Friday, January 27, 2012

Simple Math: Filling the Dance Floor a Year Ahead of Time

The equation really is simple math:

Focus on Guests + Delivery of Great Guest Experience = Desired Behavior (Dancing)

But not everyone is good at math, so class begins now - a year before the test.

There are so many factors that can contribute to (or take away from) a full dance floor at a wedding reception or other special event. Many of these factors have nothing to do with the DJ. Time and location of the actual ceremony, venue of the reception, weather, parking, traffic all have an influence on the guest experience and therefore on the dance floor itself. Obviously, we can’t control all of these things, but as entertainment consultants we have to help clients become aware of these factors, control whatever can be controlled and adapt them to contribute to a full dance floor. This takes careful planning from the very beginning of the planning process. The actual event may be a year from now, but because there are so many things - let’s call them “dance floor factors” - that can be controlled and need to be planned far in advance, our team’s job is to start filling the dance

Great parties don’t just happen. They have to be meticulously planned. Actually, great parties can “just happen”, but that’s usually coincidence. When planning the entertainment for an event on the scale of a wedding reception, nothing should be left to coincidence. One of the very first things I try to do when helping new clients plan entertainment at Jerry Bruno Productions here in Cleveland is to try and get them to see a much bigger picture than just what songs will be on their playlist (which is often the first thing they want to talk about followed closely with concerns over “cheesy DJs”). My first goal is to get them thinking about all the different elements that can contribute to or take away from a full dance floor, many of which they may not have considered before. Then I can incorporate their vision, personalities and creativity into a plan for their party that is focused on achieving a full dance floor.

I try to get them to think of themselves not so much as bride and groom, but as objective members of an entertainment committee. This committee often starts with just three members - me and them. I think it’s important that they be able to step outside of their roles as Bride and Groom and really take an objective look at their event. From where brides and grooms sit at the Centers of the Reception Universe, everything seems like a good idea, because they are the center of attention. But what about guest #40 and #41, for example? Not many brides and grooms consider the correlation between seemingly little things like the hassle of an inconvenient parking situation, for example and how that can specifically effect the dance floor. And why should they? As the B&G, they never have to worry about driving, parking or any of that. But their guests - the specific consumer group our committee should be focused on and that we desire certain behavior (dancing) from - do have to worry about how they’re getting from point A to point B. The last thing we want #40 & #41 thinking about is where their car is or leaving early to find it. Our committee has to be focused on what the total guest experience will be and how it effects the dance floor. Isn’t the idea of inviting “honored” guests, to actually honor them?

I love that moment in a client meeting when I can see the light bulbs light up over the heads of Brides and Grooms and their parents when this concept start to make sense to them. They immediately start taking notes and start applying these concepts to their own plans. They can see how the ripple effect of everything that happens that day effects the dance floor 8 hours from now. Suddenly discussions about specific songs and music genres fall away as the bigger picture of planning great entertainment takes center stage. Suddenly, the planning morphs from being about “my day” to actually planning a great dance party for everyone.

DJs and Bands sometimes can get credit for good things that happen at events that they actually had very little to do with. If the members of the entertainment committee that are responsible for setting up the structure of the day have done a great job of creating an exceptional guest experience, they probably have delivered a crowd of people to the DJ who are ready and willing to dance and probably will despite the fact that the actual DJ might not be the best DJ in the world. Because the guests had a great all-around experience, they might walk out of that reception saying the DJ was great because the dance floor was full all night!

This goes both ways. Sometimes we get blamed for things we had nothing to do with. A DJ could be the greatest MC and Event Host ever. She carefully planned and rehearsed a creative, personalized Grand Entrance. She contacted the other vendors in advance to share timelines. She made professional and eloquent announcements. She played a great mix of music all night. But if the other members of her committee dropped the ball and only focused on 2 people as opposed to 200, the dance floor may be empty at 10:00. What do the guests say then? “That DJ wasn’t very good. No one danced”.

The point is is that this is all show business, even for the Bride and Groom. We all have to work as a team to appeal to the largest possible audience/customers/guests. Otherwise, why were they invited?

There will be a test.

Monday, January 23, 2012


Trying out a new DJ Page on Google+. Check it out!


This post was was going to be about something completely different. And then I performed with my band The Avenue at a wedding last night and I met Rebecca.

Rebecca was on the dance floor all night although I can’t say she actually danced much. She was enthralled by the band. She loved the music and seemed fascinated by all of us performing it. She literally stood right in front of me all night long.

Rebecca is just a kid. Probably 14 or 15 and she is autistic. She was there for the wedding of a relative but all she wanted to do that night was sing with the band. She loves music. She assured me time and time again that she knew all the words to “Baby” by Justin Bieber. And even though that song isn’t on the band’s playlist, I called her up to join the band a few times during the night to help us sing whatever party dance song we were playing at the time. She seemed so excited when I handed her the microphone. Her family loved seeing her have fun and the crowd loved it.

I just kept thinking that I hoped we offered her even the slightest bit of encouragement to follow her musical dreams despite whatever obstacles might be waiting for her. How little effort it took on my part to make her the center of attention for a few minutes every now and then.

And then I had another thought. I have been blessed with so many good things. I don’t do nearly enough to give back to my community or to the world in general. Like many entertainers I often suffer from an inflated ego and sense of self-importance. Ironically, this often stems from raging insecurities. It’s long past time for me to take the focus off myself and my challenges and focus more on others.

I would love to find ways to make music work to help other people & causes (beyond my normal for-profit ventures). I could donate my DJ services. I could help encourage others to explore their love of music and develop their talents. I could help plan a fundraiser. I could.... I will stop being so self-centered.

Hearts are big in the DJ community and I know many DJs are way ahead of me on this one. How are you using your DJ/MC talents and experience to make your community a better place?

I’m so glad my band got the chance to jam with Rebecca last night. It would be so cool to see her making her own music some day.

Rock on Rebecca.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

DJs: Dressed for Success or Fashion Train Wreck?

In a recent video DJ gig log, I brought up the question of wardrobe for DJs. How important toyou is your wardrobe and the way you look on a gig? If the answer is anything below “extremely important”, take another look in the mirror.

Everyone knows you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. We know that, in general, our appearance is our very first calling card. But as DJs concerned with being great entertainers, MCs and hosts for our clients, our wardrobe and appearance can also be a vital part of the overall entertainment experience. Like it or not, we are a physical part of the layout and look of the room. In addition to having expectations of a great entertainment experience, our clients expect us to look good as well. Of all the gig logs and photos of DJ rigs posted on line, almost all of them leave out the most important part of the set-up…the DJ. What did they look like? What were they wearing? Most DJs are technical wiz kids, capable of everything from mixing music to making an intelligent light rig from a toaster. But ask some to leave the house with matching shoes and your liable to get a stare as blank as an unwrapped CD. So here are a few things to add to your list of DJ stuff to think about as your packing up for your next gig:

What’s appropriate for this gig?
Not every gig is a formal occasion that automatically requires a tux or an evening gown. Even if the gig is a wedding reception, don’t assume it’s a formal one. Remember that it’s important to keep the focus on the guests and the bride and groom, not to draw the spotlight yourself. If everyone is in business casual attire or less and you’re in a formal tux, you’re going to stick out like a sore thumb. Remember the rule about assuming things and always ask the client what they would prefer you wear.

Another good question to ask clients is what colors they have planned for other elements of the event. It may be possible to coordinate the colors you wear with those elements. I’m not talking about a powder blue tux from the 70’s to match the bride’s eyes or anything ridiculous like that. But if the gig is a wedding, it may be possible for you to compliment the bridal party colors with a splash of a similar color in your tie or shirt. Again the goal is not to draw focus to you, so things have to remain tasteful.

Is your wardrobe up to date or are you still using the tux you used for your prom? If you can still fit in it, good for you (I seem to expand every year!). Size not withstanding, that old tux may appear dated and create a fashion faux pas best avoided. It seems contemporary DJs are constantly fighting cheesy stereotypes of old fashioned DJs. A big weapon in that battle is our wardrobe. Research modern wedding fashion and explore simple differences in wardrobe that can make you look more hip, sharp and up to date. Compare: Plain, white shirt with no jacket, but a bow tie and vest that make you look like a reject from a barbershop quartet versus a formal jacket, black dress shirt and a long tie. Of course, female DJs should explore similar comparisons. It doesn’t make much sense to constantly update your music library with the latest dance hits but like Grandpa DJ playing them. Like it or not wardrobe has to be a part of our bottom line DJ expense budget.

The slickest suit in the world won’t help you at all if you look and smell like a neanderthal. We always want to seem approachable and attractive (which is important for referrals and future bookings) to guests. But will turn off guests more than dragon breath and wild hair coming out of orifices you didn’t even know you had. Get a haircut, shave, wear make-up, make sure your clothes are ironed, etc. It’s also a good idea to keep basic toiletries like deodorant and breath mints in your DJ kit.

Comfortable Footwear
I don’t sit down during any gig I’m on. Any DJ that also stands the whole time will agree that the importance of comfortable shoes can’t be overstated. Being on your feet for 5 hours or more, not even including set-up can wreak havoc on your feet, legs and back. But that doesn’t mean it’s OK to wear your most comfy pair of sneakers either. Remember, you shouldn’t stay hidden behind your draped DJ table all night, so you can’t hide your house slippers under a table skirt. You should be spending some time on the dance floor as well or mingling with guests, etc. This means guests will see you from head to toe so it’s important to find shoes that support you comfortably and also look appropriate.

Physical Fitness
You don’t have to look like an Olympic athlete to be a succesful DJ. But some gigs certainly feel like a marathon so you shouldn’t look and feel like a tired, pot-bellied couch potato either. I’m overweight myself and constantly trying to win the battle of the bulge. But I do try to watch what I eat and get to the gym regularly. Working out a few times a week can greatly improve your energy and your appearance. Also try to get as much rest as possible before a gig. Eat foods that will boost energy, not sap it and drink plenty of fluids. No one wants to see a DJ with bags under her eyes looking like she would rather be asleep rather than at this gig. Also keep in mind that when picking wardrobe for gigs, wear things that compliment your frame and body type and look flattering on you. Ill-fitting shirts and tops that accentuate a bit of a muffin top or beer belly won’t do you any favors in terms of booking more gigs.

None of this means that DJs should be supermodels. But you should work to make your look fashionable, current and attractive. My mother always used to stress the importance of looking good on the path to success and I have seen her proven right so many times – sometimes in myself, often in others. How we look personally is as important, if not more so, than how our light rig or facade looks. Pay as much attention to appearance as gear and when you look in the mirror you’ll not only see a good looking DJ, but also a good looking DJ with more gigs.