It’s one of the great struggles in the mobile-DJ-vs.-venue dynamic: The DJ’s set-up area and its relation to all the dancefloor action.
DJs for decades have been walking into venues ready to put on a great show, only to have their expectations destroyed when the catering manager tells them they are over in the corner, 30 feet away from the dancefloor and behind about a dozen tables of guests! It’s almost enough to make you want to retire and not do this business anymore!
Listen, I feel your pain. In my 39-year career as a professional mobile DJ, I have seen it all… from being put in a different room from where the dancefloor was located to actually not having a power outlet anywhere near me to being expected to set up between two dining tables of guests with only one foot of clearance on either side! Yes, our job is hard enough, but we don’t need to have the venue make it 100 times harder by not putting us in a central and logical location.
First thing to remember: Never ever ever trust that the venue is going to do the smart thing, or the right thing! I once heard a catering manager actually say that they hated DJs because we took up space that could be used for more tables, we used their power and then we expected a meal! The venue does not love you. I hate to say that, but they are forced into putting up with you because their customer is your customer and the customer wants you in order to have fun at that venue!
So, as DJs, we had added to our repertoire over the years. What started out as a simple table, some gear, two speakers and maybe a mirror ball has evolved into TVs, LED panels, photo booths, dancing platforms and even furniture. Gosh, they hate us! We just mess up their lives and make their job that much harder. Try to keep that in mind.
So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that sometimes they just don’t think or care where you would like to be set up. They don’t care about your sound system, intelligent lighting or 360 video booth! And thus, sometimes it can get ugly, and ugly to the point the DJ and venue manager/owner are yelling at each other 30 minutes before the start of the event. And no one wants this to happen – trust me! So how can we avoid getting put into a corner and have our show compromised?
Well, that brings me to the second thing… “It’s not your show!” It is their house, and their house rules apply, but it is also your client who is the venue’s client, too. Yes, this can get very sticky. To avoid unpleasant issues from happening, you must first realize it is their house and you should act like a polite house guest. And this is where communication and planning come into the fold. That brings us to the third thing…
Third thing… have a solid and respectful communication with the venue from the start of your contract with that client. Reach out and introduce yourself. Let them know you will be working the “Smith Wedding on February 20” at their venue, and ask: What are the house rules? Take that opportunity to provide the venue with your liability insurance policy and ask if they require an additional insured statement on the policy? (If you don’t know what that is, we will cover it in a future blog).
This would also be a great time to discuss the layout and floor plan. If you are new to playing at that venue, get the floor plan and find out your options. This will now give you plenty of time to discuss your set-up, instead of walking into the venue cold and being shocked that you are set up in the corner across the room. This also gives a great opportunity to establish and develop a relationship, which may eventually turn into a house recommendation!
Finally, the fourth thing is a very clever and effective way to manipulate the venue into getting your way every time without even having to say a word. It will require some work and time on your end, though. Just get a floor plan for every venue where you’re working. During your sales consultation, earn the trust of your client. If they are hiring you, they must trust you (to some extent). Have a layout of the ballroom that you will be working in, and provide that to your client. On the layout, you want to clearly indicate the primary DJ set-up area… and even photo booth, furniture, etc. Make this a bonus service, as you are advising your client as to what is the best way to place the DJ for ultimate success.
Be The Expert!
And as the expert, let your client be educated as to the right and wrong way of doing this event. Explain to your client that they hold the power with the venue to request that you (the DJ) will be set up in the A position and even offer a B option. But, make it clear that under no circumstance should you be set up in any of these other spots, as it can seriously impact the event and the guests having a great time.
Basically, empower your client to do your dirty work and watch them appreciate you even more in the process! When the venue says the DJ will be in the corner, the client sets them straight and insists their DJ gets center room right next to the dancefloor and have the venue move their seafood station elsewhere!
As long as you communicate with advance planning, it’s like the famous “Dirty Dancing” line – nobody will put Baby (aka the DJ) in a corner.
Since 1984, Mike Fernino has run Music In Motion Entertainment in Seymour, Conn., and since 2008, he has run the Facebook Group, DJ Idea Sharing.