Michael Cataldi started DJing in clubs in Wilmington, Del., in the late 1990s. Today, he’s in Arizona, doing private events for Elegant Entertainment and Direct Sounds DJs. Believe it or not, his previous experiences still inform his current endeavors.
Beatmixing music and bringing a nightclub vibe to his events in San Tan Valley – a picturesque, Pinal County community an hour southeast of Phoenix – Cataldi’s talents have fit right into his newer environs. We recently caught up with the East-Coast transplant.
How did you start club DJing?
I started in the nightclub industry as security, and I also worked in a kitchen – this particular club had to serve some food up until a certain time at night. And then after my shifts were over when I worked in the kitchen, I would go and hang out with the DJs because I thought it was really cool, and they were all nice guys. So, they let me come up and hang out with them.
And you got along?
I have a musical background. So, you know, I hung out with them enough to be able to see what they were doing. And at one point, one of the DJs just asked me straight out: “Hey, it looks like you’re taking some interest in this. Is this something you would be interested in doing?” And I said, “Heck, yeah! I would love to do this.” So, for about the next year, they allowed me to come up and they just taught me how to how to mix — and this was back on vinyl. They taught me how to listen for the key of the music – so, I started mixing in key before that was even cool. I was able to count BPM. They taught me basically everything I needed to know in order for me to be a club DJ. And about a year after that is when I started to get some rotations there at that same club as a DJ.
When you moved to Arizona, how did it strike you as a different DJ market from the East Coast?
When we moved here in 2006, country music was something that I had next to zero knowledge about. It was never big in the Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey areas that I worked in – and I was not a fan, personally. That is a much different case in Arizona, so that was a big learning curve that I faced when first doing events here. Also, the typical wedding timeline is very different in Arizona than it was in the Philadelphia market. It is much simpler here, but I really miss the early, open-dancing sets that used to be part of the East Coast timelines. Lastly, there are very few weddings, at least that I take part in, where the ceremony takes place at a church or other spot and then the reception happens in a different venue. Here, everything happens all in one venue, typically.
How did you become associated with Elegant Entertainment?
The owner is a friend of mine, and he knew that I had been a DJ and had pulled me aside and said that he had some contracts with couples that he needed some help with and asked me if I’d be willing to help them out for a little bit. That was in 2017, and I’m also with Direct Sounds, too.
What kind of prep work are you doing with the client?
We use Vibo as a platform, and I typically do anywhere from two to three meetings with the client. I’ll do an initial meet-and-greet, walk them through Vibo, explaining how it works and what they can do and what they can’t do. And then, usually within about 45 days before the wedding or so, I’ll reach out to them again and we’ll walk through what they’ve already put into Vibo. I’ll ask if they have any questions. If they’re having a hard time selecting music, I’ll help them out with some playlists.
I know you’re big on music programming. So, when you go through Vibo and you see a playlist from a client, what kind of feedback will you give them?
One of the questions I always ask them is: What type of party, what type of vibe do they want when it comes time to open up to the dancefloor? And I’ll also ask them a follow-up question: If they had to rate their group that they’ve invited on a scale of one to 10 – with one being a toddler’s birthday party and 10 being a raging frat party – where would their group fall into? I use that information to then steer them when it comes to the songs that they put on there.
So, if I look at their list, and I see that there’s a lot of low energy, I’ll ask them: Is this really the vibe you’re looking for? Or can I shift some of these things maybe into dinner? We’re into another part of the evening where it would make more sense for them to fit in and then we do some higher-energy stuff for your dancefloor. I really just want to make sure that I’m giving them the exact party that they want. And if it’s a chill party, then that’s cool.
How do you integrate your club-DJ experience into a mobile event?
I feel that having been a club DJ has definitely helped me provide great experiences on the private-event side, simply because you learn how to read a crowd. You learn how to mix music very, very slowly. And you learned how to mix music in multiple ways…. whether it’s actually been mixing it in, whether it’s dropping it, whether it’s scratching it and whatever the case would be. You can provide that really cool party experience for the group that’s in front of you. I feel it gives me an advantage over those that maybe don’t have that experience. But at the same time, that experience is not for everybody – not every couple wants that. And so, what’s been cool is that, over the last few years, I’m getting referred by other couples, specifically for the style that I bring. I would say probably 75-percent of the weddings I do are with people who want what I deliver, specifically. And so, that’s kind of a cool place to be.
When it comes to beat-mixing music at events, what would you tell other mobiles as to why it’s useful to have that skill?
I see this debate happen often and I understand both sides of the argument. What I will say is that today’s average bride and groom have grown up in the era of the “superstar DJ.” They grew up to DJs doing mixes and grew up to the DJ taking center-stage on TV and on social-media platforms like YouTube. I feel like the expectation is for a DJ to be able to mix music. I feel it definitely elevates my performance level and allows me to better cater to the shorter attention spans of today’s couples and guests by quickly getting into and out of songs, as needed. Also, using things like wordplays and live mash-ups throw those pleasant surprise “curveballs” that really energize the dancefloor, especially later into open-dance sets after grandma leaves.
What’s in your DJ rig?
I am using a Rane One controller, in an Odyssey case, with Serato DJ Pro. I also have Virtual DJ and am starting to get more proficient with the ins and outs of that software. My backup controllers include a Denon DJ MC6000mk2 and Hercules DJControl Starlight. I use Sennheiser G4 mics – I have wireless handheld, lavalier, and headset set-ups. I also use a wired Shure SM58 for quick announcements and it’s a backup to the wireless system.
How about for PA and lighting?
For my ceremony set-up, I use two QSC CP8 speakers and a Yamaha mixer, along with a Hercules Starlight controller and Serato software. For my main set-up, I have RCF EVOX J8 line-array speakers and RCF ART 912-A speakers, as well as an Electro-Voice EKX15SP powered subwoofer to help provide some more bottom end. For lighting, I am using two Chauvet DJ 4BAR systems and 36 uplights from Both Lighting.
What’s your market of San Tan Valley like? What makes it unique?
Being a milder climate that has some really killer views, we do quite a bit of destination weddings here. It is not uncommon for me to have a bride and groom that do not live in Arizona and discovered their venue either by referral or by just looking online. Having great relationships with venues is a must out here!
Wedding season, in my part of Arizona, runs from September through May, with a few happening in the hotter months of June through August, but not many. If one is willing to travel, wedding season gets busy in the northern part of our state during June through August, due to the much cooler climate up there. I usually take the time off to recharge and prepare for the next big season.
How is San Tan Valley different from Phoenix and the rest of Arizona?
San Tan Valley is considered an outside suburb of Phoenix. It is still considered a part of the Phoenix metro area, but far enough away to not have all of the congestion that you get in a bigger city. San Tan Valley had about 10,000 residents when we moved here in 2006, and now has over 100,000 and is still growing quickly.
How do your DJ services get marketed? How do the companies you work for get their brands/names out there?
Outside of the companies that I sub-contract under, I market myself mainly through social media and referrals from previous clients – my own – and my friends and family. The companies that I work with use a combination of social media, sites like WeddingWire, and have themselves on preferred-vendor lists at several venues across the Phoenix area.
Working with two companies, how is it determined which company you do gigs for?
The main company that I sub-contract under is Direct Sounds DJs, and I would say that 80-percent of my events come from them. I have a very close friend that has his own business – Ellagant Entertainment – where I do a few events per year, when he is already booked. He is the one that got me to come back as a DJ – I had stopped doing events for a few years after moving here to Arizona. He actually encourages me to work with Direct Sounds, as he knows that he can’t supply me with the amount of gigs that I would need to make it worth my while to continue DJing. As far as competing goes, I only do weddings for Ellagant Entertainment at one venue, which he is the preferred vendor at, so there is no real competing with Direct Sounds. In fact, Direct Sounds has several other venues, plus many other private events and has a team of 12 DJs, so a very different situation.
What is your biggest strength as a DJ? Is there any one thing that earns you referrals?
I think my biggest strength is that I have learned to leave my ego at home. I will play whatever my clients want and have no lost sleep over it. I have other ways to keep myself dialed-in – radio mix shows, podcasts, etc. – so for private events, it is whatever my client wants. I am super-reliable. I take charge of the day and make sure things happen when they should. I communicate a lot, especially with the other vendors and venue. I make it as easy on my client as possible, by taking as much off their plate as possible.
The one thing that earns me referrals is that I make sure that I give all vendors my contact info, as well as social-media info, and I get theirs. I get a lot of referrals from vendors that I have worked with, due to the way that I interact with them and the way that I rock my events.
What’s the most fulfilling aspect of DJing — why do you do it?
Just the look on people’s faces. When they’re just having the absolute best time out on the dancefloor, they’ve forgotten about whatever baggage they may have dragged into to the night. That’s all gone now. They’re just having a great time. And just being able to get a high five or a hug from my couple at the end of the night – since I’m doing mostly weddings now, saying that – you know, they just had the best time. That, for me, is the best feeling.
To check out more mobile DJ profiles, click here.