Inspired by a trip to Mobile Beat in Las Vegas in 2011, Andi Crampton returned to the UK with a vision to create high energy, big production student events for schools and universities in his area. Schools Out Entertainment has continued to be inspired by the best in the industry, wherever that is in the world, and Andi’s company is now one of the most successful of its type in the UK.
Here, Andi describes his journey to date, and explains where he sees huge opportunities for DJs all over the world, re-inventing the term ‘school disco’ into something very few of us who have attended school would recognise.
I’ve been a mobile and club DJ since the late 80s. At around the age of 12 or 13, I started doing my own school’s discos, and moved on swiftly to other schools through recommendations. I then progressed on to clubs and warehouses around the M25, as well as mobile work including birthdays and weddings. I couldn’t drive yet, but by the age of the 15 I was playing regularly at weddings, and even held a residency at a Copthorne hotel.
Fast forward to the 2000s, by which time I had made mobile and club DJing my full-time job. Life was good with a busy diary, although I was doing very little work in schools, something I decided to do some work on. This resulted in my attending seminars and doing lots of reading, in order to improve my business with the ultimate aim of increasing my fees and therefore my income. As well as my standard services, I was offering a big range of additional services charged as extras. Looking back, I think in around 2009 a ‘race to the bottom’ started. Many mobile DJs appeared on the scene, and it seemed as though everyone knew a DJ who could “do the job cheaper”. Even though I was still going out of my way to up my game, it seemed that well-paid work was drying up and becoming harder to find.
Coincidentally, this was when I became disillusioned with my then strong focus on weddings. Having to deal with difficult brides, or couples who were willing to pay very little for their entertainment, was the cause of my disillusionment. I found myself having to deal with people who had gone way over their budget and were then trying to claw back money anywhere or anyway they could. They usually started by complaining to the venue about the food, the staff, the fact that the bar didn’t stock a particular type of drink, and then they would start on the entertainment.
I’m making this sound like a weekly occurrence – it wasn’t, but it felt that way and it brought me down. At this point I needed to do something to stop this cycle; I couldn’t deal with it anymore. I was becoming unhappy in my job, and we all know where that leads to in this industry.
In October 2010, I attended BPM at Birmingham’s NEC, and heard about a group of British mobile DJs that had gone to Las Vegas and returned with all sorts of ideas. There were tales of life-changing seminars and inspiration from afar, about strategies to help increase prices and ways to get out of the cheap and difficult sectors within our market.
There was even talk of being able to select their clients rather than competing to get clients! And that phrase that now echoes through our industry: “getting what you’re worth”. I was enthralled, though I’m fairly sure these people didn’t know I was lurking and listening to their discussions, or didn’t realise just how much attention I was paying to them. I have to credit these industrious colleagues for causing the change to my business model that resulted in what I do today.
Las Vegas was where I had to be. But the thought of all the costs – flights, accommodation, food and spending money – combined with the reality that, since 2009, I was struggling for work and money, made a trip across the Atlantic feel like a pipe dream. But find a way I did. I thought the trip might inspire some big changes to my working life and I really did believe I would only ever go once. I’ve now visited Mobile Beat (as well as lots of similar UK-based events) a number of times – this once in a life time trip was just the first of many!
So, there I was at Manchester airport in February 2011, 36 years old, all by myself and about to embark on my first long-haul flight in 15 years (32 hours with layover). To say I was nervous would be an understatement – there was so much riding on this trip.
Having arrived in Las Vegas and checked in at what I came to know as ‘The Good Old Riv’, I headed down to the bar where I’d been told everyone met. I bumped into a few faces I knew, who made me feel extremely welcome. I listened to recommendations on seminars and places to visit while I was there (it’s not all work!), and was introduced to other people attending. That night I headed back to my room, my brain whirling with excitement at the thought of tomorrow’s seminars. I set my alarm knowing I would kick off my Mobile Beat experience with Mark Ferrell’s seminar first thing the next morning.
It was whilst watching Mark’s seminar that I heard the noise of equipment being set up in an adjacent room. I checked the programme and found that a seminar called ‘Are You Rocking with the Best?’ was starting straight after. There was no doubt that’s where I was headed next. The seminar was held by Arnoldo Offerman, somebody who had a big hand in changing the business model for DJs. As he bounced onto the stage, I realised that this was going to get loud. And it did, complete with a lighting and video show. It was right then and there, in a room in Las Vegas, that everything changed for me.
Arnoldo told us how his company 4SchoolsOnly (now 4SO Productions) had started and how it became the huge success it was. My first instinct was that American school proms, homecoming parties and winter balls were only really celebrated by Americans, and that the market is very different to ours. However, the more I watched, the more I realised that I could make this work in the UK, by making alterations to fit the UK market. In short, I went all the way to the US to learn how to become a better wedding DJ. But I came back with a whole new plan: to become a prom DJ! On the plane home I couldn’t sleep – I was buzzing. I was going to change the way I worked…what I did. Then I made the boldest decision I have ever made: I was never going to book a wedding or family event ever again. Schools Out Entertainment was born.
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 106, Pages 24-27.