We've included this our web site since we figure two things will happen.
1. Other DJ's will check us out and may find this of interest.
2. People who are interested in us may find it intriguing to read a view from someone on the other side of the mic.
So here it is, a story named Confessions of a Mobile DJ. This is not something we wrote together or anything like that, just something about DJ's.
P.S. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the owners of this web site, the webmaster or the Dahli Lama. - so there!
Confessions of a Mobil DJ.
All right, lets set the record straight. We mobile DJs can be a strange bunch. We will wear funny hats, make strange noises, anything to get the crowd going. This writing is to set the record straight about at least one DJ and the wacky world he lives in. The names have been changed only because he cant remember them anyway.
My first dance was a wedding. It was an outdoor affair held at a bar. We were on a shaky wooden deck playing LPs and 45s. We did fine as far as tracking the records, as long as no one came up on the deck. At one point, we played a polka. Some old folks decided they needed something other then a grassy sloped area to kick around on. So they came up. We started placing coins on the tonearm to get it to steady.
That first show was a really winner. No I mean that with all the sarcasm I can muster. After years of radio training, working in the industry for a bit and aspirations of being a real, full time on air person, I stood there like a stunned sheep. I started playing bird dance with out any introduction. I hardly said three words all evening. My partner and owner of the company was busy that night. Very busy. At least I could help haul the two car loads of stuff.
We drove two cars to get to the place, each one loaded to the gills with stuff. No truck for us yet. Our stand was a table with a light box on the front and a hand painted, bright yellow and red sign to cover the bottom half. We had two turn tables that had been used at a broadcast studio. My partner reworked the tonearms and heads. A 50 watt per channel amp and some real kick butt speakers.
We had no lighting to speak of, unless you consider a box with the bubble plastic commonly used on office fluorescent lights to diffuse the light. It looks a bit like the 1960s light organ boxes they used to sell at Radio Shack. Could be they still do yet today. Ours was filled with Christmas lights that just blinked at their own pace. We had a couple of small clip lights which we clipped on the light box so we could see the turn tables.
When it was all over, the guy asked me to help him the next day for a graduation party he had booked for the afternoon. Sure, why not. This was short term thing Id only do for a few months, then go on to something else.
That was over 20 years ago. Im still in the biz and love every minute of it!
That next day we played for a bunch of bikers in a little backwoods town. This time I did better. I was coached a bit on what to say and had built a little more confidence in what I was doing. We even tried a bit of a hand-off; one of us spoke and either asked the other what was on next or just shut up and let the other person work the mike. We still do this well today. Weve been at this so long together that we dont even have to discuss it, it happens, and we keep each other on our toes as well, sometimes not telling the other person we plan to 'hand it off' to them. Suddenly, they have to speak. It can be very fun.
Back the bikers: It was at this dance where we met Red. Red was a rough and tumble biker. Scraggly long hair, beard and a complexion that said he spent a lot of time out doors. He came up to us about an hour into the show.
"My name is Red, how yall doin. We came here to dance. I drove up for Georgia for this here party. I drove though rain, sleet, hail, a bit of snow and all that s**t just to be here. I wanna dance. Now, if your looking at one of your records, wondering if you should play the hit side because you can dance better to the other, you flip the sucker over and play the back. We dont care what you play, just as long as we can dance."
I saw Red several years later at a wedding we played for. It was for the same guy how just graduated high school. Red hadnt changed a bit. Too bad he didnt come speak to us. Could have been another memorable quote.
We were playing by the garage in the back yard. It was a hot, clear summer May day. The sun was beating down on our stand. We had kept the records cool in the car with air conditioning and in the shade of the garage interior. But, when we put them on the turntable, cued them up and started to play them we discovered something interesting. They warped badly from the temperature change. So we found a board and slapped it across the top of our stand. It looked goofy, but, at least the records stayed flat.
We had two microphones and discovered that even they were the same model mike they each had a different sound. One was slightly tinny, the other a bit muddy on the low end. I liked the muddy one. It enhanced the depth of my voice.
Flash forward a few years. I had been coached quite a bit, we had developed a good show. We were playing about every other week at this point. We were having a lot of fun. Trying out new things each dance. Getting a bit more daring. I had more comfortable with the show and the fact that the owner was not going to jump on me for anything I tried. As long as it was not something like tearing all my clothes off and running around the floor. We worked together and it grew in to more a partnership than a boss/employee thing.
We bought a few light cans and were ready for a light show. We had up to this point, always tried to build everything we could for the show ourselves. When it came to controlling the lights, we bought a mail order electronics kit that would work as a light organ if you feed audio directly to it. We tried it out in his garage and it worked great. We were all set.
Our first dance with the lights was a high school 5 year reunion. I like 5 year reunions. They are still in the mood to show off to one another and arent so interested in catching up with one another as showing off their relationship. So we started. They were one hell of a crowd. Dancing like crazy to most everything we played. The lights were working great. We were in a small room and very loud. The lights on the amp blinked that we were at peak. Suddenly, I noticed the lights were not working at all.
We had built a switch box with each color switchable from the color organ to a manual push switch. It was great idea. We could manually control one of the colors and go a lot of strange combinations like that.
When the lights stopped, we went manual and waited for a slow song. During it, my partner brought out a screwdriver and took the cover off the box. Well almost. It was plenty hot and he waited a bit for it to cool. That took all of our slow song before he could touch it. We put on a fast tune and said the lights were not working, but we were looking into the problem. The tune may have been something like "Pour Some Sugar on Me." Or something metallic like that. During it, my partner took the cover off the box and smoke billowed out of the box. They cheered and thought it was part of the show!
A bit of during the dance soldering and were good to go, with one of us always pushing the buttons. We bought a real controller the next week.
We tried a lot of different things and had some basic rules based on what we had seen other people do. For example, we saw a band once at an occasion we were at and they were consuming lots of beer all night. Toward the end of the evening, they were slurring their words and running off at the mouth. So, no drinking at any dance. Well, almost. We once played for the wedding of a DJ friend of ours. After the four hour standard dance, they hired us for another two and brought drinks up for us.. Well, we could not turn him down. So, I did drink at one dance in 12 years. Now, when I get home...
No smoking at the stand. Neither one of us smoked so this seemed like an easy rule.
No swearing. Not even Damn or Hell. Some people are offended by even that and we run a family tolerable show. Not to say there has not been some close calls over the years but we've never sworn.
No violence. One DJ friend of our carries a .22 with him just in case, but we dont even carry a bat with us. Once I took a job as a club jock in a rough part of town. The head DJ asked me if I carried a piece. I responded no and he told me I should get at least a hunting knife. Something to show them I was prepared in case of trouble. I bought one and did carry it with me there. It was a legal knife and would probably just made my perpetrator laugh. Now, I use it for camping and cutting plastic for the garden. No weapons at our show.
Once, we were playing for a Class Reunion for a former all boys school. Well, they had there wives or maybe girlfriends. They were drinking lots of beer, not eating anything or dancing. You might have guessed by now, some of them were drunk. One guy in particular decided that he wanted to take us on. He was a big guy. He stood about a foot taller and a good number of pounds heavier than I do. He stood there trying to get a good grip on the front of the stand. We watched him, it was kinda in slow motion. The way most people describe a car accident. He lifted. I guess the table was a bit more then he expected since he only moved it an inch or so. We were quickly between him and the stand. The needle quickly skidded across the record and my partner shutoff the power.
"Hey, wheres the music?" he asked.
I stood there, looking him right in the eye. Ready to quote a friend of mine; "I know right now youd like to hurt me. But I am standing here thinking of how to hurt you worse." It works. I had to use it once in another, non-dance incident. Somehow, people just decide it's not worth the bother then. I'd rather end the incident like that then to have to lower myself to violence.
Two of his friends came up and hauled him off. Id like to say it, aw, what the heck: Lucky Guy. Actually, I bet it would have ended quickly with me on the floor. I don't need to go there.
Some people think DJs are strange. OK, how about some people we see? Alright, how about the things that take place at weddings?
How bout the time when the bride stuffed the cake in the grooms face. Yeah, I know, youve seen it done a hundred times. The family gathered around. The cake being sliced, and the squish is bound to happen. The guests all smile in knowing. Yes, a tradition has continued on. Well, this time it was different.
The groom stood back from her. Held out a shaking finger pointing directly. The family smiled, thinking he was just fooling a bit. "You b***h!" he shouted, the guests changing expressions quickly. "You filthy, stinking b***h! Dont you ever do anything like that again!" I stood a few feet away, waiting for them to get done before we started. Actually, I was on my way to the bathroom. Well, I thought to my self, this is going to be an interesting one. It was, the groom was on one side the room and bride on the other. They barely touched one another during the traditionals. A guest suggested later in the dance that we play a particular song for them and see if they could get them to dance. They did, but I was very tempted to say something like "We play for any occasion, even divorce parties." My only hope is that he didnt hurt her at some point in the relationship.
Ok, then there was the time that we played for a wedding in a town hall. Not like that is strange, but this was a warm summer day, with a tile floor in a building with the town garage under the hall. A nice big, cool open area with a warm hall above. Just like your windshield on a cool evening, the floor grew damp. Actually, wet. It was like an ice rink. We were sliding around the place. You could move the equipment with just a finger touch.
One time we pulled up another town hall to play, and just then, a school bus pulled away. It was the bridal party. All right, we thought, theyll be back, we start in an hour. Theyll cruse, have a drink at some watering hole. Come back and well be ok. Well get paid.
We started at 8:10, waiting for them. Two hours later, they showed up. Half the people were gone. The groom was swaying, badly, he almost fell. Well, you can just guess what kind of a fiasco that was.
I've always wondered why parents let little kids, 10 or so, get into the traditionals. They usually end up with someone twice their size, they dont want to dance, and mom and dad are standing, proud of them. But, some people find that kinda' cute. I'll admit, sometimes it's fun to watch.
I also am not wild about the dollar dance. I can't say exactly why, but I just don't.
Weve also had some fun things happen at weddings. I always get a little emotional for the father-daughter dance. Poor guy has worked all those years to earn up the money for the wedding, he ought to get a dance out of it.
Weve seen more then a few grooms get shackled to a bowling ball.
The strangest thing to me is when a couple will hire a DJ to play dinner music, and pay them for it, then, tell the guests that the way they will kiss is not as a response to tinkling glasses, but, when all the guests around a table stand up and sing a song with the word love in it. Well, we always end up shutting down the music. Once, a father came up to us and complained that he was not playing us to stand around, we should be playing music. We turned up the music for him and then another table stood up to sing. When we turned it down, he just walked away shaking his head. Poor guy, paid his money and didn't get to enjoy it as much as he wanted.
For a while I considered my self to be the Worlds most Dangerous DJ". A title I earned one evening with about 15 minutes to go at a wedding.
The evening got off to a strange start a few hours earlier when we were about to set up, when someone came up to us and asked us if we were the band. An unusual thing, weve been called the band before, but then they handed us a check for a band. Well, we quickly found the other hall in the place and set up there.
So, it was the end of the dance, we realized we hadnt done the Bird Dance. For those of you not from the mid-west, the bird dance is a routine, like the Macarina, done to the tune, "Dance Little Bird". We like to play a version by Milwaukeeian Bob Kames. We had one last time though the routine and I like to have the group grab hands together, yell then back out and do again. One elderly woman was part of the group. She backed up and hit something on the floor. She slipped back and cut her head open when she fell against a table. Needless to say, that was the end of the dance. An ambulance was called, paramedics called and a couple of squad cars - it was a small town. Ive never used the moniker in public.
When I first started, I admit it was quite a rush. Ego would come into play and quickly dissipate when the dance started. Suddenly I was on. We talked about it a lot in the early stages, when we were trying to define the show, what we did, who we were on stage and what mattered most about the show. We came to the conclusion that what felt right was that the music was the most important element of the show. What we do only enhances the experience of music. If we are the center of the show, then something is wrong. After all, what is the purpose of the dance. Dancing! Well then, its easy to figure that the music has be the center.
We never, never call it a show. (OK, I sometimes do, but only in a past tense.) We call it a dance. We have a dance to play for at a wedding, a dance to play for its a sock hop. © WISN AM. And so on. Well you get the idea.
If I were to pass on anything from my 12 years of Mobil DJ work, it would be to remember that it is a dance, you can put on a show, but it is a dance. People are not there to see you, they are there to dance! So, play your butt off and give them a reason to dance!
I have a lot of memories of playing for dances over the years.
For example, there was the time we were playing for a church picnic. It was what we expected; no one paid attention to us, we played more generic music and we eat some picnic food. As time went by, we noticed that the crowd seemed to be getting farther and farther away. The problem was a wall of boxes, road cases and such being built in front of us. Soon, we were staring into the wall of black cases. A band was setting up. We went over to the stage to ask them to move a few cases so we could at least see. The one guy introduced himself as the drum tech for the band. A bit later, after he moved out a few cases so we could see when suddenly, were overcome with the sound of him drumming. He was banging out a drum solo. We simply shut down. No sense in fighting when you will only loose. An hour or so later we left to go to the wedding with the sweaty floor I mentioned earlier.
I've always said if this job stops being fun, I will quit. But, since I do tend to be a bit impulsive, I will let my business partner know and then do three more dances before I truly quit.
One of the best dances we ever played for was for a bunch of teenagers. This was dance number three of my pre-quitting bunch. We were at a hotel/conference building, in the basement. Upstairs, the adults were being entertained by "The Kids from Wisconsin." This was the evening entertainment portion of a conference for and about foreign exchange students. We were the entertainment of the kids - as in the students and the children of the American families. It was the first dance where we played something from a CD. I had about 8 of then and a portable CD player. It was one of the first models to ever be sold. It was the first night I ever played under my stage name. And could have been my last dance. (More on that later.) But, with all that there was a moment which still ranks as one of the best in all these years.
We had been trying against all odds to get a crowd to dance. We played everything we had for powerhouse stuff. Then, in a flash of brilliance, my partner asked me, "What if we played We are the world for them. I mean, were not getting anywhere with what we are playing so far.". Why not, I agreed. It had been a very popular tune not six month before this dance and they were kids from around the world.
We made our way musically to the point we could play it.. My partner introduced it, and we started it. We hadnt played more then a few seconds of it and the entire room full it kids were on their feet, drawn to the dance floor, in front of us. It was a smallish floor. They formed two circles, one inside the other, hand in hand, and were swaying and singing.
I stood there looking at this scene; these were youth of a number of different countries, and perhaps religious and political beliefs. It didnt matter at that moment. The color of anyones skin did not matter to anyone in the room. This was hope, a sign of hope for our future. Ill admit that I had moist eyes, so did my partner. Well, I looked at him and said, "OK, Ill stay with it a while longer." Ive never regretted that decision.
Weve gone a long way from when we used two turntables and a portable walk along type cassette player. We now have two CD players that also play MP3 file discs. We do, however, carry a backup amp and mixer.
We used to use 3 x 5 cards to catalogue the music we carried with us, now we use a laptop computer and a software package which tracks our music and prompts us for our next song.
I'll confess that being a DJ has been a study in human nature.
Take the people Ive all encountered that try to tell us what to play next; "Hey, this party is dying!" (There is a crowd on the floor so big that no one could fit anywhere on it.) You just gotta get them back again! Play (Some obscure song that would not work with the crowd or we played something like that a little while before.)"
Or the guy who called me a "faggot" while I had a mike open and was doing a skit with a saxophone.
The hall manager who comes up to us and demands we be ready to leave in a much shorter time than it would take anyone to get packed and ready. Then grumbles then entire time it takes to get packed and refused to let us back in for one last check.
Now, Ive written mostly of the problems encountered while being a DJ. But, there is so much more to it than this.
Theres a people who come up to us and tell us they like the job we are doing, people who tell us they saw us someplace and want us to play for them. The people who applaud when our closing song is over or stop by on the way out to tell how much fun they had. Or the group that keeps calling us back again and again, year after year to play for an event.
Theres the oldies band at the car show, we were there to play during their breaks. Not only did they let us know when they were about to take a break, but they introduced when they taking a break us as well as let us know what they were playing in the next set so neither of us played the same thing twice.
The bride who wrote a nice comment on a weddings website about us. The group of Mentally Challenged kids who might not all have been able to dance to our music, but were having a great time with our lights and the music and the games we played. The bride and groom who want to make sure that they have their photo taken with you for their album. The kids who dance and tell us we are cool, even though we are 20 or more years older than they are. The list of people whom we have seen over and over again at dance and know, somehow they had a hand in telling our clients to hire us.
This is rewarding business, if you have the right attitude about it.
To me, that means keeping the music the center of attention, keeping your ego in check and working hard every dance to play music that keeps people going, interested and having fun.
And also, to keep having fun yourself. Keep pushing your personal envelope. What can you do now you could not do before? What personality can you show now that you were afraid to not long ago. How can you be funny and entertaining and not take over the show? Dances are also a bit like a good game of Chess. One move you make causes a response move and so on. And it all for the fun of it.