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Last month I talked about understanding that we probably don’t need new ‘meat’ – more to the point we need to perfect that which we do already. As you might recall, I talked about inventorying your show and finding the good and the average that needs work. This month I want to delve into your overall approach to a show.
I have heard it said a thousand times that readers are leaders. I live by that model. I average about 24 books every year. Those are split between business, spiritual, and pleasure. Two years ago at the Northern Disc Jockey Conference, we had Carr Hagerman as a speaker. Carr co-wrote a book called Top Performer. The title itself should grab you, and insist that you read it. The book is written as a story but highlights several key points that I think are applicable to what we do. Those points are; Claim Your Pitch, Build A Circle, Juice The Jam, Mine the Mess, Develop Insurance, Choose Your Close, and Pass The Hat.
Claim Your Pitch: This is the physical space we use to perform. Along with the tone set by who we are while in that space, we use our attitude to claim this. I found it interesting that when I first started to DJ my “pitch” was my DJ station and the dance floor. I have learned that my pitch should be bigger than that. If my goal is to entertain the whole crowd, well, only so many can be involved in the smaller pitch I previously chose. So I now view the whole reception site as my pitch, and I will use different parts of that pitch during my show.
  The other interesting aspect of this that I picked up, came from reading the book Fish Philosophy by Stephan Lundin, who co-wrote Top Performer. This book talks a lot about Choosing Your Attitude. This means no matter what happens in your life, you get the choice of how it affects your life. This needs to be most apparent when performing because the people you are performing for are simply not interested in your problems. They don’t care what your day, week, or month was like – they just want their day to be special.
Build A Circle: This may be one of the most important of all the suggestions the book made. In the book, it describes it like this “The circle is like chemistry class in school. There are all these jars with various elements. The elements by themselves aren’t very interesting, but stir them together and it can get interesting really quick.” Every one of the guests at any show is very important. The people that would never normally do something, and then do, can have the greatest effect on the energy of your event. If you have built the circle properly, you will have a crowd around your dance floor while performing interactions. This in itself will draw more people to come and see what they are missing, thus multiplying your show energy. Building a circle starts the moment someone enters your pitch. Are you behind your booth most of the show? Do you eat dinner because the client said you could? If you do either of those, not only are you killing your circle, you are missing the time needed to build your circle.
Juice The Jam: For those of you who know Todd Mitchem, he might call this “Use It.” Jams are those unexpected things that happen while we are performing. And when a group of people are present, so are jams. To Juice The Jam is all about how you handle the jam. You use it in a way that doesn’t distract from the overall feel of the event, yet can enhance it in ways that wouldn’t be available otherwise. Improv skills are needed here and are something that you have to be very good at; all with a sense of discretion. Juice also has a bit of an energetic feel to it, and as we all know, great performance may feel electric. Jams handled the proper way will energize your room.
Try to find where those Jams may have been in past shows, and truly think about how you could handle them differently. Some jams I have experienced; power has gone out, drunken guests, obnoxious guests, late bride and groom, and even equipment failure. Play the game, what would I do if…..?
Mine The Mess: Mining the Mess is looking for material in unexpected places. The mess is everything inside of your pitch. A good habit to get into before you start your shows would be to start mining your pitch before anyone comes to the room. Look for things that you can use to enhance your show. I often use this technique while getting ready for the Scavenger Hunt Musical chairs. I look for all sorts of cool and location-related things I might send them to get. Of course, I clear all of those with the venue before I use them.
A final thought about mining the mess. Remember your event is an organic and living thing. It will constantly change throughout time. This is why you need to always be mining for things. Living in the moment makes for great material.
Developing Insurance: This is a skill that many of us already use, even though we might not know this in those terms. Insurance, in short, is material that is tried and true. “Bits” never fail. This could be interaction and/or music for that matter. Again, we are constantly being evaluated at our shows, and I personally don’t want to give my audiences room to lump me in with ‘average’ DJs, so I always pull out a piece of insurance early in my shows. Now nothing beats living in the moment for energy creation, but sometimes you just need to use your tried and true. One of the many benefits of using insurance pieces is that you know them so well that if a “Jam” occurs while using it, you can really pull that Juice out, and now the energy at your event will jump exponentially.
Choose Your Close: Have you ever eaten anything that at first tastes great? But then, as the experience goes on, it erodes into this awful wish-I-had-never-tried-this experience? Chances are you wouldn’t eat that again, would you? The same thing can be said of some shows. Most commonly we dissolve into just music. Choosing Your Close for me has two meanings. 1. Know when enough is enough. 2. End big. I can hear some of you saying, my contract states midnight. Two things pop into my mind with that. 1. Are you selling time or talent? 2. Have you earned your client's trust enough to help you make it your call? This is a conversation you should have with your clients well before the big day. I ask things like “how do you picture the end of your reception?”
Ending big is so important. It can be the difference between the guests drifting quietly out after the reception, or them telling the bride how much fun they had all night long. That, my friend, leads to referrals. End the night by leaving the guests wanting more.
Pass The Hat: The book talks about this part as getting paid. For us in the DJ world, this really is about three things. 1. Getting a tip. After all who doesn’t like a little extra $ for great service? 2. Getting feedback. There is a difference between the verbal and non-verbal feedback here, and your best bet is to receive the non-verbal type. Look for things like energy level after the music stops, and conversations with other guests. 3. Referrals. This is our real winner here. How many people have asked you for your card by the end of the night?
Every show we do can be different and unique if we start using the above ideas. We can use the same songs or interactions, but how we engage our Circle, in our Pitch, will make it feel different. It will quell the feeling of staleness from doing the same thing over and over again, giving us freshness and energy at every show for which we perform. Good Luck and Great Shows.
Dean Carlson can be reached at

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