Love it or hate it, all mobile DJs will find themselves working alongside a band at least occasionally during their career. Some like the idea of ‘sharing the load’ and think that playing alongside a band makes for an easy night’s work, while others would prefer to take full control of the musical flow of the evening without having to work around a band’s setlist.
I have a unique perspective on this subject, as I actually started my gigging life as a guitarist in bands. Some were great and some were terrible, but ultimately, after dealing with one too many flaky lead singers and egomaniacal drummers, I decided I was going to get into the DJ game seriously and run a professional musical endeavour where I’m the only person I need to worry about.
I’ve never looked back from that point on but, as someone who specialises in weddings and corporate work, there are occasions when I receive the dreaded “You’ll be playing alongside a band” e-mail. These gigs usually go one of two ways – they’re either great fun, I make some new connections and all the guests have a great night, or they are horrible, stressful and unrewarding.
The big issue is that, unlike my DJ masterplan, with these gigs I’m no longer the only person I need to worry about. I have to make peace with the fact that I can’t control the band’s attitude and actions, either in the run up to the event or on the night, but I can control my own. So I’ve come up with a set of Dos and Don’ts I use when playing alongside a band, which have the benefit of coming from my experience on both sides. And, providing the band aren’t unreasonable, I’ve found this to be an approach that will keep everyone happy and ultimately give the client the best entertainment possible.
Charge your full rate
This comes down to you being confident enough to lose bookings (because you no doubt will). But, at the end of the day, whether you’re playing for an hour or five – if it’s an evening event – you’re going to be spending the same amount of time out of the house for that booking. Some clients won’t care – in their mind you’re playing for less time, so they should pay less money. However, standing your ground shows you’re not desperate for bookings and ultimately that you believe in the service you provide. Side note – do you think the band are discounting because you’ll be playing for part of the evening?
Being brutally honest (and it goes both ways) a lot of DJs don’t endear themselves to bands. For this article I reached out to a bunch of friends who play in successful wedding bands and, whilst most of them were generally positive, a lot had horror stories of DJs being outright prats in a multitude of different ways. We all know these guys exist – don’t be one of them!
Communicate with them
Start a dialogue with the band, and preferably do it beforehand. This breaks the ice and means you can discuss important things before the booking itself. More importantly, this also gives you a good indicator of what they’re going to be like to work with. I’m having a rather negative game of e-mail table tennis with a band just now that I’ll mention elsewhere but, suffice to say, I’m going into the gig with a decent idea that I’m probably going to want to have as little contact with them on the night as possible!
Work out logistics
It makes life easier for everyone if you know a venue and work out a smart way to set up, load in, use sockets etc… You don’t want to be rushing around setting up and tripping over each other’s stuff, struggling to find sockets or returning from getting changed into your performing clothes to find that the band have unplugged some of your gear.
Be helpful (within reason)
It’s nice to be nice and if the band need a hand with something, help them out if you can. Now how far you’ll take this is entirely subjective and is usually based on how their attitude has been up until that point. As a rule of thumb though, will I loan them an extension? Yes. Will I grab them some water while they’re setting up? Yes. Will I loan the singer my £500 Shure wireless because he forgot batteries for his cheap one? NOT A CHANCE! It’s a total judgement call from you. I know other DJs feel differently, but if someone is being paid to perform then they will not go through my PA without some sort of financial recompense for me (and that’s usually enough to make them decide they’ll just get their PA out of the van anyway). There’s definitely a line to be drawn, but don’t just flat out refuse to help because you never know when you’ll need to ask them for a favour!
Like most things DJ-related, this isn’t rocket science. However, I hear time and time again of situations where DJs and bands have clashed heads. This is subject to the kinds of personality you and the band have, of course, but (unless they are really not worth the time or energy) it makes for a better night for everyone if you work cohesively. I can think of two personal examples that illustrate this point perfectly. On the first occasion, the band I worked with at a corporate Christmas Ball apologised profusely for taking up so much space, asked if I had any ‘must play’ songs so they wouldn’t play them and were just generally nice, hard-working professionals. To show my appreciation I gave them a massive intro and got the crowd geed up for them coming on, used my light show to enhance their performance, grabbed them water from the bar when they needed it, and handled requests from guests so the singer didn’t have to do it mid-song. They couldn’t have been more thankful and appreciative. At the other event, the band intentionally took up far more space than they needed, were rude and generally denigrated my role at the event. When they were on stage, I left them to their own devices! This meant rubbish stage lights and guests talking to the singer mid-chorus asking for tunes.
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 85, Pages 24-28.