Saturday, December 24, 2011
Saturday, December 10, 2011
Dinosaurs, Dodos and DJs. The first two of this alliterative trio are extinct. Based on the chilly reception I’ve seen many veteran DJs give newcomers to the profession, I’m afraid the third could end up the same way.
The optimist in me believes that most DJs truly want to help each other. And I’ve got to believe that common sense prevails when “experienced” (read “aging”) entertainers consider the prospect of a generation of DJs moving on to that big dance floor in the sky without anyone to take their place. And yet despite optimism AND common sense, I often read comments like:
“Why should some newbie get to make the same amount of money as someone who has worked for 20 years??”
“Give me some of the top guys on this board with a lappy and two speakers on sticks over a newbie running U2's touring setup, any day.”
“If you start a group for just 'new' dj's, what knowledge will you be looking to share? It would be "the blind leading the blind”
I have entertained at hundreds of weddings as a singer in a band setting for many years, but as a relative newcomer to the mobile DJ profession myself, there have been times when I’ve felt the cold shoulder from skeptical veterans firsthand. Of course, it is important to mention that I have also been helped by many DJs who are more than willing to help and advise. But I tend to agree with this recent forum post from a DJ who clearly senses a less-than-encouraging vibe from veterans:
“I see a lot of bashing of "newbies" on here.... Has anybody ever thought about being nice to them and giving a few pointers to help them out instead of slamming them on here or when you are around the other DJs that are in the know...I think that it only helps our industry, plus I am just happy to see a youngster doing something with their life instead of sitting around with their hand out like most of the next generation that is at the age to be in the work place.”
Most trades wisely develop and encourage newcomers into their professions. They have to if there is an interest in keeping the profession alive at all. Training programs and internships are part of the healthy growth of just about any profession. Many DJ organizations do work to train new artists as well. Innovative programs like American DJs “ADJ University” as well as a multitude of training resources are all meant to teach DJs new and old. However, the people actually doing the work – the “Master Craftsmen” on the streets, most of whom are independent contractors and not part of a large organization don’t seem interested in encouraging or helping newcomers into the profession. Why?
Common complaints about rookies tend to be that inexperienced DJs will tarnish the whole industry or about fears of too many DJs flooding a market with not enough gigs.
The multi-op company I work for, Jerry Bruno Productions in Cleveland takes the opposite approach. We’re always looking to add new talent to our roster of bands, DJs and specialty music ensembles. We always want to increase our market share. And it works. Our top 4 most experienced and popular DJs (out of a roster of 25 [with an average age of about 40 years old, by the way]) actually saw increases in the number of their combined bookings in 2011 – a year in which we added 4 new DJs to our list. Not only can more quality talent attract new clientele and give clients more options, but it also insures that as time goes on we will maintain a healthy roster of the very best entertainers. The laws of attrition dictate that, like it or not, all veteran DJs somewhere will quit, retire or crossfade into the afterlife (did you know that every time a drunk reception guest requests “Shout”, an angel DJ gets his wings?). Who will take their (our) place?
I realize in some markets it could be possible to flood the market with DJs (or people with speakers calling themselves DJs) outnumbering available events. Today’s technology allows just about anybody to make an investment in some equipment and call themselves a DJ. But isn’t that going to happen anyway? We’re not going to stop technology, nor would any sane entertainer want to. So we might as well harness it and help these would be bedroom DJs become professionals that are going to help the entire profession grow. The alternative seems to be to leave them to their own devices (literally), scaring away whatever potential clients there might have been from DJs altogether. Train them. Nurture them. HIRE them.
But I think there’s something else at play here. Something bigger and scarier. Insecurity.
Most of us are insecure to some extent about different things. For me, I think I have an innate insecurity that is a big part of what drives me to be an entertainer in the first place. Think about it. Constant need for approval/applause. “Please like me, audience. Please clap, laugh, dance. An empty dance floor must mean I’m not worthy, right? Why are you clapping for that DJ more than me? Haven’t you seen how many uplit scrim kings I use in my rig?” Okay, so I’m being over dramatic. But I would bet inner dialogues like that are more familiar than most of us would like to admit. I’m not saying the only reason people love to entertain is so self-centered. But I do think insecurity lurks large in many entertainers. It certainly would seem to in the DJ world. DJs need more lights than the next DJ. Bigger speakers. More computers. Do we really need all this stuff to give clients a great entertainment experience? Or does much of it amount to really expensive chest thumping to ward off would-be suitors to “our” clients? What could be more threatening to this fortress of gear than a younger, more attractive competitor with the latest greatest sound and lighting weaponry creeping around “our” turf? It seems easier for the old warrior to build himself up by tearing this new opponent down. At least easier than (God forbid) helping or (God, God forbid) learning from the young DJ. Our culture is constantly changing and evolving. We have to look to younger generations to help us navigate the nuances of changing music, wedding traditions and entertainment experiences.
Newbie-bashing (could this be a new hate crime?) in a blind flurry of self-ego boosting, can give the impression that veterans must not care about the future of Djing. Not caring about what happens to the profession after you’re done with it, makes about as much sense as not voting for a school levy because your kids have already graduated. It’s about the quality of life for all. The idea is to leave things better than we found them. If you don’t care about what happens to the profession after you’re gone, you probably don’t care about it much now and would probably be better off not being in it. Your clients (or the ones you’re losing to the hungry rookie who does care) probably would be.
I'm not saying we all have to hold hands and sing Kum Ba Ya. Healthy competition is good for all of us and for the profession. But an almost institutional professional culture against newcomers could be as deadly to DJs as the ice age or meteors or whatever were to the dinosaurs. Let's hope our species survives.
Friday, December 2, 2011
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
My Father-in-Law is a Psychology Professor at the college here in town. At a recent family gathering, he was describing a study he is publishing about what he referred to as the cultural competence of psychologists around the country. This study looked at how competent these doctors were to effectively treat patients who come from different cultural backgrounds than their own. When I asked him how competent doctors were, he said “not very”. I thought about how this theory might apply to our profession. I’d be willing to bet the answer might be the same.
I know there has been a lot of initiative in raising awareness among DJs of international wedding cultures, like Indian wedding traditions. But I’ve been more interested in this phenomenon as it relates specifically to the relationship between black people and white people as opposed to marketing to international wedding clients. I think we all have sort of a “cultural comfort zone”. For DJs, this “comfort zone” can mean white DJs with white clients and black DJs with black clients. But if our marketing includes efforts to reach clients outside of that comfort zone, our business would grow wouldn’t it? How realistic is that? I mean, clients also have their own cultural comfort zones, don’t they?
Picture this: A wedding reception at an elegant venue. The ballroom is tastefully uplit and the DJ has painstakingly gone over every detail with the clients. The Bride and Groom’s alma mater fight song blares from the DJ speakers under the Grand Entrance. The first dance – a popular Michael Buble tune, Father/Daughter Dance – I Loved Her First by Heartland. Mother/Son? Forever Young by Rod Stewart.
Would you guess that these clients were white or black? Would you guess the DJ was white or black?
Nothing in the example reception above is universal or exclusive to weddings of either group. Nor is this reception meant to symbolize what any reception should include. But the song selections alone might suggest a white wedding. If that was your guess, you guessed right.
And the DJ? That would be me. A black DJ. And the reception I described above could also describe most of the hundreds of weddings the multi-op company I work for books each year. Our company is certainly one of the most forward thinking, inclusive companies I’ve ever worked for, but among the 25 DJs we represent, only 3 of us are black and one of us is Hispanic. We would certainly love that number to be higher but the fact is the overwhelming majority of clients calling us to book entertainment is white. Perhaps our line-up of DJs is a natural reflection of our clientele. Interestingly enough, a much larger number of our band musicians are black. Many are in all-black bands that are very popular with clients of all races. Are more black DJs missing an opportunity to increase their business by having larger visibility among white clients? Maybe. But I suspect that the disparity between the demographics of our bands and DJs has more to do with the fact that white entertainment clients may love the persona of a talented black musician performing live R&B, Soul, Disco, etc. in a band setting. But having a black DJ (or a white DJ for black clients) actually steer the entire event from the Grand Entrance to the last dance may be a different matter.
As a black DJ, and as an agent whose job it is to book other DJs, there’s a question I’ve thought about many times. Are white wedding clients hesitant to hire a DJ of color? Any more than black wedding clients would hesitate to hire a white DJ?
Now I realize that just by posing the question, I’m opening up a can of worms and invite the inevitably over-compensated response along the lines of “that doesn’t matter to us!” or “we never even thought of anything like that”.
Well I have. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has.
If you’re a white DJ reading this, I wonder if you’ve ever had the experience of being the only white face in an entire wedding reception. I certainly have been the only black face as a DJ and I can tell you everything has always been absolutely fine.
Interestingly enough, the client above didn’t specifically choose ME as their DJ. The client chose a specific package program our company offers that selects the DJ for them closer to the event date based on the current inventory of DJs. I wonder what their initial thoughts were when I first introduced myself to them. From my perspective, they couldn’t have been nicer and I never once got a weird feeling from them. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel like I had to work a little harder – even unconsciously – to assure them their event was in professional hands. But that feeling certainly came from me, not them.
I know one thing for sure. If clients of both (any!) races are willing to hire me, my business will increase.
Of course, depending on where you live, weddings of a different race might be scarce and/or far less realistic. Indeed, there are far fewer African-American weddings nationwide than white weddings in general. In fact, according to the African-American Healthy Marriage Initiative, a government initiative whose goal is to encourage lasting marriages among African-Americans, 5% of Americans between age 24 and 34 have never been married, but that percentage increases to 54% for African Americans in the same age group. Additionally, married couples head 76% of American families, while African American married couples head only 47.9% of American families.
But many black couples ARE getting married and all one has to do is browse exceptional websites like www.blackwedding.com or www.forblackweddings.com to see that the wedding industry geared toward African Americans is big business.
(As a side note, I had to laugh at the large number of companies I stumbled across doing some research for this article with names like “White Wedding DJs” or “White Wedding Entertainment” etc. I wondered if the proprietors of these businesses ever considered other contexts for their monikers as they named their companies. While a website called “BlackWeddings.com” is clearly aimed at African-Americans, I really don’t think the owners of “White Wedding DJs” intended their service to be solely for Caucasian brides and grooms. Or did they? And even if they did, why does that feel far less acceptable?)
In fact, African-American spending is up in many different categories. In 2009, black households spent an estimated $507 billion in 27 product and services categories. That's an increase of 16.6% over the $435 billion spent in 2008. African-Americans' total earned income for 2009 is estimated at $836 billion.*
It has been my own personal experience that black wedding clients are more likely to hire DJs as opposed to other forms of entertainment. This may be due in some part to budget, but it’s more likely that it’s because the DJ culture has always been a prevalent part of the African-American community. Preferences for DJs could also be related to the actual musical styles preferred by many African-American clients, much of which is focused on contemporary Hip-Hop and R&B music which can often be more challenging (and expensive) to reproduce effectively with a live band. In any case, if this consumer group prefers DJs, shouldn’t you – a DJ - make yourself as marketable to them as possible, regardless of color?
So how to market to clients of a different color?
- First of all, it’s important to understand that wedding clients all want the same thing, regardless of color: a great party led by a professional MC/Host that guides the event smoothly through its timeline while keeping the dance floor full. Demonstrate you can do that and you’re a lot more likely to get hired no matter what.
- Many obstacles come from fear of the unknown. So know as much as possible. Learn about the traditions of different weddings and make sure you are knowledgeable about favorite music of different cultural groups. You already study the music charts and pay for music subscription services. Don’t overlook other genres of music you may not be familiar with.
- Make sure you have a presence in publications and other media that may be geared toward cultural groups outside of your own. Also look into free exposure in places that are important like churches and schools. Some clients might overlook a DJ of a different color unless they know your DJ skills and knowledge are also focused on them.
- Be yourself - a knowledgeable, skilled professional who can host a great party no matter what it looks like. Don’t pander or patronize clients based on what you assume they are looking for.
A little awareness and celebration of our differences can go a long way, even far beyond any reception hall. So open your mind and your marketing plan and watch your cultural competence and your business grow.
- Geoff Short
*Source: Target Market News, "The Buying Power of Black American - 2010"
Monday, October 24, 2011
Some cool shots of The Avenue from a wedding reception gig last weekend at the Marriott at Key Center, Cleveland.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
All the (DJ's) World is a Stage: Why DJs could learn Lighting Lessons from the Theatre
I was just reading a thread on one of the seemingly infinite online DJ forums. This particular discussion caught my attention because it posed a question I've thought a lot about lately. Whether or not modern DJs actually need tons of state-of-the-art gear many of us seem obsessed with to be truly great entertainers. I am still fairly new to the mobile DJ scene so it feels like I still have an objective point of view about the DJ profession. I've been amazed at how much focus there has been in the mobile DJ community on gear that doesn't actually make any music - specifically lighting.
I have a theory. We dig toys.
Just kidding. I mean, we do, but I think there really is something a bit more noble at play here than just keeping up with the Joneses or the simple (but costly) over-accumulation of shiny things that blink and strobe.
Modern mobile DJs are recognizing that "extra-audio" equipment like lighting is an important - dare I suggest, vital ingredient in the recipe for engineering events that thrill special event guests and have new clients clamoring for similar bells and whistles. Great examples of this can be found in the art of live theatre.
I've trod the boards of community and professional theatre since I was a kid so the importance of lighting to any production is practically part of my DNA. The most effective DJs are, in fact, artists and performers very similar to actors. The wedding receptions, Bar Mitzvahs, School Dances and other special events that DJs host are actually all mini musical productions. DJs are recognizing what theatre artists have always known. The impact of artfully executed lighting designs can make or break a production.
Examine a few of the ways* lighting helps tell the stories of theatrical stage plays and musicals:
- Mood - Lights are the most effective way to set the mood or tone for a play or for any given scene. For instance, natural light can give a sense of normalcy, while the use of gels in dark greens or purples can give a scene an unsettling, otherwordly feel.
- Special Effects - Lighting can be used to execute a variety of stage directions and special effects. These can range from weather (lightning, snow, rain, clouds) to fire to the illusion of explosions or gunfire.
- Focus - The absence of light can also be a useful tool. By darkening certain portions of the stage, the remaining illuminated areas become focal points, thus directing the attention of the audience.
It's not a leap of faith to envision mobile DJs enjoying the same benefits in their own "theatres" like reception halls and ballrooms. A DJ's "scenes" are the songs he or she plays, balancing the romantic feel of a ballad with the thrill of the latest uptempo chart topper. The formal elements of the events we are charged with producing are also like scenes in a play. Shouldn't there be a different mood created for the bridal first dance than the garter toss? A pin spot or artfully placed par can can certainly put focus on the wedding cake or the head table. As far asspecial effects go, throw a couple Chauvet Intimidators onto a dance floor and a DJ's "production" is heading for a standing ovation and rave reviews.
The fact of the matter is that we are being called upon to create events that go beyond audio-centric experiences. Today's special event clients want more for their money so we must have the tools to give it to them. And it doesn't have to take multi-million dollar Broadway budgets. With a little creativity and an even smaller budget, I've managed to create some really cool effects using my Chauvet 4-Bar/4-Play combination system controlled with an Obey 10 controller along with a Mini 4-Bar light rig.
Speaking of Chauvet, that company's mission is built around the theory of "V.I.P" - Value, Innovation and Performance. I think successful contemporary DJs (and theatre artists) should focus on the same things. Creating value for clients and audiences, and being innovative in producing events culminating in well-rehearsed and flawlessly executed performances.
Of course more toys can't replace inherent talent and the ability to guide an event smoothly through it's timeline and entertain guests. Without raw talent, audiences could very well be watching a killer light show with a bomb of a performance. Nothing can replace talent and experience.
But kick-ass lighting can sure make it look better.
So take your bows.
*from Why Lighting Is Important to the Theatre by Tucker Cummings, E-How Contributor
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Friday, August 26, 2011
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
This episode takes a look behind the scenes of the regional premiere of "Passing Strange" produced by Baldwin-Wallace College and Playhouse Square.
Produced by Geoff Short (www.geoffreyshort.com)
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
A-ggres-sive Re-quest-er: (lat. Requestus Obnoxious); aka Party Neanderthal - 1) Wedding reception Guest (usually male) with an inability to handle social drinking in any civilized way - usually presenting itself with the alcohol-induced hallucination that unless the creature hears a particular inane song of choice IMMEDIATELY, it will die - usually leading to verbal assault on the band or DJ on duty.
What is it with some people? Throw back a few drinks at a reception and they start treating the band or DJ like their own personal ipod. Don't get me wrong - we always want guests to have a great time and keep the dance floor full and polite requests are expected and even welcomed at many events. But you know the type - the drunken goon whose beer-goggles (or, in this case, earphones) lead him to believe that unless the band plays the particular song of his choosing, the Earth will crack open like a walnut. Ironically this pickled heckler's "requests" are never really requests at all, but insistent demands bellowed after every song that isn't his tune of choice.
And why is it that it's never like a really unique or interesting song? I'm really starting to believe these buffoons' musical vocabulary consists of "Hang On Sloopy" and "Let's Get Drunk and Screw". I've even started mentally giving a prize to the first over-served party boy to loudly demand we play "Shout" (usually somewhere near the top of the 2nd set)!
I realize this makes me sound like a party snob or something, and I really don't mean to be. I like a good drankin' song as much as the next guy. But the fact is, these types of guests can be really disruptive to a band or DJ as well as the other guests. Even worse, they sometimes get threatening (I'd love to be a fly on the jail cell wall when this guy tries to explain to the cops that he assaulted the DJ because he wouldn't play "Sweet Caroline"!). It's a good bet that this obnoxious guest hasn't been in on any of the planning for this reception and probably doesn't know that the DJ has strict guidelines from the clients who are paying not to play certain songs or types of music, not matter how politely the DJ might try to explain that. Not to mention the fact that we actually do like those tunes too and would have played them in due time anyway. They're great party songs. But for most artists, the more a guest screams at us, the less likely that guest is to ever hear that song at this event. We are there to do a job and like, everyone else, demand the respect that affords.
I guess I'm a little biased. I'm not a song requester type. In all my years of experiencing live music, I've never felt the need to infuse any of my personal song preferences into a band or DJ's set list. I'm sure it's because I'm usually the one performing the music week to week and I know how constant requests can take your eye off the ball of trying to keep the dance floor full. But when I'm not performing, I'm usually cool with whatever the band plays. I just like watching live bands and DJs perform their craft - good or band, to me it's always interesting. The actual songs being played have little to do with it for me. It's either a good dance song or it's not. And if the setting I'm hearing said music in happens to include some social drinking, that has a much different effect on me than it seems to on the song request bully. After a couple drinks I'm digging every song and become the friendliest dancer on the floor! This band is AWESOME!!!
So if you're an Aggressive Requester - and you know who you are - take it easy. Just let the band or DJ do their thing and enjoy the night. If you don't like a song....go get a drink. Scratch that - go get a cup of coffee. But if you think you can't handle that, load up Hang On Sloopy, Brown-Eyed Girl and Shout on your ipod and jam the night away...from the comfort of your car.....out in the parking lot!
Just kidding - we'll get those tunes on in the next set!
Monday, August 15, 2011
Monday, July 25, 2011
Friday, June 3, 2011
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Sunday, May 22, 2011
So proud of the kids in the Berea Gentlemen's Club, a group started by my wife Lisa Dwyer-Short and her colleague at Roehm Middle School, Teacher Johnny Bollin. The group sponsored a Charity Walk for Breast Cancer called "Fight for Pink". All the kids along with some extended family and friends showed up on a perfect weather day and hit their goal of walking a combined 60 miles to raise funds for the Susan G. Komen foundation! Great work guys!
The Berea Gentlemen’s Club is a school group of students formed Lisa and Johnny two years ago to help mentor and provide academic support for minority boys -
the most at-risk demographic group according to Berea City School District research. Here's a quick look at the day!
Sunday, May 1, 2011
A look at the FPAC (www.fairmountcenter.org) Production of
Video Produced by Geoff Short (www.geoffshort.com)
Monday, April 25, 2011
When Joe Kenderes first answered a Near West Theatre casting call for a production of South Pacific in the Summer of 1996, the then-high school sophomore never imagined that he would meet his future wife. Now Joe, 30 from Brunswick and wife Jill Kenderes, 27 from Avon who began performing at Near West in a Summer Teen production in 2004, are both starring in the upcoming Near West Theatre production of Into the Woods, the fairy tale-themed Stephen Sondheim musical. Now, as the Kenderes' prepare to welcome their first child in November, it would seem this performing couple is living a real-life fairy tale, inspired by their experiences throughout the years at Near West Theatre.
Video Produced by Geoff Short
INTO THE WOODS
May 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21 & 22, 2011
Thursday, Friday & Saturday performances at 7:30 p.m. Sunday performances at 3:00 p.m.
Tickets: $8 Adults, $6 Children 12 & under
To purchase tickets, call: 216-961-6391 or visit www.nearwesttheatre.org.
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim Book by James Lapine
Originally directed on Broadway by James Lapine Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick
Video Produced by Geoff Short
INTO THE WOODS
May 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21 & 22, 2011
Thursday, Friday & Saturday performances at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday performances at 3:00 p.m.
Tickets: $8 Adults, $6 Children 12 & under
To purchase tickets, call: 216-961-6391 or visit www.nearwesttheatre.org.
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Originally directed on Broadway by James Lapine
Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick
Monday, April 18, 2011
Mandy & Scott were married on February 19, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio. Their favorite movie is "Love Actually." This surprise was planned just like the wedding scene in the movie - hidden musicians and all! It went off without a hitch. Best of luck to you, Mandy & Scott! Video produced by Jared Staehli of Z Media. www.ZPhotoMedia.com Musicians provided by Scott at Jerry Bruno Productions.
Monday, April 11, 2011
A new Jerry Bruno Productions music season is here! Jamming a LOT with The Avenue along with a little DJ action too! More options for JBP clients! Check out www.jerrybruno.com for some great new DJ videos coming soon!
www.jerrybruno.com (216) 986-1808 Video by Paul Perhacs - Mystic Image Productions (216) 351-6717 www.mystic-image.com
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Produced by Geoff Short
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Friday, February 4, 2011
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Thanks so much to Eddie Tomecko and the whole gang at AV Works!
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
A look at auditions for "Rent" and the learning opportunities that can happen for Music Theatre students, both in the audition room and in the classroom.
This documentary series follows the stories of the students and teachers of the acclaimed Baldwin-Wallace College Music Theatre Program led by Victoria Bussert. Produced by theater artist and documentarian Geoffrey Short , STAGES gives viewers unprecedented access to this exclusive program that draws the very best talent from around the country to this small private college in Berea, Ohio (just southwest of Cleveland). Graduates of this program often go on to careers on Broadway. Learn more about Baldwin-Wallace College at www.bw.edu . See other theater video documentary series from Geoff Short at www.youtube.com/CallBackCleveland .
STAGES: Stories from the BW Music Theater Program
Promote Your Page Too