wow, what a great time!” or “We danced all night” or “That was the best party ever!”
No comparison? Yeah, thought so.
This discussion is by no means intended to belittle the value of gear. Rather, the purpose is to frame a perspective about gear in relation to the goals of the event and an entertainer’s contribution to the success of the gig. Gear is a means to an end, not the end in itself. Gear is the “support staff,” under your direction, that facilitates the achievement of the goals of most events: a memorable, engaging, fulfilling time for all, which meets or exceeds the expectations of the event planner or audience.
Think about the iPod®. Certainly, it’s a revolutionary unit, one that has fundamentally changed the way consumers and even entertainers play audio, particularly music. Yet, the unit cannot function without a human inputting songs and programming some kind of play list. And, at a party, the mobile DJ makes those decisions.
As a pro DJ, you work hard to be prepared and to be aware of the situation-to be able to “read the crowd.” So, after you’ve successfully played the right song at the right time…do most guests care that it was played on an iPod, CD, MiniDisc, cassette, DAT or LP? No. They care (mostly subconsciously, while they dance the night away) that you hit the mark, and that the sound was clean, clear and at a suitable volume.
What You Need
What should entertainers expect from their equipment? First and foremost, gear should be reliable, attractive, durable and responsive. Do you need the latest and greatest? Not necessarily. The utmost consideration should be reliability measured with excellent quality. Does your system function with plug-and-play capability at each event to support optimal time from arrival and set-up to performance? Can you modify the sound, if necessary, to accommodate specific room acoustics? Will your system fit comfortably in any setting?
A significant number of entertainers in the industry continue to function just fine with CDs and MiniDiscs. Yes, benefits exist for MP3s and computer-based music libraries-efficiency, storage capacity, access-but through experience and organization, most CD-based entertainers can find songs nearly as fast as MP3-based entertainers employing a search function. And, truth be told, mobile audio equipment is still a tad more reliable than a laptop.
Your performance tools, while functional and efficient, should be attractive and pleasing to the audience. Gear should not detract from the presentation of an event. Nor should it be a time hog for an entertainer. Time, as Gordon would concede, is money.
The exposed crates of the days of primarily vinyl certainly did nothing to enhance the appearance of the entertainer. Technology now certainly allows an entertainer to present a more compact, attractive, photo-friendly presence.
Gear should be able to weather the constant challenge of transport. Housing equipment in protective containers will extend its life and support an attractive appearance. Yeah, you might invest a little more time at each event, but the mobile business does not treat kindly sensitive equipment that is unprotected.
Finally, gear should be responsive to the specific needs of the entertainer. If you teach dance, do you need to employ a remote to start selections from the floor? Can you quickly access drops and sound bytes to supplement raffles, giveaways, comic bits and more? Will your system support multiple microphone connections, for karaoke or sound reinforcement, for example? The list of possible applications goes on and on…Fill in your own blank.
It’s Up to You…
If all the areas mentioned here are functioning well, the stage is now set for your talent to shine through, and in turn for the event to be a true sensation.
So, yes, gear is critical, gear is eye candy, gear is sexy. But, gear is only as good as the entertainer pushing the buttons. And, in the long run, an entertainer will certainly be judged on the level of his or her performance and not necessarily on equipment quality. Just ask Gordon.
Mobile DJ, dance instructor, emcee, voice actor, writer, teacher, and improv comedian, Mike Ficher owns and operates Dance Express, based in Bend, Oregon. A three-time presenter and host at Mobile Beat conventions, Mike has been expanding the public’s definition of mobile entertainer since 1986.
Filed Under: Issues from 2008, Performing
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