By Mike Walter:
I gave a seminar at Mobile Beat’s Las Vegas show last month and one of the things I discussed was breaking the fourth wall and getting out on the dance floor at certain moments of your events. That’s a style of DJing that has been engrained in me from my earliest days as an MC so it’s something I have always done, and something I have always taught my DJs to do. If it’s not something you do, please allow me to make my point.
My very first MCing job was back in Queens, New York in the mid-eighties at a bowling alley. I was an avid bowler at the time (used to carry a 170 average for what it’s worth) and I frequented this one place near my house and got to know the owner. He came to me one day and said he was starting something called “Friday Night Madness” which I’ve seen in many other bowling alleys since, often under the name “Rock and Bowl” or something like that. Friday Night Madness went from 10pm to 2am and featured a DJ, disco lights (which, looking back, were pretty lame) and one red pin in each set of pins. The point of the red pin was that whenever it came up as the head pin, the bowler could win a prize if he or she threw a strike. I thought the idea sounded great and I figured he was just telling me because he was excited about the concept and wanted to share it with his regulars. But then he made me an offer. He’d hired a DJ to play music but that guy didn’t want to speak. And they needed someone who could get on the microphone and make some announcements, mainly, spotlighting whenever a red pin landed as the head pin. I jumped at the chance, especially when he offered me $25 for the night (and unlimited beer). As a nineteen year old, that was a pretty good offer!
The first few weeks I stood behind the counter (the one where you get your rental shoes and pay for your games) and made all my announcements from the microphone on the gooseneck stand. I felt detached from everything and ineffectual. After a few weeks, attendance was booming and the owner told me he was getting me a cordless microphone. Once I had that I was free to roam. If a red head pin came up on lane #38, I sprinted down to announce it and watch the bowler throw their ball. And if they hit a strike I was the able to congratulate them as I gave them a prize. If a guy wanted to dedicate a song to his girl I walked over to their lane and made the announcement in front of them and then urged them to kiss. And late in the night if some of the ladies wanted to dance, I was right out there with them, bumping and grinding (I was nineteen!) and inviting others up. I felt much more effective as an MC because I wasn’t tethered behind the counter.
When I started at Star DJs they had a similar approach to DJing. They expected the MC to do bridal party introductions from the dance floor and to lead the crowd in dances as well. This was the late eighties and every MC was equipped with a sequined jacket that we broke out at climatic moments of the night like “Shout” or “Mony Mony.” And while times have changed, no doubt (I don’t even know where my sequined jacket is these days and I no longer jump up on my bass bin and lead the “Y.M.C.A”) the basic philosophy still holds true. We, as MCs, are more effective when we get out in front of our DJ system and utilize the wireless microphone technology God has given us to make our announcements and (from time to time) lead some dancing or prompt the crowd. If you doubt that, I’d encourage you to think about any concert you’ve ever been to. Has the lead singer ever hopped off the stage and gone up and down the aisles? I’ve witnessed artists like Michael Buble and Mick Jagger and Michael Franti do this and it always brings the energy up. Now, you could argue that we aren’t rock stars and that getting out on the dance floor can steal the show from the bride and groom, but I’d come back with the fact that, as DJs, we are the rock star at the event and that clients hire us to make the best possible party — so if penetrating the dance floor does that, then I’m just doing my job.
I know this topic can be divisive so if you vehemently disagree with me and think a DJ’s place should always be behind the system then I have to respect that and say, fortunately, there’s more than one way to be successful in this great industry. But if you normally hang back behind the gear and are willing to give it a try, I’d encourage you to get out front a bit. I believe you’ll be happy with the results and may start doing it more and more. And if you love it that much, let me know. I’ll try to find my old sequined jacket and lend it to you.
Mike Walter is the proud owner of Elite Entertainment, a Multi-System DJ Company in New Jersey that was recently selected by TheKnot.com and WeddingWire.com as a top Entertainment company in the country.