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Editor’s Note: Longtime Cali-based DJ Randy Bartlett recently retired, but he hasn’t stopped chiming in on the industry’s goings-on. He’s been blogging for DJ Times, and the two posts below gained the most views – in the thousands. It’s some sage advice.

Here’s a wedding-DJ tip: A bride asks “What is a good alternative to the traditional father-daughter dance?”

We tend to try to solve that problem by asking, “How?” — as in, “How can I deliver what she’s requesting?”

Instead — and here’s the tip — we should be asking, “Why?”


Before answering her, we need to know why this bride wants an alternative. If her father has recently passed away, that will be a very different idea than if he passed away when she was 4… which is very different than if he’s still alive, but they have a strained relationship… which is different than if they’re so close that they would both be in tears on the dancefloor… which is different than they both despise being traditional.

The key to creativity is to get to the why. Once you do that, the how will reveal itself.

I see it in online DJ forums daily. What song do you play next? What do you say when this happens? How do you handle this situation? How much should I charge for this service?

And the only reasonable answer to these questions is: “It depends.”

Asking why is more than a one-step process. It requires asking, listening, sifting, asking again, going deeper and peeling back the layers – and that means not just in being a DJ, but in being a business owner, a parent, a spouse, a friend, a human.

When I look at the people in our business, the performing arts, those who are the most successful, most creative, most influential — I consistently see people who seek to understand why they are doing things.

In acting, you hear the phrase, “motivation,” and it comes down to why the character is angry or sad or happy or fearful, because those emotions aren’t one-dimensional. Happy because your team made it to the Super Bowl is a very different kind of happy than when you won the lottery or you just had a baby.

In our businesses, it’s imperative that we not only ask our clients why, but ask ourselves as well. Why do we have the same policy regarding deposits today that we had 10 years ago? Why do we always end the party with a slow song, or a fast song, or the same song? Why do we keep saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, at this time…” every time we get on the mic? Why are we wearing a tux or a suit or casual clothes to this event?

Instead of asking what we should wear or what we should say, we need to ask why we are doing it. What is our goal? Nothing should be done out of simple habit, but instead, out of thoughtful, examined motivation.

When we do that, when we ask “why” enough times, the how will reveal itself.

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With few exceptions, most of us got into this business because of a love of music, but it’s that very love of music that will ultimately cause too many of us to leave the business. When we focus only on the music and not the overall emotional experience of the day, especially for social events like weddings, we risk being replaced by technology. You think Spotify lists are a problem? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Thirty years ago, clients didn’t have access to the music we had, so they had to hire us for music. But those days are long gone, and even for the club DJs, technology will replace you, whether you like it or not. There is already software that can mix and create, and more that is being perfected that can read a crowd and use algorithms to choose what to play next. Much like the independent-radio DJ is really a thing of the past, we need to evolve or be replaced.

As entertainers who use music as a tool, we have great power. As a music provider, we have very little. Learning to be a great master of ceremonies, rather than just another DJ making announcements and yelling the names when the wedding party arrives, is the difference not only of survival as a performer, but in eliminating all those calls for someone “looking for a DJ.” Wouldn’t you rather have a wedding client who is looking for you, specifically?

Resistance is futile. Become a full-fledged entertainer or become one of the legions of people who “used to be a DJ.” That means honing your craft as an entertainer, including MC workshops, DVDs, comedy classes, improv classes, acting classes, writing classes, community theater, rehearsals and practice.

For example, in our advanced microphone skills workshops, we spend a great deal of time on our opening for weddings, reducing their complexity, making them more direct and succinct.

Instead of the typical, “How’s everyone doing tonight?” which generates, at best, a tepid response, try an enthusiastic and heartfelt, “Good evening. Welcome to Ryan and Jessica’s wedding reception!” Delivered correctly, this opener will generate spontaneous and enthusiastic cheers and applause — and now you have the guests right where you want them, something no algorithm will ever be able to do.

You can spend your time and money on marketing; you can try to get every millennial bride to send you a request for prices via email or text, but getting direct referrals from guests at your events, clients who will pay a premium price and even schedule their wedding around your availability — that’s the real payoff.

Don’t be the last one to realize this. The ship has sailed.

Randy Bartlett is the retired owner of Premier Entertainment in Sacramento, Calif.

To check out more business tip, click here.

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