Traverse City, Mich. — At one time or another we’ve all wanted to start a DJ business – or be part of one. Many of us pursued the dream on the side, while still working our “real job.”
Tony Lackie works at a marketing agency during the day, so DJing isn’t his full-time job – yet. “There are bills to pay, but the beat keeps calling,” he says. “I never had even thought about DJing as a possible career path. I wanted to be a producer, so I did a lot of beat-making – but once I started DJing weddings I fell in love with it.”
Let’s start from the beginning. In 2015, Lackie learned about an opening for a wedding DJ at an event space. Could be a good way to make some money, he thought. “I just had a daughter, and was broke as a joke,” he says. “Making $400 in a single night seemed like a win, when it would take me a little less than a week to make that at my day job at that time.”
So he started shadowing some of the venue’s DJs for a few months before he was able to do it on his own. “In those few months, I learned a lot,” he recalls. “I already had a lot of microphone skills from my time as a producer – I used to do a lot of shows around town. I was a rapper for over 10 years and even opened up for Three 6 Mafia, Ying Yang Twins, and Young Buck when they performed in our town. So I knew microphone etiquette and I knew how to speak to groups because I taught martial arts for six years.”
But what he didn’t know was how to play to the crowd to keep them dancing – or how to speak with the brides.
“As far as programming, I ultimately got pretty good at figuring out a process to realize which kind of music guests would react to,” he says. “I learned that every wedding is different, so the trick is to not assume, based on age how they will react to a certain type of music. But instead experiment with different songs during an event, to the point they don’t realize I am experimenting – it allows me to zero in on the kind of music they like and the kind of music they will most likely dance to.”
Over time, Lackie began developing his own style, hitting them right out of the gate with something strong like Bruno Mars favorites “Uptown Funk” or “24K Magic.” Says Lackie: “I don’t believe in starting slow to build the energy. The first song is the first impression, so I’ll play a song that I know everybody likes as my first song of the night and build from there. If you can win them with the first song, it makes dialing in the music they really like pretty easy.
As for dealing with brides: “In the beginning, when I encountered brides who were a little bit controlling, I would get annoyed. I would never show it, but it would irritate me because I would have the mentality of ‘DJs do this all of the time, they’re professionals and this is your first wedding.’
“But the more I was exposed to it, I realized that they are not controlling because they want to be, but rather, they are scared or freaked out, and the only way they know how to cope is to be in control.”
So, through watching these DJs and then doing more gigs on his own, he learned to be more understanding and comforting and reassuring in those moments, instead of feeling annoyed. He started his own business, Northern Beat Entertainment.
“I feel like I ‘get’ brides more and that has helped,” he says. “Connecting with brides is a feeling I never really got when I was active in production. It’s that connection that I fell in love with, and that’s why this is something I know I will be great at.”
Of course, that changed when the pandemic hit. “The impact was pretty drastic,” he says, “I began getting reschedules, and clients reaching out. I made sure to keep the communication open, and reassure them in any way that I could. I’m in Michigan, so they have been pretty strict regarding gatherings and social events – so it’s been pretty tough. Luckily, I have been able to reschedule a good majority of them. and only had two cancel outright.”
On the gear side, Lackie’s set-up includes: a pair of Electro-Voice ZLX-15P powered loudspeakers; a QSC KSub; a Denon MC7000 Serato controller; a Shure ULX wireless system; and a Shure Beta 58A microphone.
Through it all, Lackie remains optimistic. “I know that we will bounce back, just a matter of when,” he says. “I think especially right now, couples are going to be looking at planning events, or doing smaller events more from their devices, and ease of access. We already see that with how people shop, and research products, and I think this is going to change the way people plan weddings. I think they are going to feel safer, planning from their phones, or computers, as opposed to meeting in person. But people celebrate. People gather. I don’t see this stopping them from it. It’s human nature to be with people you care about, and that’s good for our industry.”
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