DJ Times DJ Expo Seminar Reviews – 2015

During the latter months of 2015, my reviews of the educational seminars at the DJ Times International DJ Expo held during August 2015 were published in the magazine.  For those DJs who missed the write-ups, for convenience I’ve compiled all of the reviews into a single blog.

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DJs eager to learn flock to the seminar halls of the DJ Times DJ Expo each August to broaden their knowledge with actionable ideas.  2015 offered a high quality selection of educational topics spanning performance techniques, sales/marketing tips and specialty business lines.

All-Star Emcee Secrets Revealed.  This seminar in its fifth annual installment has become one of the most popular seminars of the Expo. Chaired by Steve Moody, the panelists vary from year to year, and this year’s panel included Mike Wieder (Ultimate Sounds DJs), Mike Walter (Elite Entertainment), Fox Feltman (BTA Entertainment) and Shani Barnett (Mobile Music Interactive Entertainment).

Steve Moody discussed techniques that wedding DJs can use to stack the deck in their favor to create immensely satisfied clients who view their DJ as a friend. At consultations, for a personal touch Moody stands at the door to greet couples and addresses them by name.  This process is repeated upon their leaving his office.  He puts couples at ease by stating that the purpose of the consultation is to talk about their vision and not to force them to sign anything.  After booking a couple, clients receive monthly emails with wedding planning tips and other important information.  These emails are automated, but provide the feel of attentive, personalized concierge service.  At the final consultation and again the day of the wedding, Moody tells couples, “I want your wedding to be the best night of your life.  If there’s anything that you want or need, please tell me.”  The day of a wedding, Steve also sends his couples a text message mentioning how much he’s looking forward to celebrate with them.

Mike Wieder discussed the importance of creating moments and making memories for his wedding couples.  To do so, Wieder is a proponent of shaking up traditional wedding reception traditions and thinking outside of the box.  For example, couples can share their first dance surrounded by guests on the dance floor holding candles (six inch flickering LED candles are recommended for safety purposes).  For the anniversary dance which typically eliminates couples as the years married increment increases, in Wieder’s version, couples are added based on years of marriage with the final result being a packed dance floor.  The longest married couple as discovered from the anniversary dance can then cut a second slice of cake after the bride and groom in the cake cutting ceremony.  Wieder advises emcees that “fear is not an option, fun is.”

Mike Walter focused on the grand finale of a wedding reception and the importance of “ending with a Wow!”  For those who are familiar with Mike’s teachings, he places great emphasis on having strong openings and endings at wedding receptions in order to be memorable.  For a grand finale, he said that a high-energy closer is always best. The DJ/Emcee should pick that final song based on the flow of the evening.  Ideally the final song will include a break or bridge section where the emcee can work the microphone and do things like shout-out the bride & groom, provide well-wishes for their honeymoon or stage group photo shots.  Walter also recommends that DJs have one more encore song ready to go.  It can even be a short one or two minute edit of popular songs like “What I Like About You,” “Twist and Shout,” “I Wanna Be Sedated” or “Jump Around.”

Fox Feltman has built a solid market share in his North Carolina market by specializing in high-energy, interactive weddings where couples are meant to feel like royalty.  At consultations, he has brides complete a father-daughter questionnaire.  When the father is walking out for the Father-Daughter dance, Fox will sprinkle in personal information gained from that questionnaire to make the moment memorable.  For buffet style weddings, Feltman has tables appoint a “runner” and then compete for the right to be the next table to go to the buffet by answering questions or playing name that tune.  A bouquet-garter ceremony can be livened up by blindfolding the garter-catching male, and replacing the bouquet-catching female with a substitute like the father of the bride or Grandma.  At a grand finale, Feltman orchestrates a “Circle of Love” where the wedding couple goes around to share a handshake, hug or kiss with each guest.  After making the rounds, the emcee implodes the circle by going into the song “Shout.”

Shani Barnett spoke about the importance of commanding a crowd.  At the beginning of a performance, emcees must smile, create a “warm feel” and make eye contact with guests.  Even in the midst of difficult circumstances, emcees must stay positive reminding themselves that “I can be the best” and life is not so bad being paid to party.

Same Sex Weddings: a Primer.  After receiving a warm reception at last year’s DJ Expo speaking on a business panel, this year Jodi Duston from DJ Jodi Entertainment of Portsmouth, New Hampshire delivered a full-length seminar offering tips on how DJs can book more same sex weddings. Jodi operates a thriving DJ business that specializes in same sex weddings and other events catering to the LGBT (“Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transsexual”) community.  A lesbian herself, Jodi’s wedding DJ business initially focused on straight couples.  It was only later, after forging relationships in the community and learning musical programming for LGBT couples that Jodi would develop her same sex wedding specialty.

Duston’s tips include:  (1) place images of same sex couples on your website.  Related, get reviews from same sex couples; (2) create separate paperwork for same sex couples.  Spend an afternoon revising your wedding planning forms creating one set for lesbian couples and one for gay male couples; (3) get educated on the different traditions and announcements at a same sex wedding, particularly for the ceremony, wedding party introductions, and Parent Dances.  For example, consider a lesbian wedding.  Do both brides get walked down the aisle by their fathers?  If both brides are wearing a dress, this may be the case.  In other cases when one bride is “butch,” she may dress in a suit and tie and take more the role of a traditional groom and will be waiting at the wedding altar with the officiant.  DJs should be armed with lots of information and options for their same sex couples; (4) Be where they are.  Of course, you want to be online where same sex couples are researching wedding vendors – sites like the Rainbow Wedding Network and gayweddings.com.  DJs should also research local community events.  In particular, DJs can purchase a table at “pride festivals” – large gatherings for the LGBT community that are less formal and lots of fun; (5) volunteer for causes important to the LGBT community such as AIDS walks or youth programs.  The community is quick to support those who support them; and (6) when performing at straight weddings, conduct yourself in a manner that will place gay couples in the crowd at ease.

The Keys: Become a Great Performer.  Mike Walter of Elite Entertainment stated emphatically that DJs have to stop being afraid of stealing the spotlight, and instead focus on creating great moments.  Amazing party outcomes in turn fuel referrals.  Walter then shared this thought-provoking quote, “advertising is the price a business pays for being boring.” 

At weddings, Walter recommends that DJs look to pack the dance floor early.  For example, immediately after the salad course is a great time to open up the dance floor.  Emcees should open the dance floor with complete confidence and not be afraid to fail.  Guests can be enticed by making a statement such as “there is plenty of time before dinner is served.”  Even if an emcee fails in that initial attempt to build a dance floor, they’ve still won points with guests who realize this is not going to be a dull wedding.

To maximize interactivity and fun, emcees should ask guests to to things that they already want to do (for example, joining a group sing-a-long).  Emcees should also never ask a guest to do something that they themselves wouldn’t do.  For line dancing and group dances, emcees must know these routines at a high level in order to command the crowd.  Emcees should compliment those guests who follow prompts like “put your hands in the air” in order to enjoy continued compliance.

The Art of Latin Events.  Jack Bermeo of LJ Productions, joined by Latin percussionist Crystal Vargas and two talented dancers, delivered an information-packed and exciting multi-media seminar.  The Latin market is large and growing.  For example, Hispanics account for 29% of the New Jersey population and 17% of the U.S. population.  Moreover, Latinos love to throw lavish parties.  Bermeo’s premise is that all DJs with proper research and music knowledge can enjoy a piece of the Latin market.

Different cultures equal different music.  For example, Dominicans typically favor bachata, merengue tipico and classic merengue.  Puerto Ricans on the other hand gravitate towards salsa, reggaeton and trio music.  Colombians and Ecuadorians prefer cumbia, valienatos and salsa, while Mexicans enjoy rancheros and Spanish rock.   Elvis Crespo’s “Suavemente” is viewed by Latinos as cheesy and overplayed similar to the way that “We Are Family” is viewed by Americans.

To successfully cross over into the Latin market, DJs must ask the right questions, be confident and show families that they care.   If successful in doing so, premium fees are possible.  An $800 quinceanera (typical market average) could easily be upgraded to as much as $8,000 after gaining a family’s trust and offering appropriate upgrades.

Some hype phrases that any DJ can incorporate into a Latin party include “mee hentay” (My people), “Agan buya” (Make some noise), “Un applauso por favor” (a round of applause please) and “Manos Pa’Arriba” (Hands up).

Increasing your Revenue with Honeymoons & Weddingmoons.  Mark Brenneisen from Total Entertainment in upstate New York discussed an exciting and fun option for DJs to earn extra income.  Through the Association of Bridal Consultants (ABC), a professional association comprised of event planners and offering vendor memberships for DJs, members can become certified Sandals specialists and offer vacation/honeymoon packages to wedding couples, family and friends.  Sandals is a portfolio of all-inclusive resorts focused in the Caribbean and offering brands:  1) Sandals – adults only, 2) Beaches – for families, and 3) the Grand Pineapple luxury brand.

Annual membership dues to the ABC for vendor memberships are $225.  In addition to the ability to offer vacation packages through the ABC’s travel agent number, DJs enjoy two other important benefits.  First, the opportunity to benefit from educational content at ABC’s monthly meetings. Second, DJs can meet and network with the ABC’s core of event planners.  Over time, these relationships should result in referrals.

When successful in selling a vacation package, DJs earn a commission (typically about $500) and in the process qualify themselves for additional perks.  Brenneisen says that for those DJs performing at over 30 weddings a year, selling vacation packages via the ABC is a no-brainer.  In the past  year, Brenneisen has sold 13 vacations himself with minimal effort. DJs can take a passive approach to selling vacations; for example, placing a Sandals badge on their website.  Or DJs can actively cross-sell honeymoon packages to their clientele. 

Party Games with Jake.  Darryl “Jake” Jacobsen of Affair 2 Remember Entertainment hosted his eighth consecutive games/dance seminar to a packed room of DJs and party motivators eager to learn.  A fast-moving carousel of presentations from new and repeat presenters followed. 

Two games were particularly noteworthy this year:

Mike Alevras from HVE Associates in Hopewell Junction New York presented a hit game called “Sit Down If….”   The premise is simple but very fun.  Party guests stand up, and then the emcee proceeds to ask a series of questions – many of which are humorous.  If the answer is “yes” guests take their seat.  Questions continue until a winner is determined.  For example, the emcee might instruct, “sit down if you still have an active AOL account” or “sit down if you ate a hot dog today.”  This game is a great ice breaker for any type of party, and should work particularly well at corporate events.

Jack Bermeo from LJ Productions demonstrated a dazzling game using RFID bracelets.  These technologically advanced bracelets contain LEDs and were controlled by Bermeo on an iPad to turn different colors and flash/strobe.  In the “Snap Attack” game, the lights are turned off and bracelet wearing guests are given commands by the emcee that create an interactive human light show.  These specific RFID bracelets are called Xylobands and have been used in live shows by the band Coldplay.

The Myths and Methods of Beatmixing.  In an annual DJ Expo tradition, veteran DJ Frank Garcia of New York City’s Mainline Lighting and Sound demonstrated three mixing techniques: 1) fade and cue, 2) the break mix, and 3) the beat mix.  While technology and the “sync” key has made it easy to beatmix, Garcia recommends that DJs learn through the old-fashioned method; that is by ear.  He also cautioned that musical programming always trumps technical mixing ability. 

Interspersed in the technical instruction, Frank delivered life lessons.  For example, while we as DJs tend to play the same records, how you play your records is extremely important.   Garcia recommends taking chances at parties in order to stand out in a sea of thousands of other DJs.  While not every chance will produce results, Frank says “that with failure comes success.”  Dropping “a capellas” is one way for DJs to gain distinction.  Finally, once clients trust you as a DJ, you will command pricing power.

Right on the Money – Spinning Country.  Alan Kohn from Premier Entertainment in Connecticut has been spinning country music at bars and private events for two decades.  The popularity of country music is not limited to the southern United States.  DJs can tap into this niche market by spinning at country clubs, working on cruises, or throwing their own parties at hotels.  Line dancing, an integral part of the country party scene, can be learned by utilizing free online sites like www.copperhead.co.uk and kickit.to that offer step sheets and free instructional videos.  In Kohn’s case, he utilizes staff dancers to lead line dances at events, usually recruiting guests from parties based on their skills and charisma.  For those DJs who need country line dance specialists for parties, there is a large community of country line dance enthusiasts who can be pulled in on a freelance basis.  Kohn also recommends that DJs take dance lessons to increase their skill in this important performance attribute.

Even DJs who do not plan to specialize in country parties, can add interactive elements to regular parties by teaching a line dance like Wagon Wheel, Cotton Eye Joe, the Boot Scootin’ Boogie, Country Girl Shake It, and Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy).  Alan’s Youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/djalankohn showcases 70 country line dances.

Legal Issues for DJs.  Entertainment lawyer and former DJ, Coe Ramsey, provided a wealth of tips to help DJs navigate a complex legal world.  First, in order to shield personal assets, DJs should adopt a corporate structure and take great care to separate business and personal accounts.  Interestingly, informal partnerships among DJs can sometimes be construed as legal partnerships, imposing certain legal obligations on the partners.  When setting up non-compete agreements to prevent departing DJs from taking clients, the terms of the non-compete must be reasonable in terms of duration and geographic scope.  If not, the non-compete will be difficult to enforce. 

The definition of “employee” versus “subcontractor” varies based on state laws; however, in general if a company controls an individual, they are considered an employee.  A huge benefit for DJs using legal contracts is the increase in professional image.  Contracts should contain a provision citing your home state/municipality as the applicable jurisdiction of law.  Finally, with the increased popularity of music streaming services like Spotify, DJs must check the licenses carefully to determine if music may be streamed for commercial purposes.  In the case of Spotify, the answer is ‘no’. 

The willful violation of copyright law is a “big no no” – for example, the owner of a multi-op who purchases a single subscription for a music service and then distributes copies to multiple DJs. Those willfully breaking copyright law can be fined $150,000.  DJs frustrated by Soundcloud’s removal of online mixes should consider setting up a radio station podcast.

Write Your Own Success Story.  Adam Weitz from A-Sharp Productions doled out wisdom based on a career spanning over 20 years.  First, Weitz reminded DJs that the business is a service industry, and that we should have a genuine attitude to serve that comes from the heart.  Of course, the business that you will gain from this shift in mentality is huge.  While it’s important to work hard on your business, DJs need to work even harder on creating a life plan and finding a work-life balance.  When making mistakes, be honest with clients and show vulnerability.  You will generally be forgiven.  Lastly, to manage his time more efficiently, Weitz has his DJs call a “706 Line” where they leave a message recapping the good, bad and ugly from a gig.  This prevents Adam from having to take late night phone calls.

Growing Your Business Through Vertical Integration.  Keith “K.C.” KoKoruz from Chicago provided details about an alternative growth model for DJs.  K.C. was frank in saying that “the days of going out with two speakers to make a living are over.”  K.C. himself has been expanding by starting new businesses and acquiring existing businesses.  All of his businesses are related to the wedding and events industry with his business portfolio including a bridal show producer, a flower shop, a health & beauty division and a DJ/events production operation.

K.C. introduced a change in perspective by asking if DJs would be delighted to have a 20% market share of the their local wedding DJ business.  Of course we would, but this is unrealistic for most markets.  However, by introducing related businesses such as photography, videography, lighting/decor and event planning, a vertically integrated DJ company could easily gain 20%+ of a bride’s total budget for her wedding day.  Acquiring existing businesses, particularly distressed ones, can be done inexpensively.

By vertically integrating, DJs can quickly ramp up their sales to six or even seven figures.  A common concern voiced by attendees was how to manage multiple businesses.  In K.C.’s case, he utilizes professional managers to run each business on a day-to-day basis, and also has a dedicated sales force.  This frees up his time to focus on strategic development and high level sales and marketing.  K.C. recommends that DJs surround themselves with good people, and that managers “delegate or else suffocate.”

Just as McDonalds who originally did not sell french fries came to ask “do you want some fries with that?”, we too as DJs should ask our clients “do you want some (fill in the blank) with that?”

Conclusion

K.C. KoKoruz reminded DJs that “just 5% of professionals in any given industry willingly participate in continuing education.”  A round of congratulations are therefore in order to seminar attendees who took the time to elevate themselves and the DJ industry.

Thank you DJ Times for a great 2015 Expo, and see you in 2016!

 

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