Binghamton, N.Y. — For Jimmie Malone, the old way of running his DJ-business model had run its course.
“I had become burned out on the ‘book-everything-and-figure-out-the-details-later’ way of doing things that I had adopted for my first company, Astounding Sound,” he says. “It wasn’t a rewarding lifestyle and I was ready to get out of the industry. That’s how I learned to run a DJ business, like a lot of other guys.”
That changed after he attended his first DJ Expo, in Atlantic City, N.J., in 1996. “I had a renewed energy and focus,” he recalls. “I met some incredible people, many of whom I am still great friends with today, and I saw that it was possible to make a living without trying to be everything to everyone and booking every job, no matter the price.”
Malone began DJing in 1993. He got the bug working his first job, as a 16-year-old bus boy at a banquet center, when he saw an event DJ having more fun than anybody. “I was the bus boy who was always asking them questions about their gear,” he recalls, “asking what they were going to play tonight. I finally bugged one DJ enough that he gave me my first job as a DJ.”
When he founded Astounding Sound the following year, Malone says it was like a lot of other DJ services at the time: “Not terrible, but often forgettable. We didn’t know any better back then.”
He started Exceptional Receptions in 2006, he says, to “focus more on giving individual attention to each client’s event.” Incorporating the company in April of 2017, he has four employees, but, he adds, “We are aggressively expanding and currently looking to add two more part-time employees.”
What Malone realized was that one doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel – and whatever you want to do, someone has already figured it out. “I wanted to make six figures as a solo-op DJ,” he says, “so I sought out people who were not only successfully achieving that level of income already, but who were doing it in a way that I could see myself replicating.”
One upsell that has transformed his company is the “Video Love Story.” It’s something he began offering in 2011 when he got the idea to use voice-over recordings, which we had offered since 2006, and combine them with slideshows and, eventually, live video.
“I was among the first students of Mark Ferrell’s ‘Love Story Workshop’ when he began offering it,” says Malone, “and I had a couple that loved the concept and asked if it was possible for them to record something themselves, instead of me reading it. We decided to approach it like an eHarmony commercial, cutting between footage of the bride and groom talking about how they met, fell in love, and eventually got engaged.
“I was not prepared for how well the audience would react. People were laughing so much that you couldn’t hear the next part of the video! They are funny, and heartwarming, and they are incredibly effective at drawing the guests into the moment.”
Malone says it’s a time-consuming service, and should be priced accordingly. “It’s not something you should give away for free,” says Malone, who uses Magix Vegas Pro editing software for these jobs. “I’ve done dozens and it still takes between five and eight hours of production on each one. From my own experience, it not only leads to future bookings, but those future bookings are going to include video screens and command higher fees. You’ve got to know how to edit video, but it’s also important to know not just what to ask couples on camera, but how to ask it – and you can’t be afraid to coach them to sound their best.”
Malone says humor works best for these videos. “The best ones are always funny, and there are usually some details that come out that are a surprise to one of the participants. One of my favorites was a couple that had gone their separate ways and were living in different cities, who then would be seeing each other again at a mutual friend’s graduation. Both were anxious about the meeting and neither knew what to expect. When the bride, Melissa, saw the groom, Brad, she ran up to give him a big hug, but Brad didn’t hug back and even seemed a little cold. As it turns out, Melissa had cut and colored her hair and Brad didn’t recognize her and had no idea who was hugging him!”
With a population of less than 50,000, Binghamton itself is a relatively small market, its claim to fame being the birthplace of Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling. “Most people couldn’t point it out on a map,” he says. “But the internet has opened up marketing opportunities all around us and we have a huge destination market within an hour and a half drive in the Finger Lakes Region of New York.”
On the gear front, Malone uses a mixture of old and new. “I’ve been using some of the same equipment for 10 years or more,” he says, “and tend to only make purchases when I have a plan for it to make money.”
His gig set-ups include the following: VirtualDJ 8 software; Denon DJ DN-HC4500 controller; Denon DJ DN-X500 mixer; Bose L1 Model II speakers; Bose B2 bass modules; various Sennheiser microphones (wireless, lavaliere); Sony MDR-V55 headphones; Global Truss Totems (for TVs); Samsung 50-inch TVs; Peerless-AV HDS200 HD Flow Pro Wireless Multimedia Kit; LumiDesk ULTIMATE DMX USB lighting interface controller; DJ Techtools Midi Fighter Pro (lighting controller); and generic LED pars for lighting and uplighting.
For the future, Malone is pushing into more rentals, and always looking for unique products and services to offer his clients. Photo booths, uplighting, and video screens have done quite well for him. “But the goal,” he says, “is to be in a place in five years where we have whatever someone is looking for. I want Exceptional Receptions to be the first name people think of when they’re looking for something they can’t find anywhere else.”