One of the many challenges we face as mobile DJs is dealing with the variety of venues we are asked to perform in. From banquet halls to boats, we are often asked to perform the impossible while looking like the professionals we are. One good way to avoid any last minute frustrations before setting up at an unfamiliar venue is to do a proper walk-through prior to the day of the gig.
A walk-through gives you the opportunity to get the “lay of the land,” so to speak. It allows you to note the locations of doorways, electrical outlets, aisles and your workspace, as well as to get a general idea on the set up of the event. It affords the opportunity to plot speaker and lighting locations too. A walk- through also allows you to identify any trouble spots that could arise during the event and provides an opportunity to bring them to the event coordinator or client’s attention so they can be addressed. One example of a “trouble spot” would be the placing of tables too close to your speakers. You already know this will be a source of volume complaints from the people sitting there, but it can be overlooked by the event coordinator or client because your speakers aren’t in place yet. I once had a late booking for a New Years Eve gig and it was too late for a walk-through. The client wanted my speakers placed right next to tables on each side of the dance floor adjacent to my setup. I knew it was going to be a problem and brought it to their attention. They had already finalized the table setup and couldn’t change it. Needless to say I had to find the delicate balance of having it loud enough to keep the dance floor packed while not upsetting the guests sitting at the tables next to my speakers all night long. Had I been able to look at the set up prior to the event, I would have been in a position to suggest an alternate arrangement.
During any walk-through, I like to note the location of doors and other high-traffic areas that might cause a trip-and- fall situation should I need to run a cable across it. If you find you have to run cables across doorways or aisles, you need to make accommodations to secure them or you may be liable for any injuries caused by loose cables. I always have on hand some gaffer’s tape to tape down the cables, or I will use a cable cover. A more attractive option would be to use mats to cover them. Most venues have mats that will match the décor, or you can bring some yourself. It’s a good idea not to place your speaker stands too close to an aisle or doorway either, or you may find a guest accidentally knocking them over.
Another item to cover is the location of the electrical outlets. Most banquet halls and wedding venues will have a stage area that will have power, but you may not be so lucky if you are doing a house party. You may even be asked to set up in an outdoor location far away from electrical outlets. This will allow you to plan accordingly with additional extension cables and power strips. I did one gig on Catalina Island where I had to use a portable generator! It’s a good idea to take notes of where outlets are located away from your booth to accommodate powered speakers and lighting. Now is also the time to determine if they are working or not. If you suspect they are not, speak with the venue manager or event coordinator to confirm that they are. You could always carry an AC receptacle tester with you to check them yourself. They cost around $10.00 at most hardware stores or online. You also want to ask if they are on a switch and where that switch is located. Knowing the location of the breaker panel that services the outlets is good idea too. How many of us have done a gig where the breaker tripped and spent the next 15 minutes looking for the panel?
To avoid any misunderstandings, I always note in my contracts what my electrical requirements are and specify dedicated outlets. This gets it down in writing and avoids any last-minute confusion. The last thing you need the day of the gig is to fight with the videographer or photographer over outlets you assumed were for your equipment. It’s good to have a copy of the signed contract with you just in case.
I know some of us have had the opportunity to do events aboard private and dinner cruise yachts, which adds a new dimension to spinning an event. You often get to enjoy an afternoon or evening on the water and get paid for it. How great is that? Yachts have their own peculiarities though, and as with land-based venues, similar preparation applies. A note about power on yachts vs. land based venues is that they usually get their AC power from generators that are running below. These generators may not always provide a steady source of clean AC power like you are accustomed to on land. They may also have limited power capacity, so I like to arrive extra early to speak with the captain or engineer to discuss power requirements beforehand get clear on any limitations. It’s recommended you at least run a surge protector when doing events on a yacht. If you run a power conditioner, that is even better. Extra care must also be taken with speakers and your gear aboard party yachts. Since they are in motion and may move abruptly when docking, you want to ensure everything is well secured. You will have guests at your gig that may be uneasy on boats. They may trip on, or even worse, instinctively grab a speaker to steady themselves. One recommendation is to place them on the deck, (floor) or secure them with Zip Ties or straps so they don’t fall in unsteady conditions.
If you are a DJ who likes to spin vinyl, this type of venue poses additional challenges too. Be aware that engine vibration and sea con- ditions on smaller yachts may cause
your needles to skip. If you have a controller or CDJ based setup, you may want to bring that instead. Years ago, before digital, I had to tape coins to my tone arms to keep them from skipping while spinning a gig on a boat.
Even if you don’t have to meet with the client, and its feasible, I recommend contacting the venue and ask to view the space. Not only do you come prepared to your gig, it allows you to meet the staff and forge working relationships for any future event you may book there.
A proper walk-through can help you be truly prepare for any gig. My philosophy when loading out for a gig at any unfamiliar venue is, “Better to have it and not need it then to need it and not have it”.
By Scott Jarema
Originally published in Mobile Beat issue #169 – link to http://www.mobilebeat.com/emagscurrent/169