Mobile DJ Crash Course
by Alex Cosper

If you have never done a mobile DJ gig before, this section will explain what to do. First of all, if the expectation level is high to make the crowd go crazy with nonstop dancing all night, it might be better to hire a professional DJ. But if the expectation is simply a good time with background music a lot of the time and occassional dancing toward the end of the event, then this crash course should be the answer and will help save you a lot of money.

First, you will need to rent a sound system, unless you already have a decent one. If the event is outdoor and there will be a lot of people in attendance, you need a powerful system (at least a 250 watt amp). But if the event is indoor for a small group, any system will do that includes either a computer system or a traditional sound system.

Computer System:

1) Computer/laptop or iPod/mp3 player
2) Music scheduling program (PC DJ for PCs, MegaSeg for Macs) unless you're using an iPod
3) Powered speakers with cables or non-powered speakers with amplifier and mixing board
4) Microphone (unless computer has built-in mic) and other optional assessories such as headphones

Traditional Sound System:

1) CD players or turntables or iPods or a set of any other sound sources
2) Mixing board with at least 4 channels
3) Powered or non-powered speakers with cables
4) 250-500 watt amplifier
5) Microphone and other optional assessories such as headphones

Don't worry about lights because that's something extra that DJs throw in to make extra cash and the event will not hinge on lighting, unless the boss says so. In other words, the light show is not required to create a successful dance, but if someone demands it, you can rent affordable things like strobes, beacons and mirror balls.

The cost of renting an adequate sound system may be anywhere from $50 to $500 depending on the quality you're looking for. The rack-mounted all in one systems are the best for last minute gigs. Sound systems are generally easy to set up and usually just involve plugging in chords. Mixing boards can look complex, but really a mixing board is just redundant knobs and sliders of multiple channels. Once you learn how one channel works, you've practically learned the whole mixing board.

These days the easiest way to pull off a gig is with an iPod hooked up directly to powered speakers or a mixer that feeds an amplifier that feeds speakers. If you have a laptop with iTunes on it with the songs already loaded, then all you have to do is let iTunes play the songs back in the order that you want. A more sophisticated scheduling program would be MegaSeg for Mac or PC DJ for PC. These programs would be better if you wanted to have more control on how the songs mix together and how you categorize songs for your library.

If you are using two CD players then you will not have the luxury of being able to walk away from the program unless you are just playing full-length CDs, which is fine for background music. If you want the music to be nonstop in which every song transition is a segue that overlaps the songs, then you'll need to be conscious of song length and what you are always playing next. Even professional DJs can become easily distracted if the next song is not set up toward the end of a song that is playing.

Don't worry about beat-mixing, which is what club DJs do to create a continuous dance beat. That's for when you become more advanced. If the event is a wedding, reunion or birthday party and the client is not specifically requesting a beat-mix DJ, definitely don't worry about it. Concentrate on how songs will blend together rhythmically and sonicly. The purpose of headphones for the DJ is to listen to music in cue to preview the next song's open or compare how the songs blend. Don't worry too much about the science of mixing as much as the feel of the music.

Musical transitions sound amazing when they flow and awkward when they don't. It is somewhat a matter of taste, but sometimes when the mix is too random with extremes, the effect can be what is called a "trainwreck" in which out of time beats on top of each other and musical sounds turn into awful noise. One way to avoid a trainwreck is concentrate on songs that end cold, meaning no fade. A cold ending usually allows for a smooth segue into any song. When playing songs that fade, you can either let them fade all the way (which can slow down crowd momentum), use the fader on the mixer to do a gradual segue or practice your own technique that creates smooth transitions. When the next song begins with a strong drum beat, it creates an easy segue when you quickly fade the previous song.

If you absolutely don't want to stand in front of two CD players all night and change songs every three minutes, consider making a long "mix tape" on cassette or even CD. If you don't have the right recording gear then you can buy all kinds of dance mix CDs in record stores. The purpose of continuous music is to create continuous dancing or some kind of continuous atmosphere. If that's not important to the event, but you still want an unpredictable mix of songs, you have some options. With an iPod or iTunes you can use the shuffle function. With two CD players you can stand there all night and switch songs, but you can also find someone else that wants to help while you go on break. It's no big deal to hit "play" on a CD player to make the next song play, which is mostly what this type of DJ does all night.

Announcing is certainly a whole different dimension from understanding how a sound system works and how music mixes together. If you have never done announcing for a crowd before and you don't feel comfortable, limit your talk. Some DJs only talk a few times a night and it's still a party. If you already have an outgoing entertaining personality, let it fly. Don't worry about little things like whether or not you have a good speaking voice, because people don't instantly judge that. They are more likely to respond to content than style until they get familiar with your style.

In a sound system situation it's usually better to speak slower on a microphone and to repeat things so that people get the message. Not everyone is going to be paying attention when you talk and it has nothing to do with you. They might already be engaged in a conversation and simply can't hear you. That's why it's good to take into account that the crowd is not always waiting to hear you speak. A good way to get people's attention without saying "may I have your attention" is to tap on the microphone a few times. Or you can say "Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming here today" and lead into announcements that repeat a few times. Don't be afraid to repeat announcements, because sometimes it's the only way for everyone to get the message.

The standard distance for speaking into a microphone is about six inches. Beginners tend to forget while they are talking to hold the mic up to their mouth. You see this all the time when the mic is passed around for toasts. Someone will hold the mic to their stomach and then not only can you not hear their voice very well, it can create noise such as feedback if the mic is pointed toward the speakers. Some mics have an on/off switch, especially wireless mics. Leave the switch on while a mic is being passed around because switching it off makes a loud noise. Wireless mics usually require a battery and switching it on and off wears down the battery faster. Use the volume control on the mixing board to control the mic when others are using it. If the sound system ever starts to feedback or create loud unwanted noise, always think of "master volume" as the first thing to turn down unless you know the channel where the noise originates, in which you would turn down that channel.

Those are the basics for doing your first gig. If the gig involves a lot of requests, the simplest route is the iPod, iTunes or the programs PC DJ or MegaSeg. With a software-based system all you need to do is type in the name of the song or artist and the file will pop right up in a second, assuming the program is organized beforehand. If you are just playing CDs but the playlist is diverse and specific a little more planning will need to go into constructing the playlist. Either way, it's never rocket science and should be a lot of fun. If it becomes too stressful, then consider letting someone else handle the presentation. Regardless of experience, never let stress dictate the event. Just relax and concentrate on the agenda. Always know what happens next at all times and everything else will fall into place.

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