As well as running the magazine he founded, Eddie has played a key part in the history of BPM – the show for DJs – and has been the driving force behind our industry’s landmark event, the annual Pro Mobile Conference. Here, he speaks to incoming Editor, Peter Holding, about his journey so far and plans for the future.
Q: How did your journey as a DJ begin?
A: I remember very clearly; I decided I wanted to become a DJ when I was seven, at my birthday party. I was in awe of the DJ, a guy called Phillip who had a business called ‘Flipside’. He turned up in his Bedford Rascal van at the local community hall my parents had hired and proceeded to unload what seemed to me at the time to be a ton of equipment. He lugged in a twin deck console, speakers, lightboxes, screens and boxes filled with 7” singles. I then watched in amazement as he set it all up, plugged it all in, and filled the small function room with flashing coloured light and blasted out the pop music of the day (Kylie’s ‘80s cover of the ‘The Locomotion’ was a standout floor-filler!).
I assumed he must be incredibly successful as a DJ, as he appeared to spend the whole afternoon on the telephone! Of course, I know now that he was actually using an old telephone receiver in lieu of headphones to cue up each song. Within the space of that two hour party Phillip became my idol, and I’d discovered my calling in life.
Over the next few years, I managed to get my parents to buy me bits of DJ-related gear for birthdays and Christmas. A Tandy 4-way light chaser here; a bright red microphone there; and I started to hone my craft in my bedroom. My extended family also had to dance non-stop whenever they visited our house, as without fail I would set up my gear in the living room and ‘treat’ them to a disco!
My initial ‘big break’ came during my first year in secondary school. My brother was still in the juniors, and my parents were heavily involved with the PTA, so they swung it for me to come along and help the DJ at the school disco. I remember arriving early, keen to help him set up, and waiting at the rear door of the school hall… and waiting… and waiting! The PTA helpers were beginning to panic when he finally arrived. I was then astounded when, instead of rushing in to setup, the guy nonchalantly lit a cigarette and slowly smoked it before bothering to do anything! He was then late starting, which didn’t impress me or the PTA! However, I have a lot to thank him for as I made enough of an impression on him that he offered me a couple of gigs in my own right! These were small kids’ parties, in people’s homes, in all likelihood parties my DJ benefactor simply couldn’t be bothered to do, but for me it was a great start.
Q: How did things progress from there?
A: Those first couple of kids’ parties were a success and they led to a couple more bookings. I was in business, so needed a name! My dad suggested ‘School’s Out Disco’, inspired by the Alice Cooper hit that I’d never heard of, which I liked because it played to the idea of a 12-year-old DJing for kids who were only a few years younger. I was very close to my maternal grandfather, who we called ‘Poppa’, and he was very supportive of my aspirations to become a mobile DJ. He not only constructed my first DJ booth – a very solidly-built wooden contraption that only just fit in my dad’s estate car – but also took out an advert for me in the local paper. Every week my grandparents would take a trip into town to go to the paper’s office and book the classified ad: ‘School’s out disco, children’s parties, call…’. This led to a steady stream of enquires, which resulted in many more referrals and before long I was DJing kids’ parties every weekend – sometimes as many as three or four in one Saturday!
Q: You mentioned Phillip, your grandfather and the lazy school DJ, did anyone else help you out in those early days?
A: My mum and dad were not only incredibly supportive, they also worked very hard and sacrificed a lot to allow me to live out my DJing dream. In the early days, not only did one of them – usually my dad – have to drive me and all my equipment to each gig and help me carry it in, they had to stick around as they weren’t comfortable leaving a 12-year-old alone in a community hall or pub function room miles from home! This meant that after working hard all week, my dad would spend most of his weekends working as a roadie for me!
It wasn’t just driving and carrying, I also often roped both parents in as ‘go-go’ dancers. Decked out in their ‘School’s Out Disco’ logoed t-shirts they’d stand either side of my setup and help me lead the kids during my signature closing half hour ‘party dances’ section. As the number of gigs I was taking on increased, I think this put a lot of strain on my parents. Especially at Christmas when I’d have a booking every night of the week after school, plus multiple parties at the weekend. Fortunately for them, as I grew older they were able to retire their dancing shoes. They left me to it, ably assisted by my school friend Jonny, who took over the roadie/dancer role.
Some readers will have actually met my parents, as their support continued well after I got a driving licence. For a number of years they would man the Pro Mobile stand at BPM for me when I was busy looking after other things. A born salesman, my dad would happily chew the fat with visitors to the stand as they signed up for subscriptions, holding in-depth conversations about the ins and outs of the DJ business even though he’s never actually DJed a party himself!
Q: When did you move on from kids’ parties?
A: That happened organically over a number of years. I made such an impression at children’s parties that their schools started booking me for their discos. After a few years, I was doing almost all of the local junior schools. At some of them the PTA organised family discos, which gave me my first experience of playing to adults. Very quickly I had to expand my music collection and knowledge to include ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s floor-fillers – I remember Motown was always my go-to for getting the mums up dancing!
I started to be asked by parents who saw me at these family school discos to do their birthday parties and other celebrations. By the age of 15 or 16 I was regularly playing adult functions in Working Men’s Clubs and pub function rooms on Friday and Saturday nights as well as kids' parties on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. It was around this time I did my first wedding – which involved another learning curve – and from there my business continued to grow.
Before my 17th birthday I had bought a nearly new Daihatsu Hi-jet van and as soon as I passed my test my dad got his weekends back and I was able to take my DJ business to another level. It provided me a great source of income throughout college and university – even if I did fall into the typical DJ trap of investing a large chunk of it on gear and music!
Q: What made you start a magazine?
A: The idea for Pro Mobile really came about from a desire to find out more about what other people were doing as mobile DJs. In 2003 the internet wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now, so DJs didn’t really have a way of connecting with each other, learning from each other and seeing each other’s rigs! I set up Pro Mobile during the summer before my final year at university. I had just completed a gap year during which I had worked for someone who had a computer company, the field I was studying for my degree. This experience put me off the idea of working for someone else, so I was looking for something extra to do in addition to my DJ work but didn’t want to get a ‘real job’. The magazine launched at PLASA in September 2003, where we gave away 5000 copies of the first issue.
Over the next year the business took over the student house I shared with a very understanding group of friends. Pallet loads of each issue would be dropped off on the drive by bemused delivery drivers and no-one was allowed to watch the TV in our living room if they weren’t stuffing copies of Pro Mobile into envelopes!
By the time I left university, the following year, we had a growing subscriber base, plus enough advertisers to make Pro Mobile viable in its own right. Since then, the magazine has been produced consistently every two months without fail.
Q: Why do you think Pro Mobile proved so successful?
A: There was – and still is – nothing else like it. The majority of mobile DJs are very passionate about what they do and have a genuine interest in what other DJs are doing and a desire to improve what they offer to their own clients. That’s what Pro Mobile provided then, and continues to offer readers today.
I also think that, from the very outset, the ethos of Pro Mobile was to produce the best magazine we possibly could. Granted, in 2003, as a group of 21-year-olds with no publishing experience, our best wasn’t amazing. But I think the heart behind the magazine shone through and over the years the quality – in terms of editorial content, graphic design and physical production – have all improved immensely to the point that I am very proud of today’s Pro Mobile magazine.
I also need to give due credit and express my thanks to the countless DJs who have contributed their ideas, experiences, opinions and creativity to the magazine over the years. Some have written many articles, others just one or two, but one of Pro Mobile’s strengths is undoubtedly its wide pool of contributors.
Q: You also founded BPM, the show for DJs, how did that come about?
A: A few years after launching Pro Mobile, it became glaringly obvious that there was a demand in the UK for a national exhibition focussed on the DJ industry. A few regional events had proved successful, most notably DJ Show North in Leeds, but there was no national exhibition for Pro Mobile’s readers to attend and its advertisers to exhibit. After much nagging from Derek Pengelly, I had visited Mobile Beat in Las Vegas and experienced a show bringing together 1000+ DJs and was inspired to create something similar in the UK.
I had become friends with Mark Walsh, who at the time worked for Prolight Concepts, and we spent a lot of time talking about new ideas for the industry. We realised that we were both thinking the same thing: we needed to put on a show, one which appealed to all DJs and was big enough to be worth travelling from all across the UK to attend. After lots of work behind the scenes, the first BPM took place at Donnington Park Exhibition Centre in 2007. It was a huge undertaking. I had married my wife only two months before and we’d still not completed on our first house, so the five-figure contract that we signed to book Donnington Park was the most expensive thing I’d ever bought in my life! Fortunately, the risk paid off and BPM was an instant success, attracting over 2,000 DJs in year one.
After just two years, we had outgrown Donnington and in 2009 moved to the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham – a huge step up! Over the next few years, we built the show to a huge scale. I vividly remember looking round the show one year, at the scale of what we had built, and the moment stands out as a huge achievement.
I will always be very proud of BPM’s peak years, but by 2015 I was mentally and physically exhausted by the pressures of running both the magazine and the show. While remaining good friends – as we still are today – Mark and I also had different ideas about how things should move forward. We therefore agreed that I would step down as a Director of the business, allowing Mark to move forward with his plans for the show. I became an employee of the company and refocussed my efforts on the magazine.
Q: There have been a lot of landmarks in the history of Pro Mobile – what is the achievement you are most proud of?
A: I think that my proudest achievement has to be the Pro Mobile Conference. It’s such a great opportunity to bring people together, network and learn from each other. It is always the one event each year that I come away from enthused and inspired. Through it I have made some great friends and also deepened many existing relationships. I have also witnessed first hand the incredible impact that it’s had on the businesses of the DJs who attend – yours being a prime example Pete – and that makes me immensely proud.
Q: During your time working in the industry, you have met a vast number of DJs and seen many of them perform. What makes a great one?
A: What a big question! I think the most important thing is a love for music. The two common traits you’ll find in almost all mobile DJs is a love of music and a love of the gear. You can get by with a basic working knowledge of the gear, but a real passion for music is key to being a good DJ. I think you then also need to have an outgoing personality; you need to enjoy being surrounded by people, if you’re going to make it as a mobile DJ.
I also think that there’s a difference between being a good mobile DJ and a successful one. There are some great DJs out there who struggle to get paid what they are worth. I believe successful mobile DJs are also good listeners and communicators. They are able to truly listen to what a client wants to achieve, explain how they can make it happen and then live up to the promises they have made. To sum it up: a successful DJ loves music, enjoys being the life and soul of the party, but is also willing to listen to their customer, and use their experience to deliver their party just the way they imagined it.
Q: Has anyone else been instrumental in your journey through the DJ industry.
A: There have been literally hundreds of people involved with the magazine, and Conference, and BPM over the years who are worthy of a mention, but we simply don’t have the pages available! However, the one person I owe the most to is my wife, Nicola – or Nic to those who know her well.
From working in the very first Pro Mobile office before we were even married, to looking after the Operations for the early BPM shows, to wielding a clipboard at the Conference, Nic has always been involved in everything I’ve done. Usually behind the scenes, often receiving little recognition, but always dependable – she really is my rock, and I’m not sure how I’d have managed without her.
Q: Why are you stepping down as Pro Mobile’s Editor now?
A: The short answer is to avoid getting stuck in a rut – for me personally, but more importantly for Pro Mobile. To be honest, I started to wonder if it was about time for me to step aside and let someone else come in with fresh creative ideas back in early 2018. However, the NADJ then took over ownership of the magazine and the Chairman at the time – Pete Hawkins – and Secretary – Fabio Capozzi – asked me to stay on as Editor to ensure a smooth transition. I was happy to do that, as I was pleased to see the magazine in the ownership of the UK’s national association, which means it is really owned by the members – the DJs themselves.
When I agreed to stay on as Editor under NADJ ownership, the committee assured me that I would retain the same level of editorial freedom as before. They have been true to that word and I’m sure readers will all agree that the magazine has not changed in any negative way since the transition. On the contrary, I feel that over the past two years the magazine has had a new lease of life. A large part of this has been down to the impact made by Steve Honeyball – who joined Pro Mobile in the new role of Business Development manager in 2018.
Pro Mobile is now in a good, stable position – both financially and editorially – but I don’t want it to become stagnant, which I feel could happen if I stayed on in the Editor’s role for too long. Therefore earlier this year I took the big decision to announce that I would be stepping down. I received lots of messages of support and good wishes for the future and we also received a number of CVs from really great candidates interested in taking on the Editor’s job. I’m sure they would all have been capable of taking the magazine forward, but – after a formal interview process – you, Pete, were offered the job, and I was really pleased when you accepted.
We have known each other for a long time, and I’ve always been impressed by your attitude, ability and demeanour. Any doubts I had over passing on the Pro Mobile baton have been well and truly put to rest, as I know that you’ll do a great job of leading the magazine forward.
Q: What’s the future for Eddie Short?
A: At the beginning of 2019 I started working with ADJ Lighting, looking after their PR globally. This is an expanding role that fits perfectly my skillset, aspirations and experience. I’m looking forward to focussing my working life on that new challenge as it develops and grows.
I’m also planning to spend more time with my family. My kids are eight, four and two and I want to be around for them as much as possible while they want me to be! There’s nothing quite like the joy of being around young children – their laughter, smiles and exuberant happiness is wonderful, and I want to savour it as much as possible.
I also hope you’ll allow me to contribute the occasional article to the magazine, Pete, and I may even write you an Inbox letter from time to time. I also have a few other projects that I’ll now have time to sink my teeth into… watch this space!
Q: Lastly, do you have a final message for Pro Mobile readers in your last issue as Editor?
A: All I want to say is thank you. Thank you to the advertisers who have made the magazine financially viable over the years. Thank you to the contributors who have taken the time to write articles and reviews. Thank you to everyone who has worked with me to put the magazine together over the years. Most of all, thank you to all of our loyal readers – without you there would be no Pro Mobile. I really appreciate your support, encouragement and feedback (both good and bad). I hope that you’ll welcome Pete warmly as the new Editor – I’m sure that the magazine is in good hands!
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 104, Pages 58-64.