Dialogue With Mike Walter
Ahead of his Lead Keynote seminar at the Pro Mobile Conference in March, Eddie Short talks to leading American DJ and ‘multi-op’ business owner Mike Walter.
Q: You’ve spent many years as a full-time professional DJ and built up a large DJ business, but how did you first become a DJ?
A: I used to bowl a lot as a teenager and the alley I hung out at started doing a Friday Night Madness thing from 11pm to 2am. They hired a DJ to play music but he didn't have a microphone or want to speak. So the bowling alley owner approached me and asked if I wanted to ‘MC’. For the first few weeks all I had was the microphone that was attached to the desk where they made announcements, but when the owner saw how things were going and how much fun I was having with everyone he bought a cordless microphone for me and that was amazing. Now I was free to roam! I'd go up and down the lanes, asking for requests and doing play-by-plays. They would put one red pin in each rack and if that came up as the head pin you could win a prize if you rolled a strike so I'd be running up and down saying, "we have a red head pin on lane 20, let's see if Bobby can win a pitcher of beer" and things like that. It was awesome. I was 18 and making $30 a night and I thought it was the coolest job in the world. So when I got approached to DJ/MC weddings it was a natural next step.
Q: How did you get involved with DJ training and recruitment?
A: I started working for a company called Star DJs as a DJ but they very quickly offered me a job in their office. The company was growing quickly and I became one of their trainers before too long and was helping them find new DJs too. However, that company eventually began going downhill. So I decided to start my own business, Elite Entertainment, and brought that same multi-op philosophy with me. I had a partner at that point and from day one we were focused on growing a company with depth. With my experience from Star I implemented a recruitment and training program right away. I bought my partner out after a few years and became the sole owner and we continued to grow. The company will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year and I couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve achieved in that time.
Q: You’ve recruited and trained countless DJs over the years, what do you think is the most important characteristic of a good DJ?
A: Charisma. I think you need that before anything else. You need to be outgoing and fun and love people and that all falls under the heading of ‘charisma’ in my opinion. I usually know within five minutes of meeting someone if they have the ‘it factor’ or not. That doesn't mean they'll be successful, because there are other things that matter like professionalism and honesty that I can't find out ‘til I've worked with someone for a while. But I can spot charisma a mile away. It's in eye contact and smiling and the tone of voice people use.
Q: You’ve achieved tremendous success with Elite Entertainment and grown it to become the market-leader in New Jersey, what do you think makes your company stand out?
A: Great entertainment combined with awesome Customer Service. None of our DJs are divas. We don't have a "we're the professionals and experts so don't tell us what to do" kind of attitude. We want every client to have the event that they envision, which means personalising the music and our approach for every event. We can be very outgoing and lead all the line dances if they want. Or be less interactive and more club-like. My DJs are chameleons and I think that's important.
Q: What would be the most important piece of advice you would give to a solo DJ who would like to expand their DJ business?
A: Only expand if you really want to AND need to. Wanting to is important because there are times when growing a multi-op is a struggle. You'll only get through those struggles if this is something you really want. The need part comes down to filling your calendar and then another DJ’s. If you're not turning down work on multiple days every year it means you aren't generating enough personal referrals from your events. If that's the case, focus first on performance. Get to the point where you are so much in demand that you have to add another DJ, then train them in your style and image.
Q: Running a business that serves 1000+ events each year and has 20 DJ/MCs on its books must keep you pretty busy, how often do you go out and DJ events yourself these days?
I cut back drastically on my own events a few years ago (in 2015 I did just 23) and I found I HATED it. I got into this business because I love to entertain and to be the centre of attention. There's a famous story about Bob Hope. Late in his life a reporter asked him why he didn't just retire and go fishing and he said "because the fish don't applaud”. I've opened my schedule back up (this year I'll personally do 62 events) and I'm much happier.
Q: What type of event do you most enjoy working?
A: Weddings mostly. I do some corporate work, especially in December, but throughout the year I'm pretty much strictly a wedding DJ.
Q: You’ve presented seminars at DJ conventions and conferences across the USA, how did you first get involved with DJ training outside of your own business?
A: I used to attend DJ conferences all the time and sometimes I'd see a speaker and think "I know more than this guy". One day I was complaining to someone about that and they challenged me: "If you know so much get up there and do your own seminar!" So I did. And I found out I loved it (the centre of attention thing again!) and that I must be pretty good because people gave me tons of compliments after and wanted more from me. This led to me writing the book ‘Running Your Multi-Op’ and other opportunities like doing consulting work and leading MC workshops.
Q: At the 2019 Pro Mobile Conference you’ll be presenting the Lead Keynote seminar on the Sunday and then hosting a second session on the Monday. What can the DJs who are attending expect from your two presentations?
A: In a nutshell, performance on Sunday and business on Monday. I'll offer as much of my performance advice as I can on Sunday to help attendees throw better parties and generate more referrals. Then on Monday I'll talk about the steps you need to take to grow from being a solo operator to adding a DJ or two or three. Plus I'll be around for the whole Conference so I'm looking forward to meeting some new people and having some great conversations in between sessions!
Pro Mobile equipment reviews are sponsored by insure4music, insure your gear today and save 10% off your quote - from just £22.50 a year.
The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 93, Pages 56-58.