“Do You Charge More for Personality?”

In Professionalism, Weddings! by djscottshirley

I was approached by a mother and daughter at a recent bridal show, and the mother asked, “Do you charge extra for personality?”

Unsure of what she meant, and thinking that she might be joking, I answered with, “Whose personality do you have in mind?”

She wasn’t joking, in fact, she seemed a little angry. “I just talked to this DJ downstairs, and he told me they charge $300 extra if we want ‘personality’!”

I was floored. In 33 years in the entertainment industry, I had never encountered a “personality surcharge.” The whole idea was mind-boggling, and I completely understood the woman’s outrage. I assured her, “NO, we don’t charge extra, for anything. I don’t believe in that.”

Still in disbelief, I checked on her claim, and learned that she spoke with a franchise DJ entertainment company. They advertised a low base price to lure customers, (HINT: avoid any talent-based service that markets on price!) and then tried to up-sell by explaining that the base package was just a small sound system and an operator who was a trainee, to “just push Play.” The cost was $300 more if they wanted an experienced DJ and Emcee, who used the microphone. Also more for satellite speakers, wireless microphone, lighting, special music, ad infinitum. The old “Bait-and-Switch” trap.

This is wrong on several levels. First, it is a misleading marketing practice; dishonest in my book. And more importantly, you never trust your wedding to an amateur! The most important celebration of your life requires an experienced professional, and is no place for on-the-job-training for a young DJ wanna-be!

Your wedding is no place for On-the-Job Training!

Your wedding is no place for On-the-Job Training!

The whole concept of DJ “personality” has always troubled me. It has always been my strong feeling that for the milestone celebrations of your life: your wedding, birthday, graduation, anniversary, bar mitzvah, reunion, or retirement, that the Emcee should not be the star of the show. At a wedding, the bride and groom are the stars; at a birthday, the birthday boy or girl, etc. A DJ with a powerful personality that overshadows the bride or the birthday honoree is simply not appropriate.

THE PRIME DIRECTIVE: Thou Shalt Not steal the bride’s fire!

An experienced DJ and Emcee acts as a host, an announcer, and a facilitator. He controls the flow of events and keeps everything on schedule. He coordinates with venue management, food service, decorators, photographers, lighting designers, entertainers, and the host family, as well as guests who will give toasts or speeches, and people who will be introduced.

Yet a truly good Emcee certainly must have what is called “personality.” But experienced professionals know it should be the personality of the event, not of the DJ!

At my events, I always strive to be pleasant, smiling, and happy. I present an up-beat, positive and fun mood, even to the point of being joyous. It can be contagious, and my goal is to communicate to all the guests that we are gathered to celebrate – joyfully!

Unless asked by my client to do so, I never say my name. It’s not about me; it’s about the people being honored at the event.

If that is what you call “personality,” there’s no charge – it’s part of the service.

How Much For Your Gold Package?

In DJ Stuff, Professionalism by djscottshirley

Lately I have been receiving a lot of requests for “the cost of your packages.”

If you are in the business of selling widgets that come in different sizes, or were sold by the six-pack, the case, or the pallet-load, that approach might make sense.

But I am in the Event Entertainment business, and am marketing a talent-based service that comes with too many variables to market the same way you sell the services of a Car Wash.

Some folks market entertainment like a Car Wash.

Some folks market entertainment like a Car Wash.

One reason this weird expectation has evolved is Internet marketing, and a bit of laziness on the part of website developers. It’s easy to use a template when building a website, even though it may be better suited to selling products than services, especially talent services.

Another reason is the nature of the profession itself, and the profusion of newcomers and wanna-bes. Since there is no licensing required, any kid with an iPod can print a business card and build a website, and claim to be a DJ. And it’s not just kids, there are a surprising number of middle-aged folks who were down-sized out of a job, who jump into the entertainment business because it looks like a fun way to earn easy money.

These newcomers work cheap (if they show up: see what happens when they don’t here.) For their minimal price, they typically have a minimal approach to every aspect of their performance. And they market their service by the hour, or with my personal favorite, “Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum Packages.”

Any experienced professional who is a talented Host and Emcee, knows that the value of their service is not in the number of hours, nor the size of the sound equipment, nor the number of cool lighting effects. They know that it’s the time and care spent in planning and preparation, that make their service valuable. The true professional listens and does their homework, and makes sure every detail is just right at the big event.

That’s why I don’t care for “package” pricing or an hourly rate, and no experienced professional does. Every event is unique, and has its own special requirements for preparation, staffing, A-V support, and travel and other logistical details, as well as the varied and sometimes unusual choices made by the client.

Perhaps the biggest pet peeve about marketing we all share, is the “bait-and-switch,” or add-on selling. Advertise one service at a low price to lure customers, then add more features to drive up the price later. It’s the “You want fries with that?” mentality, that has no place in the Event Entertainment industry. I’m not too crazy about it in the restaurant industry, either!

You want fries with that?

You want fries with that?

I prefer (and so do my clients) a consulting approach, listening to what the client requires, and recommending the best way to achieve the goals of their event, and then we create a quote that includes everything. No hidden fees, no add-on marketing. Then the client has a concrete number for their budget.

And it often costs less than the Bronze Package with Fries, extension speakers, and extra microphones.

Let There Be Light! But leave the flowers alone.

In Weddings!, Weird Things at Parties by djscottshirley

The bride was an identical twin, and both were cheerleaders in college, as well as several other members of their wedding party.

The wedding was elegant, with all the groomsmen in white tuxedos in one of my favorite ballrooms at the Hilton Inn DFW Lakes in Grapevine. The party was rocking along, and it was time for the bouquet toss.

One of the unique features of this ballroom was the chandelier above the dance floor, a huge inverted disc that sort of resembled a flying saucer. As the bride went to toss her bouquet, the thought struck me that it was an ideal trap, should the toss end up a bit high. This proved to be prophetic.

The infamous bouquet-snatcher chandelier.

The infamous bouquet-snatcher chandelier.

Sure enough, the bouquet sailed in a graceful arc, like one of those slow-motion scenes from a movie, and landed directly in the flying saucer chandelier.

As the crowd’s laughter began to taper off, we realized that it was going to be a bit of a problem to retrieve the bouquet.

Cheerleaders to the rescue!

The bride’s twin and one of the groomsmen who was also a college cheerleader, both dressed in formal white, moved into position for the rescue. He stood just below the rim of the flower-gobbling light, and she stood directly in front, with her back to him. She made her body perfectly rigid, as he grabbed her and threw her straight up, catching her under the soles of her feet.

The gathered crowd applauded their acrobatics, as he straightened his arms overhead, raising the bridesmaid to the full height of the light, a distance of about 12 feet off the floor. She retrieved the bouquet and tossed it casually to her sister the bride. Then she jumped, doing a complete 360 degree flip, and landed on her feet like an Olympic gymnast. And, as the saying goes, “the crowd went wild.”

Every wedding should have a memorable moment like this one.

Apparently that light ate some other bouquets, and the last time I worked that room, the Hilton folks had installed a different fixture, with less of an appetite for flying flowers.

The Runaway Bridezilla

In Bridezillas! by djscottshirley

Perhaps one reason I never get Bridezillas is that I weed them out early.

I like to meet with brides and grooms in person, to get to know more about them, about their likes and dislikes, and about their vision for their perfect wedding. By getting to know them a bit, I can better personalize their entertainment, and try to come up with creative ideas to make their reception reflect their style and personalities.

For some people, it’s easy. And for most engaged couples, their vision for their wedding is similar, even if they don’t agree on every detail. Usually, the groom will defer to the bride on issues of decorating, and couples rarely have major disagreements.

This one did!

From the beginning, something did not seem right about this couple. The groom seemed content, but the bride did not seem very happy, and she argued with almost everything her fiancé said. This didn’t look like the beginning of a happy marriage.

It was evident they had done very little planning for their wedding, which was only 4 weeks away. They had not yet mailed invitations, still disagreeing over how many and whom to invite. I began to get the feeling that this bride was in no hurry to get hitched!

As we discussed the sequence of events for their reception, the bride suddenly insisted that she wanted a formal receiving line. This was a surprise to the groom, who questioned the idea, and I suddenly found myself in the midst of warring factions!

I tried to tactfully present the pros and cons of having a receiving line* from a neutral position, but it was clear that something was bothering this bride besides the planning details.

Suddenly she got up and announced she was leaving, and was tired of the groom picking on her! Before anyone could say a word, she was gone – Runaway Bride!

She couldn't get out fast enough!

She couldn't get out fast enough!

The poor embarrassed groom got up, apologized politely, and explained that he had to go, since he was her ride. I told him I understood, and he left. The poor guy! He was like a deer in the headlights, not expecting this at all.

But it gets worse! Ten minutes later he called on the phone, even more embarrassed, and asked if he had left his wallet in my office. I looked, and sure enough, it was on the floor under the desk. He said he would be back in ten minutes to retrieve it.

That must have been ten minutes in Hell with Bridezilla!

I never heard from them again, but I expect to get a call from the groom, just as soon as he finds another bride.

My perfect “No Bridezillas” record remains intact.

* Receiving line Pros: elegant, traditional, important if Dad is running for elected office; Cons: time consuming, can be intimidating to guests and socially awkward.

The Million Dollar Handshake

In DJ Stuff, Party Machine Celebrities! by djscottshirley

I was contracted to play at a party to honor the contestants in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. The party was held at the beautiful Eagle Mountain Lake home of Dr. Bill Bonnell.

The house sits on a high bluff with a magnificent view. It had been featured on the cover of an architectural magazine, as an exemplary Texas-style waterfront home. It was a beautiful spring day, the kind where everyone just feels great to be alive. The air was charged with a vernal energy.

My assignment was to play music to entertain some of the greatest musicians in the world. The contestants were highly trained piano students from many countries, and their lodgings were in private homes owned by Cliburn competition sponsors. It was an honor to host a Cliburn competitor in your home; in Fort Worth society, it meant you had arrived.

Despite the auspicious nature of the guests and the awe-inspiring surroundings, the party flowed as most great parties do. I had worked in plenty of fine homes and beautiful locations, and had entertained my share of public figures. It was just another day at work, and I am not one who is easily starstruck.

Then I saw him, The Man himself, Van Cliburn, considered by many to be the world’s greatest piano player. I actually felt myself getting a little nervous as he strolled toward me in my DJ booth enclave. He had a graceful elegance in his movements that was both distinctive, and yet completely natural.

This was not like meeting professional athletes, entertainers, or politicians. This man was the Best in the World at his job, and I was, indeed, starstruck.

He introduced himself humbly and politely, as though it was he who was the one who was meeting the famous star. Then he gently shook my hand.

“Gently” is the key word here. I am accustomed to meeting people, and schooled in the theory that a man should have a firm handshake. Firm, but not too tight, nothing is more unsettling than some jerk who tries to crush your hand, in what is supposed to be a gesture of friendship. But a gentle handshake?

Van Cliburn receiving the Presidntial Medal of Freedom, the President receiving a Million Dollar Handshake

Van Cliburn receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the President receiving a Million Dollar Handshake

Then it hit me: This man’s hands are probably insured for millions of dollars! These are some of the most gifted hands on the planet.

I hope that Mr. Cliburn didn’t think I was one of those hand-crushing guys!

The REAL Secret of Public Speaking

In DJ Stuff, Full Frontal Nudity!, Weird Things at Parties by djscottshirley

One of the best ways to keep your Master of Ceremonies skills polished is through public speaking engagements. So I generally accept most invitations to speak.

We all know the clichés about public speaking: how it’s one of our most basic human fears, how you should lead off with a joke or a funny story, and how it helps to imagine the audience in their underwear. Tell them what you’re going to say, say it, and then tell them what you told them.

I was speaking to the Eagle Mountain Yacht Club in Fort Worth. Their meeting was held in the bar area of a popular waterfront restaurant. I spoke to this group on several occasions, so I don’t recall my exact topic that night. But I remember being worried that it may be dry and dull, so I had several jokes, props and visual aids to keep it lively and entertaining.

They all laughed at my opening story, and as the stand-up comics say, I was killing them! Everyone in the room was looking straight at me, their focus was riveted, and they were hanging on my every word.

Or so I thought. Their attentive stares were starting to feel a little creepy. Then I realized they weren’t looking at me at all.

Seems that a female bar patron behind me had just taken off her top.

In public speaking, it's important to limit distracting influences!

In public speaking, it's important to limit distracting influences!

So much for the theory of imagining your audience in their underwear!

Happy Birthday, Where Shall I Put My Clothes? Also, When?

In Full Frontal Nudity!, Weird Things at Parties by djscottshirley

It was the year that the age-old concept of the Singing Telegram found a new life as the Strip-O-Gram, and it seemed that everyone was sending strippers to embarrass their friends at work.

Businesses with names like “Eastern Onion” had been hiring out-of-work actors, singers and dancers to perform song-and-dance messages, but many of them drew the line at nudity, so this opened up a whole new labor market.

The employees of a large camera store chain were throwing a milestone birthday party for the boss, and a group of them decided that a Strip-O-Gram was just the ticket to make the boss man blush. They had contracted me for their musical entertainment, and I was informed of the other “entertainer” at the last minute.

The venue was an old Dallas dance hall with a full stage, and my DJ booth was on the stage with the curtains drawn so that only the booth was visible on the stage. There was another table in the back where I had my music organized.

One of the hosts escorted a young lady – very young, in my eyes – to the DJ booth, and explained her “mission.” She looked like a typical girl next door, nothing exotic, just a fresh-faced young girl wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt.

It’s important at times like this to maintain a professional demeanor, and to be helpful and accommodating. I suggested that she look through a section of music labeled “novelty” to find something appropriate for her routine, and I turned to my console to mix the next song.

When I turned around to ask about her song choice, she was wearing nothing but a smile … not even a tan line!

What they had in mind, but not what they got!

What they had in mind, but not what they got!

Still trying to preserve my professionalism, I asked, “ Aren’t you supposed to do that out there, for the birthday boy?”

Her indignant response was, “I am a Stripper!”

To which I answered, “No you’re not, you’re just naked. You are a STRIPPED – past tense!”

I had to instruct her to get dressed, and then wait until I played her music, and to then remove her clothes as a performance for the birthday boy…which is the point of her being there! I suggested that she might even consider perhaps dancing a little bit, and doing it all slowly.

I hate working with amateurs!

It must have been her first day on the job.

Former Party Machine DJ Wins an Emmy® Award!

In DJ Stuff, Party Machine Celebrities! by djscottshirley

The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences recently awarded former Party Machine DJ Craige Bandy the 2008 Emmy® Engineering Award for developing an innovative new overhead camera jib.

Craige accepts the Engineering EMMY for 2008.

Craige accepts the Engineering EMMY for 2008.

Craige worked as a Party Machine DJ from 1978 until 1986, when I decided to “go solo.” After that, I still referred my overbookings to Craige, knowing that he always did an outstanding job for Party Machine clients.

Craige and I shared the same philosophy of always seeking better ways to do things, as well as being gadget freaks of the highest order. Like so many inventors, Craige was a tinkerer, always building things and re-building them, until he is finally pleased with the outcome. It was this restless perseverance that earned him an Emmy®.

Craige started TriCam Video in 1986, and experienced early success with forensic video for the legal profession. Never one to rest, nor to be happy doing the same thing for very long, Craige built his own mobile video production trailer, and went on the road doing TV sports, award programs, and special events.

Sports like boxing and martial arts offered special challenges for camera operators. Craige saw the need for being able to have a camera overhead, that could swivel 360 degrees around a boxing ring, move smoothly, and zoom in close. This would require a lightweight, remote-controlled camera and a robotically controlled jib crane. Not satisfied with anything that was available, he decided to build his own.

Early prototypes were crude, but effective, with later versions being sleeker, smaller, and more controllable. Concerns for safety and reliability forced some components to be machined from titanium, and others to be fabricated in lightweight carbon fiber. Working with his brother Ed Bandy, who brought in aerospace industry knowledge and experience, they raised overhead camera jib technology to soaring new heights (sorry, just couldn’t help it!) See this high-tech invention here.


Craige operates several 360 Overhead Jibs in his mobile production business, and he has sold units to ESPN and FOX Sports. The 360 Overhead Jib created new Point Of View applications for entertainment video, and was used in the 2007 CMA Awards broadcast and the Concert For Katrina, among other stage applications.

Before being an innovator in TV and video production, Craige began his DJ career at Six Flags Over Texas, and spun records (remember them?) in several area nightclubs including Tiburon in Arlington and Papagayo in Dallas. His DJ business was called Good Times Discos.

Craige lives in Grapevine with his wife Stasia and son Cole, who wants to play Major League Baseball. In his spare time he enjoys tennis, golf, sailing and travel, and has an un-healthy interest in extreme sports. Craige enjoys coaching Little League baseball.

The ATM Didn’t Work, and Neither Did The Bargain Basement DJ!

In DJ Stuff, Professionalism, Weddings! by djscottshirley

It worked yesterday! The Automatic Teller Machine ranks as one of man’s greatest inventions since the wheel, except when it doesn’t work. Then it’s more of a wheel chock.

Greatest invention since the wheel - when it works!

Greatest invention since the wheel - when it works!

I was trying to use the drive-through ATM machine at my local branch bank, but it would not allow me to transfer funds between checking and savings accounts.

I knew that a call to the Customer Service line would connect me with someone in Mumbai or Bangolore who could speak perfect English, but didn’t understand a word of it, and it would only result in frustration. I knew it was likely to be simple to correct, if I could just speak with the right person. Plus in this age of electronic transactions, I still like the honesty and fellowship of doing business face-to-face.

So I decided to go inside and see the Business Banking manager. He was a professional looking young man named Jeff Burgess, and I felt assured he was that “right person” who could fix my account access issues.

As he explained how the bank’s system conversion had disabled some customer account links, he looked at my information screen, and asked “What IS The Party Machine?”

Resisting temptation to answer with an old vaudeville punchline, I told him I was a Wedding DJ and MC, and the Party Machine was one of the oldest mobile entertainment businesses in North Texas, founded in 1976.

Jeff slammed his fist on the desk, and said, “Man, I wish I had known about you six months ago!”

“Why, did you see a bad cheesy DJ somewhere?” I asked him.

“No! He was such a bad DJ, he never showed up at all, and it was our wedding!” was Jeff’s response.

I felt sickened to hear this. The most important celebration of their lives, ruined by a no-show DJ. You can never get that back.

The no-show problem is so widespread that the American DJ Association has developed the Get A DJ Fast Hotline! Toll-free 1-888-723-5776

The no-show problem is so widespread that the American DJ Association has developed the Get A DJ Fast Hotline! Toll-free 1-888-723-5776

This was totally unheard of just a few years ago. Sadly, it has become quite commonplace now. Whatever happened to ethics, and doing business by The Golden Rule? I blame this disgusting lapse on aggressive Internet marketing tactics.

Most front-page hits on a Google search for DJs, are not even for DJ services. They are list-sellers and brokerage agencies, many of which do nothing but accept online and telephone bookings, and then try to sell the contract to the lowest bidder. They are typically out of state, don’t own any assets, and don’t employ any DJs. They lure people in with cheap prices: “$595 for 4 hours of professional DJ service!” And sadly, many people with tight budgets or hurried schedules, will be taken in by these snake-oil peddlers.

The list-seller takes a credit card deposit and an e-contract, and then tries to sell the contract to a beginner DJ in that market, at an even lower price. Often the DJ wanna-be is hired by the contract seller for as little as $300.

What DJ will work for $300? You can’t even rent pro audio equipment for $300! Well, nobody with experience will work for a loss, which leaves nothing but inexperienced hobby DJs, mostly young kids with worn-out pawn shop gear. Few of them will fall for it more than a couple of times before they realize they are worth a lot more. So they bail out of the $300 gig because someone else will pay them $500 on the spot. When they gain a bit of experience and lose their naiveté, they will not work for less than the average market rate.

Typical price based broker's advertising. Avoid anyone who markets talent-based services like a Ronco Veg-O-Matic. This is NOT a professional, and often leads to disastrous results.

Typical price based broker's advertising. Avoid anyone who markets talent-based services like a Ronco Veg-O-Matic. This is NOT a professional, and often leads to disastrous results.

Which leads to lots of no-show DJs. Actually, since they don’t DJ, they are just simply no-shows! A real DJ is a professional, and cheap fast-buck artists are giving the profession a bad reputation, just like a crooked lawyer, a dishonest car salesman, or a book-cooking accountant harms the image of those noble professions.

Professionals in the wedding business charge a high enough fee to earn a living at their craft, and deposits of up to 50% are common to retain the services of wedding vendors. These amounts show up as Liabilities on the books of a legitimate business, because it is income that is un-earned until fulfillment of the full contract. With more to lose, a vendor with a 50% retainer has more incentive to fulfill their contract obligations. People who take a 50% deposit, and take the time to get to know you, always show up! And these legitimate vendors never take your order over the Internet without any human contact.

So what happened to Mr and Mrs Jeff Burgess? They had to file suit in Small Claims Court to recover the $100 deposit they paid with their credit card. The list-seller company only had $100 to lose, and were counting on most people being unwilling to sue over a paltry hundred bucks.

I was so angered by this shyster non-DJ ruining a wedding, and so incensed at the damage they are doing, that I had to call Jeff at the bank and ask who the company was. He told me, and I am publishing it here for all our clients to see: A-Sensory Sound. Do a Google search for “A Sensory Sound complaints” for some extended reading material. While I would not speak ill of a legitimate competitor or bear false witness, I have no reservations about telling the truth to expose a fraud, to protect people from being cheated.

As my Mama used to say, “Any deal that looks too good to be true, probably is.” My Mama was a lot like Forrest Gump’s.

Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Bee!

In Party Machine Celebrities!, Party Machine Sports by djscottshirley

You never know when you may encounter a celebrity.

It was Fight Night at the Dallas Petroleum Club, and I was the DJ for the event.

Definitely a different kind of event! There was a real regulation boxing ring, and real boxing, including title fights in several weight categories. There were scantily-clad models who carried signs into the ring to announce the next round, for which I played crowd motivation music. And of course, the ubiquitous bell.

But the boxing fans were all dressed in tuxedos and evening gowns, while enjoying passed hors d’oeuvres and sipping champagne! Formal boxing, only in Texas!

Perhaps an odd juxtaposition, but it was a great event with an enthusiastic crowd. But they really got loud when I announced our celebrity guest of honor: Angelo Dundee. It was a sight to see men in tuxedos and lovely ladies in evening gowns clamoring for his autograph…a group that I ultimately joined!

Angelo Dundee will always be able to show how to throw a punch!

Angelo Dundee will always be able to show how to throw a punch!

Mr Dundee’s biggest claim to fame came as cornerman for Muhammed Ali, but his distinguished career has included working with 14 other World Boxing Champions, including George Foreman and Sugar Ray Leonard.

It was Angelo Dundee who developed the so-called “Rope-A-Dope” technique (named by Mr. Ali), a technique that I have occasionally used on drunks at parties.

Mr. Dundee was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994.