If you’re like me, then some of your more interesting ideas are inspired by online forums. I participate in quite a few, and this topic from one of the better Facebook forums is one that every mobile DJ has at least one horror story about: getting in and out of a problem venue. We’ve all been there: the narrow hallway, obstacles seemingly placed in our pathway to intentionally block us, the balky, smelly freight elevator, policies that keep you from using the door closest to your staging area and on and on. And like most of you, I learned some strategies to deal with all of these mostly by trial-and-error. Here, then, is your opportunity to learn from mine.
I LIKE TO MOVE IT, MOVE IT!
In my market, I was the guy notorious for having the “big show.” Huge lighting trusses, intelligent lights, a console big enough to dominate a standard theatrical-sized stage, subwoofers (in a day when they were something new and novel) and the biggest mobile music collection in the area, which at the time consisted of CDs, vinyl records and tape. Moving such massive gear and media required me to adopt the tools and methods of both bands and professional movers. Even so, trips back-and-forth between stage and vehicle often required eight to ten trips even with an assistant, a.k.a. “roadie.” That meant that I simply had to get good at it.
Having addressed issues such as proper road cases, truck packing, moving blankets, bungee cords and tie-downs, etc., the idea, then, is to get from A to B as quickly and efficiently as possible without exhausting yourself so much that your performance as an entertainer suffers. Some venues make this a tall order! First, then, I always assume that I’ll have a long walk, so priority #1 is to get everything on wheels. Several ways to do this I’ve used over the years are hand trucks from the hardware store (word to the wise: get the lightweight composite variety with stair climber skids), Rock N’ Roller Utility Carts, the famous Colorado Sound & Light “Supertable” and, of course, the various dollies and palates available anywhere. The Supertable can handle the truly heavy beasts, such as speaker cabinets, and can double as a platform for your DJ console, eliminating the need for the venue’s table; a good thing, given they often give the DJ the table they deem ‘too rickety to serve food on.’ The Rock N’ Roller also folds up into a nice, compact size for travel in smaller vehicles.
NOT JUST FOR SKATEBOARDERS ANYMORE
Wheels require one more feature: the ability to get over obstacles. In a day and age when handicap access is mandated by government, you’d think you’d be able to push any load anywhere. Sorry, Mr. DJ, but none of that applies to you! Even something as paltry as a curb can render all those wheels useless. So the next great items to have are ramps. If you’re lucky enough to have a vehicle or trailer that already has one, then you can deploy your gear very quickly! I tie my gear down first to the Rock N’ Roller, then tie the cart to the tracks in my truck.
So here you are, happily pushing your load, when you get to the dreaded “step up.” Oofing the front wheels up by brute force is not wise; it is the path to torn ligaments and muscle strain! At this point, a small ramp, such as the Eagle, is a wise investment. Despite being plastic and under 10 lbs, it can get your 1,000 lb load over a curb or step (sometimes two) without you breaking a sweat. Life is good. That is, until you get to… the staircase!
When it comes to stairs, there is simply no good work-around. My strategy: use the “starvin’ teenager” method, which other DJs refer to as “hiring roadies.” Depending on the size of the job, I’ve brought as many as three roadies to help make the ordeal less traumatic. The true trick to dealing with stairs is to avoid packing too much into a single road case. All-in-one rigs with console, amps, speakers and light show packaged like a roll-in bar will prove impossible to get to the 7th floor without transporting a team of Egyptian pyramid-building slaves back through time. If you DO somehow manage to get up to the room, you’d also better pray that there’s no stage! So I trade-off a bit of set up time, interconnecting console to amp rack and/or speakers, light show, etc., so that I have smaller “bite sized” packages for stairs/stages.
BIGGER NOT ALWAYS BETTER: THINK SMALL
The latest trick I’m adopting as I rebuild my entire business from top to bottom is to use technology to the max in order to downsize the physical size of my rigs without sacrificing performance. Naturally this is an ongoing process; gone are the big vinyl and tape bins, replaced first by smaller CD cases and, finally, by hard drives. The first ones looked a bit like a couple of books sitting on my console and, today, they’re invisible, tucked inside my console and just as easily tucked into a shirt pocket. I’ll soon be able to hand-carry my new console, including tablet (no laptop!), controller/mixer, music drives, wireless mic and even monitor speakers into a venue like an attaché case.
Lighting, too, has gotten more compact thanks, in large part, to LED technology. Back in 1975 when I got my first Pulsar digital watch (which is still on my wrist), I predicted that LEDs would revolutionize lighting. Objections such as, “they’ll never be bright enough,” and “they only come in red” have fallen away one by one. Today, except for the very brightest theatrical spotlights and search lights, an LED can do the job far more efficiently. Chauvet recently introduced its “Gig Bar IRC,” a remote-controlled all-in-one package which is extremely compact, lightweight, yet throws a massive amount of light for its size! I have two on their way, which will replace my 2-man roll-in light show, yet provide even more lighting options. Today, less can truly be more.
This is a big issue, so I’ll cover more on moving in the near future. In the meantime, if you’re interested in following the story of my top-to-bottom business overhaul, then check out my blog posts at: http://www.mobilebeat.com/from-the-ground-up/ as well as my new column in Mobile Beat Magazine.