How to rock the house, in high (school) styleOften in life, the most rewarding experiences come with the most work. It seems the more a person works; the more they are rewarded with pay, satisfaction, and piece of mind. As many businessmen will note, there is really is nothing more soul-satisfying than a job well done. In the DJ world, large school dances are the closest some of us get to being rock stars and playing in front of thousands-all the while living out our life-long dreams. The feeling of 3,000-plus people singing the song, swaying and dancing to the music, and thousands of watts of sound rippling through the room is, in my humble opinion, unmatched by any pharmaceutical or recreational drug available.
Professional Production Process
Disc jockeys have been filling up their off nights with school functions since the inception of the industry. Few, however, give the school market the respect and time that it deserves to make each event a success, particularly the large ones. There are some who really take the time to create the production values (sound/stage/video/lights), and there are some who treat these shows as a way to make a quick buck without all of the planning involved in a wedding or mitzvah. If you are wondering why your school client list and return bookings are lagging, its because your competition realized a long time ago that the days of simply showing up and playing at major school dances were over.
To start with, any entertainment company that does not have a solid relationship with all the sponsors (students, faculty and parents) probably will not last for long. Little things ARE big things in the school market just as in the wedding market. Confirmation calls, edited music, timeliness, and general courtesy will go a long way to building your reputation with a school.
Secondly, being prepared is key. For all of my major events, I request meetings at the venue with students, faculty and venue staff to go over our plans for the evening. It is also important (if not in person) to at least meet by phone with the photographer and designer for the evening, to try to anticipate any and all “bugs” that may arise during the event. It is also important that if there is an event theme, that you coordinate with each entity to stay true to the vision of your ultimate bosses-the students.
Once you have met with your students, faculty and staff, you have developed a relationship that reassures everyone involved that you are a professional and will do everything in your power to make the occasion a success. After all, that is the reason why you were hired.
In addition, viewing the venue also helps you determine the amount of production that is necessary for your event. It’s wise to ask your students what their vision of the production is-from “low key” to “high tech.” For those of you playing the home game, this is the perfect opportunity to up-sell your client (on production and interactive features, such as video and textlive) while they are at the venue and excited about the prospect of something new and exciting.
Thirdly, it is important to allow as much direct input as possible into the music that will be played. For all of my school events, I allow direct access to all students via the DJ Intelligence online system-allowing pre-event requests in a neat format. At my events, I then play the danceable requests, leaving off selections that will “tank” or be too vulgar. It is imperative to purchase and become familiar with any new music that has been requested. The students are counting on you to be their entertainment “tour guide” for the evening, and if you don’t know the way, the party can get lost rather quickly.
Next, you must call and confirm all of your plans and keep a lookout for anything that may have changed since your last conversation or meeting. Open communication will alleviate most of the pressure you may have put on yourself by confirming your role in the event. Talking with your sponsors a week or two before your event will also clear up any miscommunications that may have occurred since the first meeting.
Additionally, one or two weeks may be needed to kick start the process of getting paid from the schools. Different school districts have different processes and some may require a physical signature on not only an invoice, but an “independent contractor’s form.” Whatever the case, just make sure no one forgot about you.
Fully Equipped to Rock
When your clients expect professional services, they also expect professional equipment. All equipment that is used should be attractive-sonically and aesthetically. All speakers should be aimed, calibrated, and elevated if necessary, and should be properly amplified, not overdriven. A good concept to embrace is the idea that if it needs to be overdriven, then you need more. No matter how good they are, or what brand of speakers you’re using, a single pair will not do for a large group of people. Sound, in its finest form, embraces the philosophy of even distribution. Distribution entails careful planning and a slight fringe overlapping of signals designed to increase quality and decrease distortion and destruction of equipment. In other words, your system, at show volume, should be peaked at about 60% of its total capabilities to be able to handle the variance of signals.
Sound is the key technical aspect of a show. Without sound, there is no show-no reason for you to be there and get paid. As a result of this, your setup time should be dependent on getting your sound right first. From there, you can work on the window dressing of lights and the wow factor of video.
Lighting can make or break a show, but is not as system-critical as sound is, and should be viewed as an art form that compliments the science of sound. A basic light show may seem better for your budget, but a large, innovative light show will get you referrals.
The new norm in lights is, without question, DMX fixtures. If you’re not rocking DMX, you may be rocking the house, but you’re not rocking the future, as your light show will remain basic and become stale. With DMX, preset patterns and chases can be crafted before each “run” or “tour” of schools and changed for the next run, making your production seem more like a traveling rock show than a discount bin at your local DJ supply store.
Keeping It Real
Finally, and most importantly…your performance. Without question, this area is what every show depends on, and on which return business is based. It is important that you feel the energy of the room, amplify it and channel it back into your show. Have enthusiasm for what you do, but DO NOT be phony. There are few people in this world that can do what we do and be truly successful at it; if you’re faking it, it will be felt by the audience. Real professionals NEVER have off nights. The show must go on; the crowds of young people do not care about your personal life. They came to have a good time and escape their regular lives for a few hours.
Schools are a significant form of income and even professional enjoyment, but also a serious responsibility. You are providing a lasting impression for potential life-long fans of your work, who may potentially utilize your services at every future milestone event that necessitates them. Above all, you are providing memories that will last a lifetime and a reputation that will define you.
Beside being a youth event specialist and logistics manager for BC Productions in Des Moines, IA, Jake Feldman serves as coordinator for the print and online versions of the Mobile Beat/ProDJ.com gear guide.
Filed Under: Issues from 2007, Lighting, Sound, Video
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