Hopewell Junction, N.Y. – Mike Alevras started working as a mobile entertainer in the Hudson Valley of New York in 1997, for a multi-op company, first as a DJ assistant and then eventually as second-in-command to the owner.
After eight years, he was hired by another small multi-op to take the VP position. After helping grow that company to eight crews and five full-time staffers, the owner chose to move on from DJing in late 2010. Alevras had his opportunity. He took over the company and rebranded it HVE Associates (Hudson Valley Entertainment Associates) and made a strategic decision.
“I wanted to focus on one event per day,” he says, “and to give that client the best possible performance.”
Taking ownership of a company came suddenly and without any long term planning. He had a bit of personal savings to invest, but not much, which made educating consumers on the new brand and identity a challenge. “Also, taking on the responsibilities of the overall finances was new to me,” he says. “As a VP working for an owner, I never dealt with the overall economics of the business. I dealt with specific budgets or went to the owner on things that needed to be done. He made the final call on finances. It was a bit overwhelming at first.”
One of the differentiators for HVE is that it chose not to indulge in what Alevras refers to as “cheesy” DJing. “I consider a ‘cheesy’ DJ one that in our market is still is doing the ‘Chicken Dance’ or ‘Macarena’ and ‘YMCA’ at weddings,” he says. “Or a DJ who will play ‘Celebration’ as the first song of the first dance set every week. Or they’ll use the over-exaggerated, over-the-top ‘radio’ voice when making announcements. I have no problem if clients still want some of these songs—they are classics. But the company I first worked for had this approach—and it got stale, repetitive and old, real quick.”
When we ask Alevras if there’s a gap in the marketplace to accommodate clientele who don’t like “cheese,” he replies resoundingly in the positive. “Potential clients see this ‘non-cheesy’ in our branding and they immediately know that we are not going to play some of those songs I mentioned,” he asserts. “They immediately get the idea that we will be different and will cater to their vision. It certainly fills a gap. There are plenty of clients who still want the ‘Chicken Dance’ at their event and that’s O.K. I will still play it with a smile if the client asks. But our clients know that it isn’t a ‘go-to’ song and more than likely, if they do not specifically ask for it, it won’t be played.”
A few years ago, Alevras seized on another opportunity when the owners of another DJ company, The DJ Solution, decided to step away from performing weddings and private events. “They had built a great reputation, excellent social media and SEO results and their outlook on weddings and being a single op were a natural fit for HVE Associates,” he says. “They were booking clients that were similar to the clients I book. I was also in the right place at the right time… the owner had casually mentioned to me that in the future they may sell. I simply told him that I wanted to be the first call he makes.”
The price, he says, was also too good to turn down. The result? The acquisition has been profitable, helping Alevras gain new clients and additional exposure through venues that the company had built relationships with.
Not everyone has the opportunity to make such an acquisition, but Alevras says anyone can adopt a similar formula in getting experience in the industry. “Make contact with an established company in your market and go work for them,” he says. “Whether as an assistant helping with set up or as a photo-booth attendant, get in on the ground floor and learn. Ask questions and get involved with someone who has already put the time in, made mistakes and has learned from them. The worst mistake would be to invest a large sum of money and then say, ‘I’m a DJ.’ I am always open to chatting with and mentoring young people who want to get into this industry. I was 18 when I got involved and the best education I got was from working for others and networking.”
For networking, Alevras has benefited from his founding the Hudson Valley DJ Association. “It has helped my business in improving my skill set as a performer and educated me as a business owner,” he says. “It has also allowed me to showcase to my clients that I am dedicated to my career and, more importantly, their events. As one of the founders and first president of the Hudson Valley DJ Association, I can position myself as a leader that cares about not only his clients and business, but that I truly care about all entertainers in our area. I want to do what I can to improve our industry as a whole.”
On the gear side, Alevras’ set-ups include Serato DJ software with either a Pioneer DDJ-SZ or DDJ-SX controller, plus a wireless system from Shure, Electro-Voice or Audio-Technica. For larger events, he uses the QSC Audio K Series active loudspeaker system (K12-and-KSub combo); for smaller gigs, he employs a pair of RCF 312-A active speakers. For lighting, his prime pieces include four Chauvet Intimidator Spot Duo fixtures, two American DJ Fun Factor LED effect lights and uplighting from Colorado Sound N’ Light.
When we ask Alevras where he sees his company in five years, he says being a mobile entertainer and refining his skills and approach to giving clients the best possible experience is a priority. “I am slowly adding a second crew for additional events,” he says. “I don’t see myself trying to be the largest company, but I certainly see myself continuing to meet the goal that is our company mission statement: ‘When Nothing Short of Perfection Will Do.’”