July 23, 2014

How Creative Mobile DJs Booked Gigs in This Winter's Brutal Weather

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These past few years, Adam Weitz of A Sharp Production in Huntingdon Valley, Pa., has been wondering if he might be related to a certain biblical character.

“I don’t know whether Noah was a relative of mine and God is simply giving me the burden, or if I’m just able to endure the stress,” he says, “but I seem to have personally been targeted with more storms, ice, flooding and snow and hurricane than ever before.

“As far as the winter weather, I’ll tell you it’s been as brutal here in Pennsylvania—and in Philadelphia, in particular, we’ve just been nailed all season. And although I do sympathize with some of Atlanta’s recent ice, I think that Philadelphia has definitely gotten the brunt of the storms.”

Although Mark Haggerty of Denon & Doyle in the San Francisco Bay Area hasn’t had to deal with snow or ice, the serious drought in California has impacted that company’s business with longer-than-normal shipping times for products they order—and people being forced to move ceremonies indoors instead of using the typically beautiful outdoor settings in that state.

“We’ve not had a drop of rain since a freak shower back in September until the Super Bowl,” says Haggerty, “so I’d say that qualifies as a serious drought!”

The Midwest and Northeastern regions of the United States were basically shut down a few times earlier this year due to a “polar vortex” winter storm; Southern cities such as Atlanta and Raleigh came to standstills when snow and ice hit their typically balmy metropolitan regions, and California is in the midst of a drought of similarly biblical proportions.

How do mobile DJs best deal with extreme weather? How do we continue earning an income when weather events tend to keep most people (including our employees) inside their homes?

According to Artem Lomaz of Ninety-Three Entertainment in Ledgewood, N.J., inclement weather certainly poses its challenges to people in the mobile-entertainment industry, and not just for clients who endure stress because of severe weather around the time of their celebrations.

“It does create anxiety for everyone involved, as no one wants to postpone a celebration—especially if friends and family have traveled from afar for the event,” he says. “It could keep guests who are traveling from making it due to the weather, which is disappointing for the guests of honor and their families.”

As far as it concerns Ninety-Three Entertainment, Lomaz says the mere threat of severe weather tends to change their company’s planning process. “I factor in additional hours for travel and preparation, depending on the severity of the weather,” he explains. “I typically like to get to my events as early as possible to begin preparing, but weather complications make me even more aware of the urgency to be at the venue as early as can be.

“Managing your travel time, preparation adjustments and the nerves of your clientele is essential in keeping everyone at ease, including yourself and your team members, at an already potentially stressful time. It’s certainly an inconvenience—one that us New Jersey residents are becoming all too familiar with—but with proper preparation, safety measures, and time and communication management, the show almost always certainly goes on.”

Lomaz says another important aspect to consider is protecting equipment from the elements. “Wherever we store our equipment between events, and even during the travel to events—in a car that’s freezing, for example—we must take measures to protecting our equipment,” he says. “I bring additional covers and blankets to cover my equipment during cold travel, which allows the equipment to warm up quicker once we’re at our designated venue and prepare to set up.

“In-between events, I also cover equipment in order to maintain a certain temperature around it so that it doesn’t get too hot or too cold while it’s being stored.”

While he doesn’t have any truly terrible horror stories to relate in terms of weather, Blake Eckelbarger (aka DJ Sticky Boots) in South Bend, Ind., says the snow coming off Lake Michigan can sometimes make conditions there pretty tough during the winter.

“We always have a small number of school dances that get canceled due to weather every winter,” he says. “We’re usually notified the morning of the event, since oftentimes school gets canceled altogether and so do all extracurricular events. But occasionally, a dance sponsor drops the ball and we aren’t notified.

“With the Internet and instant news-on-demand these days, I’m very proactive in following the schools we work with if I suspect an event will be canceled. But back in the day, more than once, we braved incredibly dangerous conditions to arrive at a school for an event—only to find the doors locked, or a solitary custodian who informed us the event was canceled and no one had bothered to tell us.”

Sticky Boots says that when one of his events is canceled due to a storm, they are eventually still paid per their contract, but that doesn’t make the drive back home any less white-knuckled.

“Today, having AAA for roadside assistance, an emergency, cold-weather, survival kit in the vehicles, plus at least one member of the staff on call to bail us out, if necessary, is a prerequisite in dealing with wintry conditions around here.

“We also keep our gear in a heated storage area, so it’s not so cold after loading in, but sometimes even then, just the journey to the gig and the load-in in sub-zero weather can lead to gear not performing as expected. It was especially bad in the days of CD players, when the lenses would fog up with condensation. We now simply try to leave as much time as possible prior to the show for warming up.”

While he’s experienced both extreme cold and extreme hot weather events from New York down to Miami and the Caribbean, DJ Carl Williams of DJCarl.com in New York City says he’s also experienced the cancellation of parties and weddings due to hurricanes.

“As a small business, it clearly hurts financially when an event has to be canceled due to acts of God,” says Williams. “I’ve been extremely fortunate to not have had many situations where parties had to be canceled due to the weather. In fact, during my career I’ve had more canceled weddings due to a change of heart either by a groom and/or bride than from bad weather.

“As far as equipment not working properly due to weather, I’ve also been lucky to have had no circumstances occur during the event—knock on wood. However, I prefer to play in cold weather than in humid and hot weather. As professionals, we all know that keeping our gear cool is always better for it, so playing when it’s cold never concerns me. My only concern is if anyone will show up to a cold or windy event.

“Now, when it comes to humid and hot environments, such as in the Caribbean and Florida, anxiety does make preparation somewhat daunting. It’s a situation when I must have back-up equipment ready to go right away. These days, for example, I never want my music [laptop] to be in direct sunlight.”

Similar to Williams, JR Silva of Silver Entertainment in Orlando says he’s had gigs canceled and be rescheduled due to hurricanes coming to town.
“I can remember being at first frustrated because of a last-minute weather-related cancellation, and then an hour later being thankful that I was not on the road, or away from my family in such a storm,” Silva says. “I’ve found I need to go with the flow and, like the client, error on the side of caution or safety.”

Being in Florida, Silva says he often gets asked to do quite a few parties outdoors, by the pool and in the sun.

“One thing clients have a hard time understanding, and it’s particularly obvious, but heat and DJ equipment do not mix,” he says. “And like Hawaii, we often encounter a tropical rain around 4 in the afternoon. You can feel the air shift and you may or may not have enough time to put your gear away or cover up with a tarp. When I learn that an event is being held outside, I immediately ask my client if there is a tent being provided, or if I have to bring one along.

“Many clients have not thought things through, so I have to bring it up because without a canopy I may or may not be able to read the screen on my mixer, laptop or music controller. Clients are quite naive to this and often want me to bring the tent myself, which I do, but I feel this is an ‘add-on’—more to reserve and deliver—and not a given.

“I always have to feel things out and decide in my sales process if I’m dealing with a smart event planner or not. A smart event planner or caterer in my market is considerate of the weather and how it affects both the guest and the talent.”

Back in the Midwest, Michael Lenstra of Alexxus Entertainment in Dubuque, Iowa, says there’s no more scenic a location to get married than in a vineyard during the autumn season, with Mother Nature providing a vivid color palette in the background.

At least that was the intention of one of his couples that scheduled their ceremony at Park Farm Winery in Bankston, Iowa, in October of 2012. But what they didn’t account for was that Mother Nature would instead provide an all-day downpour, complete with below-normal temperatures.

“All the outdoor pictures were canceled,” he recalls, “the wedding party huddled into the winery’s hospitality room seeking warmth, and to add to the disappointment of the day dinner—which featured ribeyes and chicken fillets cooked over a charcoal grill—was over an hour late because the coals would not get hot enough.

“As an entertainer, all we could do is try to make light of the situation by playing some of those ‘rain’ songs, such as ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain’ by CCR and ‘Rain on the Scarecrow’ by John Mellencamp, along with a few slow songs to create some body heat.”

Fortunately, since that awkward reception of two years ago, Lenstra says that particular winery has put a new policy in place by not booking any outdoor weddings before May 1 or after September 30.

Back over in Pennsylvania, Scott Goldoor of Signature DJs in Plymouth Meeting says that over his years of DJing he’s had about a dozen times when one of his venues experienced a power outage. In these cases, he says he uses a car power inverter to keep a party or wedding reception going.

Goldoor recalls one event at a country club with 150 guests, during which the power went out and no generator could be located. “This happened about halfway through the cocktail hour, so the ovens in the kitchen were not operational,” he says. “The venue lit candles, and had a handful of small battery-operated fans from the kitchen they brought into the ballroom to keep the guests comfortable.

“I simply brought my SUV right up to the front door, which was the closest point of access to the club, and then ran about 150 feet of extension cord in through the front door to where I was set up in this particular ballroom.”

Of course, it was a drain on the vehicle’s battery, but Goldoor says he would rather have had the show go on than not at all (and would figure out getting a ride home if the battery died).

“For the first hour or so, I actually let my truck run, then turned the power off, and everything still ran fine, and DJed the party, people danced and the kitchen brought out some cold cuts and other snacks for the guests. At the end of the night, numerous people came up to me and couldn’t have enough praise and accolades for thinking so quickly and on my feet.”

Other than 10-15 minutes of downtime when he pulled his truck up to the door and got everything situated, Goldoor reports that the party turned out to be a successful event.

“That club has been recommending Signature DJs for almost 20 years now,” he says, “and I personally also DJed the general manager’s wedding about 10 years ago.”

Then again, sometimes generators do come in extremely handy. Just ask the aforementioned Adam Weitz, who learned from his experiences during Hurricanes Irene and Sandy—with torrential rain and even tornadoes touching down all around—that sometimes an alternative source of electricity can quickly pay for itself.

“During Hurricane Sandy in 2013, we were booked for a gig, and suddenly we had to deal with entertaining at a venue with no power,” he recalls. “I went to Home Depot with a friend to buy four emergency generators, and from what I charged the client to bring generators to the party, I not only got back the money for buying those generators, but I also sold two of them later—so we ended up making money.

“We ended up looking like heroes, because these large generators not only powered the entertainment, but also powered the venue as well. The clients were extremely grateful and the parties went on as planned.”

One of the particular things Weitz stresses for his staff is to get to their events as early as possible.

“Although I understand and can respect if they really don’t want to work in this weather, we need to know in advance,” he says. “If they’re going to do that, please do us a favor and let us know early, because we have people who have Ford F150s and SUVs and trailers, and people who just know how to drive in this weather.

“I can understand if it’s something that’s going to brutalize the party so that even the guests would not be able to make it, but two inches of snow and ice and rain is not something that should stop any entertainer from getting to where they need to be.”

Weitz says he’s also careful to tell his staff, when they’re working in winter weather, to dress appropriately.

“Dress as if you’re skiing, with bibs and ski jackets and gloves,” he explains. “Some of these DJs don’t understand: They come in jeans and a t-shirt and a hoodie, because they don’t think they’re going to be too involved. We try to explain that the more prepared they are for these types of contingencies the better.

“As an entertainment company, we want to educate our clients on having winter parties. We don’t want to scare them, but we want to let them know that these things do happen, and being prepared is the best possible thing they can do. But the old adage says, ‘The show must go on.’”

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