August 28, 2014

Are You a Professional Mobile DJ or a Certified Entertainment Coordinator?

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I’m pretty sure most of us have seen the television commercial: A financial advisor is meeting with a young couple, and after throwing out some fancy terminology about retirement, a 401(k) and the importance of asset allocation, the wife says he certainly sounds knowledgeable and professional.

That’s when the man posing as a financial consultant reveals that in reality he’s merely a DJ.

“If they’re not a CFP pro, you just don’t know,” concludes the ad. “Find a Certified Financial Planner professional who’s thoroughly vetted.”
As a Certified Financial Planner myself, oftentimes I’ll chuckle to myself when meeting during the week with prospects and clients who would probably never imagine how I sometimes spend my weekends—occasionally, I continue to entertain as a mobile DJ for private parties, corporate events or wedding receptions.

We recently asked professional DJ/entertainers about how far our industry has come since the years of scratchy records and strobe lights all the way to today’s uplighting, photo booths, lighted flooring, LEDs and computer-based DJing.

Have the DJs of today truly traveled light years toward becoming true entertainment professionals? How have DJs raised the bar on professionalism, and thereby not only raising their reputations, but also their incomes?

Maria Shafer, a celebration expert with Orlando Weddings Magazine in the Sunshine State, says that—for DJs—the age of the cookie-cutter wedding has essentially ended.

“Sure, some of the songs are the same, but the organization of the event changed, and the couples nowadays offer more input,” she says. “A DJ has to keep up with trends, be more flexible and work social media to its potential.

“And the phrase ‘I don’t own that song’ is rarely heard anymore, because even during the event itself a DJ has the ability to download the song they need within seconds. Quality gear is more and more affordable, and smaller and less obvious, so the general look of the event has changed as well. There’s no more need for the huge, obnoxious DJ set-up in the background of every picture taken.”
Artem Lomaz of New Jersey’s Ninety Three Entertainment says he personally didn’t find the aforementioned commercial to be offensive.

“I actually don’t even really see it as pertaining to our industry, but to be done just in fun,” says Lomaz. “It just seems overall like you could substitute any profession—aside from financial planner—and it would still get their message across.”

According to Lomaz, the mobile-DJ business has evolved from a technological standpoint over the past couple decades while continuing the professionalism he’s observed since beginning this career.
“When it comes to professionalism, I believe it’s like any other industry,” he says. “Professionalism is tied to customer service and customer service breeds sustainability, and I believe the industry has continued to grow through professionalism and an attentiveness to our consumers.”

Lomaz says that one of the biggest advancements he’s seen over the decades has been in co-vendor relationships. “Our industry has begun realizing the benefits of working as a team with other vendors, such as caterers, photographers, lighting specialists, etc., in order to ensure that every event is handled with the care it deserves.

“If you think about it,” he continues, “the DJ profession is very young—it’s only been about 40 years or so that people have hired DJs for their event entertainment. I feel that we certainly have the blueprint for it, and our industry is full of creative people who constantly strive for better performance, as well as better client care. The combination of performance enhancements—like lighting and photo-booths—the various ways to communicate with clients—phone, email, social, etc.—and the constant care of our clients is what provides growth for our industry and cultivates a professional, and comfortable, environment for those looking to invest in quality event entertainment.”

Shafer says that a joke about DJs is naturally easy to make, based on the history of our industry. “In movies and television, the DJ is not usually the cool, hip, super-intelligent guy,” she explains. “Unless it’s a club DJ in the background of a super-fancy L.A. party scene—and even those are typically moody and silent—DJs are most often portrayed as comical, over-the-top, finger-gun-pointing types.
“And we’ve all met those guys in real life, so they really do exist. In fact, I met one guy at a convention recently who bragged about his pair of faux backless pants that he loved to reveal during the song ‘Baby Got Back,’ and he thought it was hilarious—although I doubt he’s working any events at The Waldorf.

“Those types are the louder, more obvious DJs, and are therefore likely to be most associated with the profession in general.”

Shafer quotes Dr. Allan Grant from the movie Jurassic Park: “The world has just changed so radically, and we’re all running to catch up.”

She continues, “In the 1990s—the Jurassic Era, as younger DJs would consider it—it was a simpler time. You had gear, music and a tuxedo. Couples booked their facility, their photographer, their DJ, their floral—working through the checklists in the magazines and planners they bought in bookstores. Sure, the gear was huge and heavy, and some songs were impossible to buy in time for your gig, but the process as a whole was more cut-and-dry.

“Then reality TV and the Internet changed everything. Brides and grooms became more educated when it came to what they wanted their wedding to look like, and colors and themes were more specific—both in decoration and musically. All fields within the wedding industry had to move forward along with the technology.

“Clients today expect a higher level of professionalism, no matter what the cost, in all budget ranges. Words like ‘intimate’ replaced ‘small weddings,’ and ‘vintage’ overwrote ‘classic.’ They see it on TV and they want to make it theirs.”

One Florida DJ in particular—Charles Amstone of Solid Gold Entertainment in Tampa Bay—admits that he sometimes needs to vent about mobile jocks in his area who seem to still be living in the 1980s.
“I’m able to watch many DJs at events where I have my photo booths at, and my observation is that most DJs are a C-grade when it comes to programming and mixing,” Amstone says. “They stick to the same old format from one event to the other, and play the same dinner/cocktail music as the last DJ. And I’ve only seen a few who get it when it comes to creative programming and the ability to beat-mix.”

What concerns Amstone the most is the lack of a quality MC in many modern-day DJs.

“This past Saturday night I got to witness a really incredible DJ who was on his game and I’d grade him an ‘A’ on music and mixing,” he recalls. “But when it came to being an MC, I cringed. In fact, I’d grade him a ‘D.’ I could tell from the way he introduced the family and other moments throughout the night that he really didn’t do much, if any, homework. In fact, he screwed up the intros of the parents twice.

“And sadly, the above situation is nothing new,” he says. “I typically don’t see any personalization or any creativity. I don’t see any real connection between the DJ and who he’s introducing. It’s as if he just got wind of who the names were.

“The truth is, these people have real names. Furthermore, I don’t see anything different in ways of engaging the crowd other than the typical line-dances or doing interactives, calling tables, ending shows, etc.

“I would guess this is why many DJs are struggling with prices—it has a lot to do with being a really good MC.”

So how do we improve?

“I’d start with researching being a true Master of Ceremonies,” Amstone says. “Record yourself talking at events. Share your videos with the top pros and get critiqued. Join a Toastmaster group. Take an improv class. Attend MC training.

“One of the most important roles we have at weddings is the role of Master of Ceremonies, and from what I’m seeing all too often—we’re not masters.”

Up in Philadelphia, Steve Croce of Silver Sound Disc Jockeys says it’s easy for salespeople to manipulate people, whether it’s a financial planner or a mobile entertainer.

“I spend a lot of time and energy taking the power away from our salespeople,” he says, “and in fact our sales approach empowers the client to select their DJ. I force our DJs to do a better job with the actual craft. I force them to offer a better customer experience. I force them to communicate to me ways to alleviate painful experiences they have with their existing clients. I’m continuously sharpening our company’s ‘hunting knife,’ as it were.

“The DJs who don’t do a good job pleasing their current clients are not going to get the word-of-mouth referrals and five-star reviews. And without those sales tools, they’re not likely to be selected by potential clients.”

Over the years, Croce says that Silver Sound has worked hard to streamline and automate many of the processes that in previous decades used to devour so much of a DJ’s time and energy.

“Through integrating web-based technology with personal experience and years of knowledge of planning and executing a flawless event, we’ve grown leaps and bounds across the areas of heavy lifting, allowing us to concentrate more of our attention on putting our best foot forward in terms of presentation and aesthetics, all while maintaining a painless customer experience.

“Our evolving ability to walk a client through consultations improves their opportunity to select their favorite music, build a comprehensive document of details regarding their event, and to work in a concerted effort with their selected DJ to develop a timeline and agenda for the party.”

Improved communication, says Croce, has been what’s helped his company develop the most valuable asset when it comes to professional relationships with their clients.

“We’ve electronically linked our clients’ photographers, videographers, banquet directors, officiants and everyone else involved with their event into our documents, presenting them with digital copies of the information forms before the event even arrives,” he explains. “This encourages feedback, discussion and editing on the professional end, further improving the customer’s experience and helping improve pre-existing and brand new relationships with industry professionals we whom we actually work.”

Another thing that has changed over the years, according to Shafer, is that the idea of a “specialist” in any industry has been blurred.

“Some DJs have added photo and video, photo booths, dancefloors, lighting and rentals to their basic packages, using these items as extra income or upsells,” she says. “It seems that these days it’s almost expected that a DJ will carry decor lighting [uplighting]. It’s almost necessary to own these items just to compete with other DJs.”

Up in New York City, DJ Carl Williams of DJCarl.com Entertainment says that there’s an important distinction to be made between DJs and DJ entertainers.

“I personally think that if you show guests line-dancing then you should be considered an entertainer or dancer, but not a DJ,” he says. “There’s a perception that your mobile DJ will show you how to do a line-dance and that they therefore all play the ‘Chicken Dance’ at their events, and that’s bad.”

Of course, Williams is quick to admit that the tools available to DJs have still advanced light years from the days when he started to learn how to DJ at Penn State a long, long time ago.

“Back then, I was mixing music like a radio DJ with cassette tapes—fade in/fade out,” he says. “I couldn’t beat-mix like I can today, so the technology today has allowed one to definitely match music to be pinpoint accurate.

“I also think LED lighting is another great tool to help give a room dimension, texture and ambiance for today’s mobile DJ.”

But when it comes to upsells beyond actually playing music and creating a mood during musical entertainment, Williams is quick to add that today’s DJs can be undermining their professionalism when they attempt to become involved in too many activities at their events.

“As for photo booths, they’re great for guests’ memories, but I would rather have my photographer run a photo-booth, which gets to my pet peeve with many of the mobile DJs across the country,” he says. “Why are so many of us bundling music, LED lights and photo-booths for peanuts? For the majority of DJs in North America, it seems they’re giving away their services for very small fees. I don’t think when DJ companies set low rates for great amenities that this helps the industry.”

On a daily basis, Williams says he seeks to lead by example with the use of his website and face-to-face interactions. “I try to educate event planners and brides that they must look for value and not just things they can get for free,” he says. “The value is finding a DJ who can play great music at the right time that taps into people’s emotions.

“For example, a great DJ would not play the request of ‘Grenade’ by Bruno Mars at a wedding, because it’s just not the right lyrical song to play at a wedding. I explain that the preparation and details are very important from the start of the event to the very end. I communicate that if they can get an individual who can manage the event to keep it upbeat and positive with few people sitting at their tables checking their cell phones, then their money will be well spent. In conclusion, I’m educating clients and not promoting to them.”

Williams even goes so far as to say that, in order for mobile DJs to reach the same level of professionalism as a certified financial planner, the industry would probably do well to require some sort of licensing.

“One of these days,” he says, “I may just start ‘The Legit DJ Club.’ The prerequisites would be based on (1) beat-mixing skill, (2) MC skills, (3) entertainment skills, (4) grooming/attire, (5) team attitude capabilities, (6) music genre knowledge, (7) licenses and (8) formal education. If the DJ had to go through a reputable program, then that would help society to see the DJ as a true entertainment professional that should get reasonable compensation.”

The DJ industry as a whole must start educating brides and event planners that they’re paying for the expertise and personality of the entertainer to get people to dance and have fun, which is not so easy to do nowadays. Most people are so distracted being on their smart phones that, if you asked them who the DJ was at the last event they attended, they’d probably not be able to say.”

So maybe because we in the financial industry have certified financial planners, maybe someday the DJ industry will have members known as Certified Entertainer Coordinators?

 

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