Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Updating Christmas

Most of the people I know enjoy their measured dose of holiday music during this time of year. Recently, I was booked for a string of holiday parties and wanted to be sure I had an abundant amount of music for these occasions.
Now, having been a DJ for many years, you can imagine that I’ve collected many song titles. But the thing about holiday music is that each song has been sung and rearranged many times over. So, while I might have eight versions of “Jingle Bells” (which I do) it doesn’t necessarily mean that I have the version that is most widely known or would prefer to play. So it was with childish excitement that I decided to go through all of my holiday music to be sure 1) that I at least had the 25 most popular titles and 2) I had the versions that are most widely requested and heard on the radio.
So I happened upon a list published by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) of the 25 most performed holiday songs. As I thought, I already had most of the songs listed. But to my surprise I didn’t have some of the most popular cuts of those titles. This gave me cause to buy more music, one of my favorite things to do! The list is as follows. There is one song not mentioned that you would think should be listed. Can you identify the song?
1. The Christmas Song
2. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
3. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
4. Winter Wonderland
5. White Christmas
6. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
7. Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer
8. Jingle Bell Rock
9. I’ll Be Home For Christmas
10. Little Drummer Boy
11. Sleigh Ride
12. It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
13. Silver Bells
14. Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree
15. Feliz Navidad
16. Blue Christmas
17. Frosty The Snowman
18. A Holly Jolly Christmas
19. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
20. Here Comes Santa Clause (Right Down Santa Clause Lane)
21. It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas
22. (There’s No Place Like) Home For The Holidays
23. Carol Of The Bells
24. Santa Baby
25. Wonderful Christmastime
What? No “Jingle Bells”? Are you shocked, outraged, and otherwise beside yourself? My guess is that Jingle Bells was written so long ago, that it does not fall under the watchful eye of ASCAP.
A minister named James Pierpont originally wrote “Jingle Bells” in 1857. He wrote it as a Thanksgiving Day song for the children in his Sunday school class. James Pierpont was a relative of the notoriously wealthy JP Morgan. The song became so popular it was repeated at Christmas and quickly became an American holiday classic.
According to ASCAP, the author of the most top holiday songs is Johnny Marks with three – “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer”, “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas”.
Some holiday music tips from your DJ: Everyone should own a copy of Vince Guaraldi’s “Charlie Brown Christmas”. If you don’t have this CD, I shall have to shun you forever and take you off of my Christmas card mailing list. If you enjoy instrumental jazz along the lines of Vince Guaraldi’s music, check out the CD by Wynton Marsalis entitled “Christmas Jazz Jam”. Good stuff! Some contemporary versions of old classics that I like include – “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” sung by James Taylor and “White Christmas” sung by Taylor Swift.
Oh, by the way, my computer tells me that I have over 11 hours of holiday music. Still not enough! Have a great, happy and safe holiday season and remember – enjoy the music!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

You Bring The Message, We'll Bring The Microphone

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been an audience member at a meeting, public forum, press conference, new product kick-off, business opening or some other group event where it was difficult, if not impossible, to hear the presenters. As a professional DJ, public speaker and sound consultant, I can’t see the sense in spending a lot of time, energy and money to prepare a message and set the stage for a public event, only in the end not to be heard by your audience. I am often saddened by the significance of the message that was lost because event organizers didn’t think to provide a PA system. In many instances, renting a PA system from a company such as My Life Media, costs only a few hundred bucks. Imagine spending thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars to hold an event to deliver a message, only not to be heard in the end. What a waste of resources and effort!
One industry that knows the importance of being heard is the theater. A recent article in the October 23, 2009 Wall Street Journal written by Ellen Gamerman entitled “Broadway Turns Up The Volume” speaks to the impact of the sound system in the theater industry. Yes, actors are trained to speak loudly and clearly, to project their voice, but in a theater environment that seats a thousand people or more, a little help from a microphone makes all the difference in the world. Complaints from some theatergoers, especially the elderly, suggested that actors were not being heard from the rear of the room. Now, most professional theater performances include strategically placed microphones on stage or even on actors themselves to be sure dialog is heard by all.
Advances in sound equipment make the use of a sound system and microphone easier and more affordable for most people to procure. One of our fastest growing service offerings is our sound system rental. The service includes the delivery of a sound system, set-up and sound check before the event begins. We’ll also speak to the presenters and guide them through the proper use of a microphone before the event. We’ll even stay during the event to adjust the sound as necessary for each speaker. Essentially, our sound system rental service includes a personal sound technician to make sure each presenter sounds great and is heard by everyone. Isn’t it worth a few hundred bucks, after all of your hard work preparing the message and planning the event, to be sure everyone in attendance actually hears you? Our clients never regret their decision to ask for our help with sound amplification at such important events. In fact, we are often told, their events wouldn’t have come off so well without us!
For more information about this service, please visit our website and click on the “Sound System Rental” page or simply contact us by phone or email.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Motown Experience

This past summer, I took the opportunity to delve into the history of Motown music. As a professional disc jockey, I am always intrigued by the history and evolution of different genres of music. I can confidently say, that in almost every one of the hundreds of events I’ve DJ’d over the years I was asked to play some Motown music. And almost always, a Motown set will get people dancing. So, I have no doubt that many people still love the Motown sound.

Admittedly, it was a recent episode of American Idol, that piqued my deeper curiosity of Motown. The show transported their finalists to Detroit to see where it all began and to meet Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records and Smoky Robinson, one of its longtime stars. Since I have family members who live in a Detroit suburb, I vowed to visit Hitsville U.S.A. the next time I drove through the city.

What I discovered immediately was that the story of Motown is not only an amazing accomplishment in music but it was also an entrepreneurial triumph. In fact, before personal computing made the home-based business model a profitable option, Berry Gordy tested the waters in the late 1950’s and early ‘60s. Hitsville U.S.A., the name that Gordy gave to the modest two-story home on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, is now the Motown Museum.

Gordy, who had always been musically curious as a child, wandered from one interest to another as a young man holding a variety of jobs from amateur boxer to factory worker. It was at a Detroit automobile factory that he first considered applying the efficiencies of the assembly line to the pursuit of song writing and recording. What if, he wondered, a process could be designed that would integrate all of the efforts necessary to produce a hit song. What would that look like? Then, what if we could duplicate that process and produce hit after hit the likes of cars coming off an assembly line. He would need a factory of sorts, a place where creative people could congregate and man the assembly line of hit songs, writers, musicians, vocalists, recording engineers, salespeople, etc. With loans from family members he began to piece together his dream at his West Grand Boulevard home.

For ten bucks one can take a brief tour of Hitsville U.S.A. College students from Wayne State University lead small groups of visitors through the original home of Motown. I couldn’t help but feel the presence of so many stars who worked the assembly line of music – Smoky Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross. I sat at the piano that was blessed by Marvin Gaye and others. Very cool stuff. At one point, Berry Gordy owned eight homes on the street and used each of them for a different purpose, song writing, recording, accounting, marketing, distribution etc. Employees would walk from one house to the other in the neighborhood during the course of a workday or week. Eventually, the whole effort required a larger space and was moved to a multi-level commercial building in the city much like Henry Ford needed to move from a small garage to a factory. In the end, Motown Records would eventually move to L.A. where Berry Gordy could work his magic on an even larger scale.

To enrich my experience, I decided to read the book Berry Gordy himself wrote entitled, To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown. It is his account of how it all began, grew for 25 years and changed music as we knew it. It is also, in many ways, a chronicle of the black community’s struggle to achieve in a repressive society. It is a story of the appreciation of talent no matter its color, the seed of diversity before diversity was popular. In a word, my tour of hitsville U.S.A. and reading the book in tandem was “moving”.

Compounding my Motown experience was the death of Michael Jackson shortly after my visit. It was only a week or two prior to his death that I was peering through a glass case at the museum that contains his famous sequined glove. The only other glove on display, by the way, is at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, my hometown.

Gordy describes in his book the first time Michael Jackson and his brothers auditioned for him. Michael, the youngest was only nine years old. “He sang his songs with such feeling, inspiration and pain – like he had experienced everything he was singing about…. The other boys seemed nervous, but not Michael. He knew I loved them.”

The entrepreneur in me wishes that somehow the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the Motown Museum in Detroit could find a way to collaborate in an effort to magnify this great success story. I’m guessing that with today’s technology a group in Cleveland could virtually tour Hitsville U.S.A. and a group at the Motown Museum could virtually tour the Rock Hall of Fame. In fact, perhaps together the two entities could find a way to make all of the stories housed at both sites accessible to anyone on the planet wherever they are. But, I digress. For me, my part in all of this continues to be to share the magic of Motown with the many people I am honored to entertain throughout the year, playing those classic hits that helped move our American music scene and our culture to better days.

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Tips for Booking a DJ in Today's Economy

We are noticing that couples are waiting longer to book their DJ than in the past. Many couples tell us that they are paying for much, if not all, of their wedding/reception themselves and that they need more time to save for the deposits necessary for vendors. Surprisingly, we are still getting inquiries for this July, August and September. It's a difficult message for us to deliver to a hopeful bride that we're already booked for her wedding date. While the need to wait longer to book is understandable, couples may risk missing out on their first choice of DJ. Experienced pro's are booked 6 months to a year in advance of the event date.

Instead of waiting longer to book, consider these options -

1) Ask for a lower than typical deposit, perhaps one quarter the total price rather than one half. Also, ask if the vendor is willing to set-up a payment plan that works best for you.

2) Ask if your vendor would consider a custom package just for you instead of their standard rates. You may choose fewer hours of play time, 5 instead of 6 for example. Opt not to have extras such as large light systems, fog machine, etc.

3) If the bride or groom is serving in the military, ask the vendor if they would consider a "military discount". We have incorporated such a discount this past year and it is proving to be a great idea. Couples get a small break in the price and we feel good about giving back to military families that serve us so well.

Instead of waiting to book your DJ, call now to see if the vendor will respect your budget with a little flexibility. We hope, of course, that your call comes to us - but whomever you choose as your DJ service, we wish you a fun and memorable time on your special day.

Best wishes!

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

What To Expect From Your DJ

Your DJ is an integral part of your event. An experienced, professional DJ will play several roles before and during the event to ensure that it will be a fun and memorable celebration.

Sound Technician

First, your DJ is responsible for delivering a sound system to the site of your event. He or she will assemble the sound system, conduct a sound check of the area and make sure everything is working and sounding great before your first guest arrives. This represents a lot of time, energy and work on the part of your DJ that very few people will see during the course of your event. In fact, this process may take several hours depending on travel time and the physical layout of the venue. In this sense, you have hired your DJ to be a delivery person and a sound technician.

Only through experience can one really understand the challenges and nuances of setting up electrical sound equipment in a safe manner that is out of the way of your guests, and making adjustments to provide the clearest possible sound. An experienced DJ will be able to do this in rooms of various shapes and sizes, inside or outside, making necessary adjustments throughout the event as people come and go (people in the room coming and going can change the way sound will travel). Your DJ will continually adjust the sound throughout the event so that your guests won’t be made uncomfortable by feedback, sound that is too high pitched or that may have too much bass, or is simply not well balanced. This is what many in the industry have traditionally called “sound mixing”, although the term now has several different interpretations.

Announcements and Coordination

Second, your DJ is responsible for making all necessary announcements throughout the event so that your guests and other vendors know what is going to happen. Photographers, for example, don’t appreciate when a DJ goes ahead with an unannounced portion of the event that might cause them to miss meaningful photos. Your DJ acts as the emcee of your party making sure that everything you want to happen, happens in an orderly way. Often your DJ will be playing and mixing pre-selected music while at the same time making announcements or facilitating festivities. This means that your DJ needs to be comfortable multi-tasking while coming off smooth, calm and collected. A DJ who effectively fulfills the role of coordinator and announcer will create a flow to the celebration and avoid a choppy, haphazard feel to the event.

A professional DJ will be prepared. Preparation is the key to making announcements at the appropriate time and ensuring that all that you want to happen, happens in smooth order. Preparation time is time well spent. Your DJ should communicate with you before your event to get from you the information necessary to act as emcee. There are various ways to go about planning. Some DJ services have online planning tools, many have planning documents that are completed by the client and returned to the DJ. Often a DJ will meet personally with their client to go over the details of the event. Your DJ will also be communicating with other vendors during the event to be sure everyone is on the same page for each planned festivity.

Music Selection and Engaging the Crowd

The third role is what most people think of when they imagine their DJ at work. He or she will be selecting music that reflects your musical tastes and will produce a fun and active celebration. Your DJ also needs to gauge the extent to which your guests need to be engaged and encouraged to get up and dance! Your DJ should be first and foremost concerned with the type of music you and your guests want to hear and dance to. Too many DJ’s show up with their own prescribed notion of what will be a fun time without consulting their clients. A professional DJ knows how to engage guests and encourage an active dance floor but without being obnoxious or too overwhelming. A pro will always remember that the celebration is not about the DJ but about you, your family and guests and will be more than willing to respect your choice of music.

Your DJ will, with your guidance, create the musical atmosphere you wish to have at your event. An experienced DJ knows that music has a powerful affect on the psychology of the group and therefore can influence the flow of the celebration. He or she needs to be able to “read the crowd” as quickly as possible and gain insight into what motivates guests to have fun. Your DJ will constantly monitor the energy level in the room and speed things up or slow things down when necessary. A pro will be sensitive to the diversity represented in the crowd (age differences, ethnic differences, etc.) and be sure to play music during the event that will be enjoyed by everyone. Be sure to ask your DJ how he or she prepares for the music selection of the event. Ask about the process that allows you to give input, song selections and how your DJ will incorporate requests from your guests. Be sure to mention, too, which types of music or specific song selections are NOT to be played.

A professionally operated DJ service will enable (and encourage) you to get to know your DJ and how he or she operates before the event. Don’t hesitate to communicate with your DJ by phone, website planning tools, email or a personal meeting. Your DJ will be glad to answer all of your questions because this type of communication leads to the effective fulfillment of the three roles discussed in this article. Remember, your DJ is your partner in planning and wants, more than anything, to give you a celebration that you will fondly remember forever.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Billboard's Moneymakers

All DJ’s must love music in order for them to be effective. A good DJ should be humble enough to understand that without songwriters, artists, and everyone involved in producing music, we would be without the stuff that enables us to make a living. So keeping tabs on the dynamics of the music industry comes second nature for a serious pro.

I found an article in the March 5, 2009 Wall Street Journal that listed the highest revenue generating artists of 2008. Just thought my clients and readers might be interested in the results. Keep in mind that most artists spend gobs of money on business expenses such as agents, promoters, event planners, set-up staff, technicians, drivers, etc. But the numbers show that for these superstars – the music industry is still a pretty good gig if you can get it. For almost all of the artists, touring generated the most revenue.

Billboard’s Moneymakers List 2008

1) Madonna: $242,176,466
2) Bon Jovi: $157,177,766
3) Bruce Springsteen: $156,327,964
4) The Police: $109,976, 894
5) Celine Dion: $99,171,237
6) Kenny Chesney: $90,823,990
7) Neil Diamond: $82,174,000
8) Rascal Flatts: $63,522,160
9) Jonas Brothers: $62,638,814
10) Coldplay: $62,175,555
11) The Eagles: $61,132,213
12) Lil Wayne: $57,441,334
13) AC/DC: $56,505,296
14) Michael Buble: $50,257,364
15) Miley Cyrus: $48,920,806
16) Taylor Swift: $45,588,730
17) Journey: $44,787,328
18) Billy Joel: $44,581,010
19) Mary J. Blige: $43,472,850
20) Kanye West: $42,552,402

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