DIG IT! Time To Break Out The Shovel.

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People who have known me a long time may find this month’s topic ironic, as I am still quite well known for the audacious, gigantic DJ system I used to tour around with during the ‘80s and ‘90s, yet what’s old is new again.  This week I read an engaging Facebook thread about a “new” trend: DJs who hide behind a wall of equipment.


When I built my giant rig back in the day, it was for a specific reason: I was doing parties for a large singles club in a huge auditorium, and had a full-sized theatrical stage at my disposal. I had seen my predecessor, who set up his gear on a card table behind a curtain.  While the sound was passable, it looked like nobody was on-stage.  There was no visible emcee, and nothing much happening visually, aside from a couple of lights on top of the speaker cabinets. My reaction: not to be THAT guy!

So when it was my turn for that first event, I built my console around a turntable coffin.  (Remember: it was the ‘80s!)  I set it up in a unique, functional way, the idea being that I would not opt for flash over function, but the function would BE the “flash”!  I wanted to be visible; bigger than life! And, by and large, I succeeded. Not only did my rig look like “somebody’s up there” from the back of the room, but I would also fill the rest of the stage with as many props as I could to support whatever theme was happening. Halloween was always fun, the rest of the stage being filled with a virtual graveyard!


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My objective back then was to make good use of my space and deliver a show suited to such a large venue.  Over time, I adapted my large rig to smaller and smaller spaces, ultimately offering three different sizes, the smallest of which would occupy a corner of a modest-sized room, as not all events are created equal. The one constant factor among all of them, of course, was me, the DJ they hired.  Anything I brought with me was simply to support me and my show.

Today, the objectives are similar.  With today’s electronics, our gear has become lighter, space-saving and less power hungry, offering far more capability in an increasingly shrinking package.  If I ever return to a venue like the one I started out in, I would opt for more stage dressing, but use the exact same console I use today that sits atop a keyboard stand… and I still wouldn’t be “THAT guy”!


So I’ve developed a list of a few questions I ask myself before bringing in any new piece of gear.  It has saved me endless thousands of dollars, not to mention avoiding many a blunder.  It looks like this:

1. Are you buying this because your show will be improved or is it for you?
We’ve all been there, our jaws slack with wonder as we gape at that newest, coolest light.  But are we buying it because our audience would benefit or is it because we think it’s cool and MUST have it?

2. Will it make you any more money?
No, not everything is, or should be, about profit.  Like a gardener, a DJ wants to create a nice-looking environment.  But… haven’t we done this already?  So will your addition make it THAT much nicer?  Or can you retire an older, less efficient effect to get a bit leaner n’ meaner?  If not, can you charge a premium for it to add to your bottom line?  If your answer keeps coming up ‘no,’ then maybe it’s time to move along.

3. Is it truly an “upgrade”?
Is what you’re bringing in so astounding that it will truly make your show stand out?  More importantly, how easy is it for your competition to get?  Many lighting effects became popular because “everybody else had one,” and new DJs thought that if they didn’t also have one, they would somehow be lesser.  Their focus, then, was misguided, because it’s not about a light or effect, but about YOU.  Let Mr. Mirror Ball BE Mr. Mirror Ball.  Limit your purchases to those that create the dance/entertainment environment you desire that supports the show that you’re doing.

4. Is it “in-demand” and indispensable?
In short, is it what your clientele expects, and would they miss it if you didn’t have it?  This one is tricky.  I could show you dozens of entertainers that use no effects at all, and others that use the barest minimum.  This is because people are hiring THEM, and don’t expect anything else.  For private parties, one of my friends who is a stand-up comedian brings his own stage lighting.  His reason: because every comedian needs a spotlight.  His lighting, then, supports his style of show. Does yours?

5. Is the size, weight and cost worth the “whoo”?
When you kick on a new effect, the audience’s immediate reaction is: “Whoo!!!”  Once.  Then it’s just another thing in the background.  So I always ask myself: does it help my show beyond the “whoo”?

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By all of this, you might guess that I’m doing a bit of Spring cleaning myself, and you’d be right.  My show and style have evolved over the years, and all of the lighting and effects that were once so “must have” are being retired.  New upgrades are being brought in for what remains to save on weight and electrical consumption.  Beyond that, you can bet I’ll be referring to the above list when considering anything new and, lucky for all of us, the people making our DJ goodies have plenty for us to salivate over!  Just be sure that anything you’re considering looks good behind you, because nobody is hiring a light.

Until next time, safe, judicious spinnin’!


  • Stu Chisholm of Stu & His Crew Professional Disc Jockey Service in Michigan has worked in several areas of the DJ Universe.

    He’s been a radio, mobile, club and roller skating rink DJ in the Detroit area since 1979, and done commercial voice-over work, as well.

    Stu has been a keynote and featured speaker at DJ trade shows in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. He is the author of the book, “The Complete Disc Jockey” and is a regular columnist with Mobile Beat Magazine.

    To contact him, email DJStuCrew@gmail.com. You can grab Stu’s book at TheCompleteDiscJockey.com.

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